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Another Way To Look at Trash and Waste: Vermicompost That Crap!

Have you ever looked at the United States food waste statistics?  It’s sickening.

When reviewing the *USDA statistics, you will find that 30-40% of our food supply ends up as garbage.  Without widespread recycling or composting programs, a lot of that food ends up in our landfills.  This is a problem that all of us should care about.  I am happy that more and more people are becoming aware of this problem and playing their part in trying to combat it.

The average American wastes over 600 pounds of food per year.  Before you say, “no, not me!” consider all the food you leave on your plate at a restaurant, the amount of chips and salsa, bread, or crackers you leave on the table at restaurant establishments.  Think about that produce that rots on your counter, the leftover food that doesn’t get eaten or that whole bag of spinach that somehow gets lost behind the condiments in the refrigerator.

I have found since starting vermcomposting that my home itself (a household of 2) easily generates 2 pounds of scraps a week and that isn’t even including waste we generate when we eat out OR the the non-compostable items (at least indoors) such as meat or dairy.

It has been eye-opening.  I realize how JUST a small home composting system can in fact make a huge impact.  I am collecting food waste from three friends in addition to my own waste at a rate of 4-8 pounds per week.  That’s up to 416 pounds of waste a year that I am personally keeping out of the landfill.

Did you know that the United States ships a lot of our garbage waste overseas because of the limited space our landfills have left?  This is completely unacceptable.

Let’s look at this from another perspective.  Have you ever been to a Farmer’s Market?  A ballgame?  A buffet?  What do you think happens to all that uneaten or unpurchased food?  It spoils and in many cases is thrown away.

Walking out of a baseball game earlier this week, my friends and I were commenting on how all of the homeless people begging for money outside of the ballpark could benefit greatly from some of the food that will be thrown out after the game.  We can naively think that all of these establishments donate to food kitchens, but lets be real… most of that food will hit a dumpster tonight and those homeless individuals will go to their park benches or tents hungry.

Another conversation I had not that long ago was with a friend who works in a grocery store.  I inquired as to whether or not I could take some produce that was past its prime off of their hands to compost.  Do you know what he said?  Policy doesn’t permit it.  Liability issues demand that they throw it all away.

How can we fix any of this?  I wish I had the power to sway company policies all on my own but I know that isn’t realistic.  So, to all the companies who donate to food kitchens or have waste programs: I commend you!  To those that don’t… I encourage as many people as possible to write to their local grocers and encourage them to reconsider their policies.

After learning all of these things, I have found a side of myself that I didn’t realize I had.  I never considered myself a tree-hugger or environmentalist but I assure you I am reformed in my mindset and priorities.  I no longer have any guilt about produce that turns… I know that it is going to good use.  I now have organically grown vegetables indoors AND out.  I am helping to reduce my carbon footprint.  I am helping HEAL the environment by rebuilding the soil structure on my modest property.  Composting is the coolest thing that I have ever started.  Hands down.

Did you know that a portion of carbon emissions are actually produced by the process of treating our garbage waste?  How?  Well, it takes trucks to haul, it takes water to process, it takes space to store.  Methane gasses are released in this process further harming the environment.

Consider this… if each one of us could get five people to start composting, even a pound a week, that would be 1,825 pounds of waste WE personally helped to save from hitting the garbage.  If I can convince five of you to do that, over 9,000 pounds of waste will stay out of the landfill.  Consider that when you think that small composting projects don’t make an impact.

What’s the benefit of vermicomposting in this equation?

Vermicomposting speeds up the composting process exponentially.  Let’s be honest, how many of us keep up with the lawn-waste compost pile?  To work ideally, you have to keep a very calculated carbon: nitrogen (bedding to food) ratio in order for it to work the way we hope.  The beauty of indoor (or outdoor) vermicomposting is that the worms help the process work much faster.  I create several gallons of compost each month with ease and NO downtime during the winter months.  No measuring my carbon:nitrogen ratios, just listening to my worms based on the health of their bins and it’s pretty darn easy at that.

If I fed my 10 gallon bins aggressively, I could easily handle a pound of food per week.  Due to the multitude of systems that I run, I tend to run fairly conservative on how much I feed, but I know my systems could handle more in most cases.

I challenge each of you to run even a single 10 gallon tote and see how much waste you can keep from hitting the garbage.  I bet once you get started you will be just as addicted as me and be searching out additional food sources to compost before long!  Let’s be a part of the solution.  Let’s lead the revolution… let’s be the change that our environment needs so much!  I hope that my children one day will be able to enjoy a healthy planet, so I will continue to do my part as long as possible!

Some small changes make a huge impact:

1. Save all of your scraps and compost them in whatever method you have available.  Worm composting (vermicomposting), the outdoor compost pile, bokashi, etc.

