I have worms in my basement, and they’re munching on moldy vegetables and excreting brown liquid. No, this isn’t the premise of a new episode of “Hoarders.” This is my new composting/vermiculture set-up.
My first attempts at composting started in May 2008 when the city of Cambridge initiated a new program to collect food scraps from the residents. They provided free green totes to collect the kitchen waste that we could then empty at either the DPW facility or at the local Whole Foods. Within 48 hours my tote was full. I knew immediately that two things needed to change. First, I was wasting too much food, and second, I needed a compost bin on- premise. Multiple weekly trips to DPW to dispose of my compost just weren’t going to fit into my schedule.
I promptly bought a compost bin for my backyard – the generic black bottomless box that the city sells for a subsidized rate. I could not only toss my food scraps into the bin, but also all the garden debris – pruned shrubs, weeds, leaves, spent vegetables plants, etc.
I have to be honest – I was not as good about composting as I wanted to be. Standing at a measly 5’3”, I had a hard time getting the leverage to reach into the bin and turn the pile – bringing the dirt up from the bottom and burying the newly added compostables to the bottom. I adopted the passive approach to composting – just filling it until it was packed and then waiting a year to take compost from the bottom trap door. At the end of the first summer, the bin filled quickly with the end-of-the-season clean-up, there was no room for my kitchen scraps. And with the snowy winters, it was a bit of a hassle to take things out to the bin anyway.
When Cambridge switched to single stream recycling, I decided to make a more concerted effort to recycle and compost. I signed up for a workshop, for $75 it promised I would learn everything I needed to know (though really, how hard could it be??) and have all the trapping for an indoor vermiculture system.
I walked away with a large plastic tote, with a starter layer of dirt and worms. The worms will eat the mold that forms on the scraps, converting it to compost, and poop out a nutrient rich liquid. The liquid, when diluted with water is an incredible food source for plants. In order to maintain proper moisture in my bin, I will add layers of shredded newspaper.
I cleared a space under the kitchen sink so I could easily access the green tote that would serve as a temporary repository for the food scraps until I carried it to the basement.
Three weeks in, and I feel I finally have a system I can work with. The worm population is thriving in my bin, which is a good sign that I have given them enough food and balanced the moisture properly.
In three months, I will start a second bin, and let the worms finish transforming my waste into nutrient rich soil. When all remnants of food are gone, I will put the “matter” in a plastic bag to kill the worms and initiate the final transition from compost into soil.