Imagine hundreds of slimy worms slithering through rotting vegetables. Their tiny white egg sacs are littered throughout partially decomposed and wholly unrecognizable food scraps. Silently, their population doubles every three months as their insatiable appetite grows. Imagine wet clumps of muddy dirt coating a soft, moldy red pepper as tiny pink bodies chew and squirm without rest through endless soft spots and widening holes. Now imagine them in your living room. Welcome to the world of worm farms, or vermicomposting.
It might sound gross, but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. In fact, every person on the planet should have at least one (preferably two) vermicomposting bins. Not everyone has a garden, and some don’t even really like dirt, but for the environmentally conscious, vermicompost is a must. It reduces waste, creates a perfectly balanced organic fertilizer, requires little to no maintenance, can be kept virtually anywhere, and most importantly, doesn’t smell (if properly managed). The following are eight reasons why vermiculture, worm farms, and compost should be for everyone.
Recycling has been gaining popularity in recent years, with some areas even requiring residents to reduce their waste through fines. Vermicomposting literally eat up most, if not all, food waste at an incredible rate. Red Wrigglers (Eisenia fetida), the worms commonly used in vermiculture, consume approximately half of their body weight in decomposing matter each day. Plus, their waste doesn’t smell.
Aside from occasionally turning the compost and annually harvesting the worm castings, a constant supply of food scraps is all the worm farm needs to function. Holes in the bin allow oxygen to flow through decaying organic matter, allowing aerobic (oxygen loving) bacteria to break down the cell structure of organic waste. As long as there are few to no anaerobic (lacking oxygen) areas in the bin, vermicompost will smell like dirt.
Can Be Kept Anywhere
Worms hate the light! Because of this, an unused closet or basement is a perfect habitat for a worm farm. For those without much extra space, a piece of plywood and some cloth can easily disguise a worm farm as an innocent coffee table. Just be sure that taking out the compost doesn’t become a chore, so the supply of food is constant. Worms will only multiply as much as their environment (in this case a plastic bin), will support. Less food means less worms means less compost. As long as the supply of food is relatively constant, worm bins will be odorless.
Organic Fertilizer (Worm Castings)
Chemical fertilizers destroy local habitats by washing into nearby water sources, causing algal blooms that starve the water of oxygen, block out light, and outcompete native plant species for resources. It can also be difficult, if not impossible, for anyone without a soil testing kit to measure which nutrients are needed and for which plants. Over fertilization will burn, and in severe cases, kill all plants. Fortunately, due to an enzyme in a worm’s digestive tract, nutrients in castings are released slowly,amking them safe in just about any quantity to most plant species. Plus it smells better than manure based fertilizers.
Vermicompost involves one or more lidded plastic bins or buckets, food scraps, and dirt. A shovel or gardening gloves are recommended to turn the soil, but are not necessary. The bin can be of any size, depending on the amount of waste produced. The bin material must not be biodegradable, unless food scraps will go directly to the garden. The worms (red wrigglers preferably) can be bought at many fish or gardening shops or obtained for free from a preexisting bin.
Revitalization of Soil
An outdoor vermicompost bin allows worms to dig through the soil beneath the bin. Before compost is spread or the earth is tilled, worms are already spreading their magic deep in the earth. Even the most barren soil can be brought back by worms. It has been found that they can even remove toxic heavy metals like lead from soil.
Keeps Garbage Free of Food Waste
Ever have a smelly garbage can? The culprit for the sulfuric, rotten egg smell are a group of tiny microbes known as anaerobic (oxygen hating) bacteria. The waste from these microbes is what gives rotting food it’s foul odor. It’s also the cause to your smelly garbage. Keeping food waste out of the trash prevents the trash from smelling foul. Leftover food can also attract pests such as mice, flies, or moths.
Doesn’t Smell Bad
Did I mention vermiculture doesn’t smell? Despite rotting food, bacterial decay, and a whole lot of worm poop, a properly managed vermicompost bin will smell like dirt. Rich, wet, living dirt. Since the worms are busy converting all those food scraps into energy, much of the original volume of waste will be lost. A single, small bin can process the food waste of many people for a long time without needing to be emptied.
I have been keeping worms in my living room for two years now. I also have an outdoor vermicomposting bin for older, more mature compost. I live with eight other people and all of our eggshells, unused vegetables, dead plants, lint, dust, credit card statements, and a little bit of cardboard become worm food and eventually fertilizer. I feed my aquarium fish live worms and our trash has never smelled better. The bins we use were about to be thrown out because of a few cracks but have since been repurposed for vermiculture. The whole operation takes up about three square feet of space, less than five minutes per week in upkeep, and sits unnoticed next to our entrance. Whether or not you have garden, if you’re interested in naturally reducing your waste with minimal effort, you need a worm farm.