2. Drink tap water- use a Brita filter or something similar, but avoid buying plastic water bottles on a regular basis.

3. Recycle whatever items possible.  Be it newspapers, plastic bottles, metal cans, or food… do what you can!  No amount is too small.  Reuse glass containers.  Be creative!

4. Buy worms!  My worms are the greatest investment I ever made.  Better yet, find someone local who will sell you sone worms or even give you some to start out… this eliminates the need to utilize the mail system.

5. Bypass the straws, plastic silverware, paper plates and styrofoam. Try buying bamboo silverware to take to work instead of the plastics, use reusable metal or glass tumblers.  Use your own plates, glasses and reusable straws.

6. Grow your own food.  Part of the methane and greenhouse gas emissions are created by the trucks, planes, trains, boats, etc. that transport our food.  Have some space on the side of the house?  A balcony that gets sun?  Try your hand at gardening and bypass the middle-man and know where your food is coming from!

With just a few small changes and creative ways to utilize your waste, you too can be a part of reducing the stress on the environment while repairing the soil and creating the best organic fertilizer on the planet!

 

*Statistics from the USDA that are discussed in this post can be found at: https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Worm Composting

 Using worms for composting can be an amazing way to reduce your waste!  Worm composting not only puts your scraps to use but creates an amazing and organic fertilizer for your soil and gardens as well.

The thought of bringing “worms” into your home (or even outdoors) makes some people a bit squeamish.  I get it.  I was that person too.  I was petrified of worms invading my house, bringing in pests, smelling, or otherwise being a royal waste of time.

I researched the idea/concept of indoor worm composting for hours on end and I decided to take the leap.  I haven’t looked back since, I continue to grow my “collection” of worms and my passion is only amplified the longer I do this.

All of this being said, my perception of what this hobby would be like and the actual reality were quite different.  Let us look at some of the things I wish I knew before I started putting my worms to work.

  1. Starting Small and Cheap is the way to go

I had this big dream of producing buckets and buckets of castings every month.  I felt like due to my “research”, the only way to do this was to buy an expensive system.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my systems in their own ways, but the “simplicity” aspects of commercial systems aren’t always as advertised.

Later, I learned that some super cheap and DIY systems using Rubbermaid totes work just as well as the larger systems and would have probably been a good place to start.  If it hadn’t worked out for me I wouldn’t have been out quite so much money.  For $10-$15 dollars I could make my own bin.

2. You Don’t Always Have to Buy Your Worms

I bought my worms from a commercial company I found on Amazon.  For a pound of worms I paid roughly $40.  Not terrible, but I know now that it can often be easier to get worms from a friend, local garden club, or smaller companies that have better customer service and better prices.

I learned from my experiences on Facebook forums that many big commercial worm farmers don’t have “pure” breeds of worms and they short your order.  Who’s going to actually count 1,000 worms (1 pound) or think about throwing them on a scale when all they can think about it putting their new babies into the bins?

Worms I have bought since my initial investment have all been much healthier and purer breeds and when I weigh them, they are often even more generous than advertised.  As much as 1.5 pounds or 1,500 worms in an order.

I have given worms to many local friends I have met and I think this can be a great way to save money and meet friends that have similar interests to you.

3. Patience is Probably the Most Important Tip When Getting Started

Let’s face it, big dreams and your desire to try and reduce your waste overnight is super appealing.  I know when I started, I was stock-piling fruit and veggie scraps and loading my freezer down with a backlog.  I would break down when the freezer was busting at the seams and end up overfeeding.

Overfeeding is probably the biggest worm composting mistake.  So many problems stemmed from my inability to control my excitement.  I had systems flood out from all the water waste my scraps would release.  The bin would heat up and my worms would go running for the exits.  It caused me stress.

Starting worm composting brand new, you have to take into account the fact that microbial activity and breeding don’t happen overnight.  I could only realistically feed my 1,000 worms a cup a week when I began.  Keep in mind that once the worms start doing their thing, population booms and the system takes off.

Around the three month mark I noticed that my worms were managing my waste much quicker and the number of worms I had was going up noticeably.

All things worthwhile take time, right?  We have all heard it.  I wish I would have reminded myself of that early on.  I would have been much more successful in taking off had I not pushed the system and stressed the worms out.

4. The Worm Bin is an Ecosystem

Okay, I am the first to admit that I am a major nut when it comes to bugs.  Even the beneficial guys get wars waged against them in my house.  We had some ants one summer and I had the house bombed and invested in $60 monthly pest services the same day I spotted that one rogue ant.

