Worms eat my garbage, and then they feed my plants

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Especially for urban gardeners like me who live in small spaces, worm composting (also called vermicomposting) is a productive, fun and doable way to divert biodegradable kitchen scraps away from a landfill and back into the soil in my garden…or on to my indoor plants as a top dressing.

In my basement I use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid container to house my Red Wriggler worms that eat my garbage to produce their personal brand of homemade organic fertilizer.

My home worm composting operation still consists of that container. It was purchased from a big box store three years ago when I took a composting class at Garfield Park Conservatory on the West Side.

Since then, I have discovered that some vermicomposters actually build their own bins, or buy fancier ones online. Regardless how you start worm composting, your bin must be at least 10 to 16 inches deep, have holes or slits on the side or top for worm aeration, and include a tight fitting top to keep the worms in and pests out.

Initially I started by filling the bin three-quarters of the way up with strips of shredded newspaper (no glossy pages, please), and used a water spray bottle to dampen the bedding -- which they also eat -- to the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.

Next, I added a couple of handfuls of microbial-rich garden soil, dropped in about 1 pound of Red Wriggler worms into the bedding (about 1,000 worms), and then I served (buried) their first meal…about one quart of veggie peels, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells, things like that. Without a doubt, they quickly went to work eating the scraps, making more worms, and expelling their castings, which is the super-rich organic fertilizer they produce and I use on my tomatoes and other plants.

So, year-round, my worms are in a dark corner in my basement working away, where I know that in their bin they will not freeze in the winter, over-heat in the summer, and won't become over-saturated or emaciated because they are on my watch.

About every three months I harvest the worm compost, which is called "gardener's gold." I first spend a couple of weeks migrating the critters from one side of the bin (dirty) to the other (fresh fixings), and then I hand pick out the stragglers. I drop them into their clean new digs, where their friends, who are already hard at work eating kitchen scraps and expelling new castings which I'll harvest next time.

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