As the Worm Turns: Composting

Spring, in all its wet and wonderful glory, is now nearly in full bloom here in New York City, which reminded me of one task that I had to complete before the start of summer: harvest my compost.

I decided to try my hand at composting with worms, or vermicomposting, last November. To ensure that my project was successful, meaning that it didn’t stink up my tiny apartment or infest my space with flies, I had to arm myself with knowledge, most of which you can see in the Green Guru column from our January-February issue. Six months later, I saw the rewards of the system. Here’s how I did it, and how you can, too:

1. Find a space for your compost bin. My husband and I cleared out a space below our sink, moving paper cups and a cooler to a different spot in our abode. It was tempting to fill the vacant space with something other than a bin full of worms, but we resisted the urge.

2. Get a compost bin and a pound of red wiggler worms. I bought our little guys at the farmers’ market from the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the same place featured in an article on worm composting that ran in the New York Times last February. Farmers’ markets are a good place to start, but there are also many other places to pick up your worm condo and occupants, like City Farmer.

3. Fill your bin with 75 percent newspaper (brown matter) and 25 percent food scraps (green matter). We happened to have a guest the night that we put together the new home for our worms, so we put him to work shredding old newspapers. Personally, I think he developed a fondness for our wrigglers.

4. Continue to add to your bin. One issue we resolved was something the experts call “worm crawl,” when our worms tried to escape. This usually happens when the worms are adjusting to their new home. (I distinctly remember getting a text from my husband that read, “The worms are trying to escape. It’s a worm Armageddon.”) When I got home I fed them some of a grapefruit skin, a banana peel, and an eggshell. After that they were happy to stay within the confines of their condo. Some composters suggest shining a light on your bin because the worms usually emerge in the dark.

5. Harvest your compost. I’m still adding to the bin, but I noticed that over time it has become increasingly heavier. Through the clear plastic I can see the fertilizer building. Our friends who grow plants on their deck asked us if they could have some of our compost, so this morning I dug down and got some of the castings (worm poop) at the bottom. The compost, which smells just like mud, will help their cucumber stalks grow, and when our friends invite us over for a pickle taste test later this year, I’m sure I’ll be gloating like a proud aunt.

There are some other obstacles that we overcame, like the flies that bumped up against the lid (we stopped putting food in the bin for a couple of weeks, knowing that the worms had enough to munch on until then), and the aversion some of our friends had to the idea of worms living under the sink (we stopped showing them to everyone who came over for dinner), but the advantages far surpassed the drawbacks. We got a smaller garbage can because we have less trash, and we can turn our scraps into garden gifts. We’ve come to the conclusion that composting is cool—and not just because it was in the movie Twilight. If you haven’t already, give composting a try and see what your worms can do.


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