That being said, I was quickly in for a rude awakening when it came to the “bug free” systems I imagined in my dreams.  Do not panic!  I was literally at the point where I was ready to dump the worms and quit the day that I spotted that first mite.  It’s normal to be caught off guard when you start seeing helpful additions to your worm bin.  Mites, pot worms, fruit flies, small beetles, and springtails have all made appearances in my bins.  Sometimes in large numbers.

These bugs have ZERO interest in leaving the buffet in front of them.  I have never seen a single mite or any other bug anywhere but in the bins.  As you learn more about the ecosystem of a worm bin you start to appreciate the whole process behind it.

Nearly all pests in a worm bin are simply helping the process along.  These small bugs help in the breakdown process of the food waste in the bin.  A worm bin is teeming with beneficial micro-organisms (most of which aren’t visible with the naked eye) and they are not in fact a nuisance, but a crucial player in a well-running system.

I won’t lie, I still get the creepy-crawlies on occasion when I have a boom of certain worm bin bugs but I am learning to appreciate each and every one of them.  You can manage the numbers of these pests with good worm bin maintenance, but I would never suggest freaking out or throwing in the towel because the ecosystem is working in your favor!

5. Worms Are Very Forgiving

If you are anything like me, you get your new babies into their home and the desire to check on them every 15 minutes is real deal.  I was obsessed.  I poked around multiple times a day, dug up food and re-buried it a hundred times over to see the progress.  I definitely inhibited the process for quite some time before I was able to resist the urge to make sure they were still alive 500 times a day.

I was reading everywhere that checking on them could do more harm than good.  I was told that digging around could damage the worms or trigger an exodus.  I was legitimately worrying constantly.  I even had frequent dreams about the worms (I know, I am quite the loony anomaly) you get my point.

I realize now, the longer that I do this, that worms are ultra-forgiving.  Worms are not the delicate creatures that some articles, blogs, or forums may make us think.  Through digging, overfeeding, a frightful day where I shoved frozen food in the bin… all of it, my worms flourished anyway.

I continue to dig through my bins at least once a week (per bin or system).  I turn the bedding up, handle the worms and continue to make mistakes… it happens.  I have yet to kill a single worm (to my knowledge) and my worm population keeps going up.  I raise 4 different types of worms and all of them are surviving the learning curve just fine.

The Takeaway:

There are lots of misconceptions and bad information out there.  There are many acceptable ways of handling your worm bins and I personally don’t consider any one way to be “best”.

The process of worm composting isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds when you just start researching it.

  • You don’t need expensive systems!  Starting out with a DIY is a great way to test the waters before going all-in.
  • You don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for worms if it isn’t in your budget.  Ask around, order from small companies or just buy a few hundred worms to keep it all within a financially sound purchase.
  • With patience and time you will be processing loads of compost for the garden, so don’t rush it!  It CAN be frustrating, but when your worms start mating like crazy, you will be shocked what even a small system can do for you!
  • The Worm Bin is an ecosystem.  Learn to embrace it!  Don’t let the bugs freak you out.  There are very few bugs that should be considered a problem.  Observe the bin and you will soon realize that the worms play well with others.
  • Don’t worry about your worms too much, they can handle quite a bit!  I don’t suggest testing torture treatments on them, but even through trial and error, there isn’t much you can do that will truly hurt them.

Happy Worming!

 

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How to Make Your Own Worm Bin

There are many commercial worm bin/systems to buy, however many of these systems are pricey and often you may not want to spend that type of money.  If you are new to worm composting, making your own DIY bin can be a great option and is relatively cheap to do.  In this post I will share the steps to creating your very own tote-style worm bin on a budget, step by step.

  • Choosing the Type and Size of Tote
  • Preparing the Tote
  • Choosing a Bedding
  • Preparing the Bedding
  • Prepping the Bin for the Worms
  • Adding the Worms

Let’s get started.

1. Considering the Type and Size Bin to Use:

When it comes to DIY worm bins, you can use a variety of things that you may already have laying around the house.  Many people use Rubbermaid (or similar tote-style bins) to make their worm bin.  You can also use things such as mortar trays, plastic barrels, crates, or even something as simple as a grow bag.  For sake of this particular post, I am going to talk about Rubbermaid totes.

When purchasing or using a Rubbermaid tote, size definitely matters!  You want to take into account how many worms you will have in the bin and what your end-goal is.  Do you want the most possible castings, do you want to grow the biggest and fattest worms, or do you want to start small to experiment with the hobby on your own?

I made a tote for my African Night Crawlers.  African Night Crawlers reproduce quickly and are voracious eaters.  Because of this, I chose a larger 18 gallon tote.  I also plan to use these worms for bait as well, so a large bin will give the worms plenty of space to grow large and reproduce.  Keep in mind that a tote of this size will get very heavy as it fills with compost.  If you think you will be moving your tote around frequently or have limitations to how much you want to carry, you may decide that a smaller tote is more suited to your needs.

