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How I Discovered Vermicomposting

Contributing author Rebecca Goodstein is the Conservation Journeys Manager at The Nature Conservancy.

As I write this, there are 1,000 worms in my kitchen eating my garbage. Some people have cats, dogs or hamsters as pets--“ I have a container filled with organic waste-loving, rubbish-chomping red wiggler worms.

After noticing how much waste my single person household was producing, I did an informal audit of what I was throwing away and discovered most of it was kitchen scraps! How I long to toss my apple cores into a heaping mound of rich compost in my backyard. However, I, like many of you, live in a small apartment in a city and my dreams of such a backyard are a long way off.

I looked into different compost systems for small spaces with a few characteristics in mind-- it couldn't smell, it had to be convenient, the system had to fit under my sink and would be able to process the average pound of organic waste I was throwing away each week. That's when I discovered vermicomposting -- using worms to convert organic waste into nutrient-rich humus.

Basically, vermicomposting consists of red wiggler worms who live in a bin with bedding (a combination of shredded newspaper and dirt) in a dark space with a moderate temperature. Every few days I add about half a pound of organic waste that would otherwise go to the landfill. The worms happily eat the banana peels, coffee grounds, bread crusts and other kitchen waste I give them. Their, um, poop, or "castings" is incredibly nutrient-rich hummus that my house plants, container garden and green-thumbed friends all love!

At first I was leery about inviting worms to share my precious living space but have had a completely positive experience cohabitating with them. I ordered my bin, informational book and 1,000 worms through www.wormwoman.com (yes, my worms arrived by mail). It was a snap to set up the system and I couldn't resist lifting the lid off the bin for the first few days to see my little friends at work! There is no smell and it can be discreetly tucked away in my pocket-sized kitchen--but I happily pull the bin out for curious friends who cannot believe I have worms eating my garbage!

The benefits of my wiggly roommates are multifold -- mainly, it feels great to treat waste as a resource. I harvest the compost every few months by separating the worms from their castings. The pound of organic waste I was sending to the landfill each week now becomes 100% organic (and free) plant food. My friends with gardens are always happy to receive my surplus compost as a homegrown gift.  Best of all, compared to my last roommate who never took out the trash, my new roommates eat my trash!

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