Your tote should be opaque as the worms like a dark environment.  Worms shy away from light and thus clear bins (although cool for kids to see through the bin) are not best suited for worm composting.  Keep in mind that roughly a pound of worms need at least 1 square foot of surface area living environment.  If you want them to reproduce, they will need even more.

2. Preparing the Tote:

Regardless of the type of bin you decide to make, you need to keep in mind that worms need an environment with plenty of aeration.  Some people choose to leave the lid off of their tote completely but others (as myself) chose to drill many holes in the sides and lid to provide the air-flow needed.

To drill the holes, I recommend using nothing smaller that 1/4 inch.  I used a drill bit and drilled approximately 18 holes on each side of my bin (in 2 rows along the upper portion of the bin below the lip.  I also drilled holes on either end in the same fashion.

I drilled holes covering the entire lid of my system as well.  This will ensure that the bin doesn’t get overly wet and that the worms have an environment suitable to their needs.  As worms breathe through their skin, they need moisture but also lots of air!

If you create a bin and find that your worms are crawling up the sides, oftentimes this is a sign that they need more oxygen.  There are other possible reasons as well, but start with adding more holes if this problem arises.

3. Bedding:

The next thing to consider after drilling holes in your tote is to decide what type of bedding (carbon material) you want to use in your bin.  If you want to use things you already have, this is a great way to recycle and turn your trash into beautiful worm castings for your plants and garden.

Bedding can consist of shredded newspaper or junk mail (avoid the glossy ads), egg crates, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, and cardboard.  These are all 100% free options that I use frequently in my own bins.

Other options for bedding include leaf litter, manure (aged), peat moss, dried grass clippings, garden waste or coconut coir.  Keep in mind that things such as manure, leaves and grass clippings have the potential to introduce bugs to your bin.  This may not be a problem if you are composting outdoors, but for indoor bins these may not be ideal.

4. Preparing the Bedding:


Once you have made your bin, providing adequate aeration and once you have decided on your bedding, you are ready to prepare the bedding and place it in the bin.

An ideal worm bedding should be moist like a wrung-out sponge.  I used egg crates, shredded cardboard, and coconut coir for my bin.  I soaked the bedding in water for about 20 minutes.  I then picked up a handful of bedding and squeezed it.  I added water until when I squeezed the bedding mixture I got 3-5 drops of water from it but no more.  If you over-moisten your bedding you can wring it out before adding it to your bin or you can add additional dry bedding to soak up the excess moisture.

Once you have the bedding moistened, add several inches to the bottom of your bin.  I try to fill my bin approximately halfway to provide lots of living space before adding my worms.

5. Prepping the Bin for the Worms:

Ideally, you will set up your worm bin prior to the arrival of your worms.  Allow the bedding to sit in the bin for several days with a small amount of food mixed in.  This will allow the bacteria and microbes to get to work before the worms arrive.  This creates an environment that allows the worms to get to work right away after being introduced to the bin.  If you order a pound of worms, simply start with a small amount of food (no more than 1/4 cup).  Make sure that all food in your bin is adequately covered with bedding material so that fruit flies or other pests don’t enter the bin.

If you didn’t prepare your bin in advance, don’t worry.  Simply introduce your worms and wait a few days before adding any food.

6. Adding the Worms:

Once you have finished preparing your bedding and allowed the bin to rest for a few days, it is time to add your worms.  If you ordered worms, keep in mind that the travel through the mail can have them quite stressed.  As mentioned earlier, worms shy away from light.  Simply dump your worms (gently) onto the surface of the bedding and allow them burrow down on their own.  Keeping the lid off and light on for a few days above the bin should minimize the risk of any adventurous worms trying to leave the bin.  After a few days if the worms seem to be doing well, you can place the lid on the bin if you desire.

Get Started:

You can easily set up a worm bin in an hour or less.  A simple Rubbermaid or Sterlite bin should run you no more than $15 to $20, often even cheaper.  Use a free source of bedding around the house and the only further expense may be the purchase of your worms.  An even better option is to reach out to local gardening clubs or farmers markets to see if you can get worms locally.  Many worm farmers are more than happy to share worms with newcomers, as mentioned before, worms multiply quickly!

Enjoy the fruits of your labor and feed your worms weekly.  Make sure that all of the previous feeding is (mostly) gone before adding more food.  Adjust to the worms needs according to how much they are eating.  Remember that bedding is also a food source for your worms.  Under-feeding is much better than overfeeding.  Worms are pretty forgiving and before long you will be cranking out compost like an old pro!