by Connie Oswald Stofko
I saw some amazingly beautiful compost a couple weeks ago in an Earth Day demonstration at Buffalo ReUse. The compost was dark brown and crumbly and pure, with almost no soil mixed in.
The secret to this compost is red wriggler worms. They eat garbage and turn it into compost.
“They eat their weight in garbage every day,” explained Kevin Hayes, executive director at Buffalo ReUse. “They’re voracious.”
The earth worms that you find in your garden don’t work the same way.
“Earth worms live in the soil,” Hayes said. On the other hand, red wrigglers “are garbage worms. They’re ‘designed’ to live in garbage.”
The red wrigglers also reproduce rapidly, creating even more composting machines to attack your kitchen scraps.
Even though you’re working with garbage, the process isn’t smelly at all. In fact, you can do vermicomposting (as composting with worms is called) right in your kitchen!
Start with a container. A five-gallon bucket can be stored under your kitchen sink. If you want to go bigger, use a large plastic bin and keep it in your basement. The red wrigglers are sensitive to cold and can freeze, so they can’t be outside over the winter, but a basement is warm enough, even in the winter, Hayes said.
Prepare your container by adding holes.
Add some bedding material, such as ripped up newspaper or shredded mail, to your container. Moisten the bedding. The worms want an environment that is warm, moist and dark. The paper allows air flow and helps control the moisture level.
Next add kitchen scraps (not meat). Introduce your worms.
Then add another layer of bedding material.
That top layer of bedding material will keep fruit flies out, Hayes said. If you have trouble with fruit flies, you can also put a sheet over the top of your container.
In other composting processes, you want heat to speed the process along, but not here. In vermicomposting, mold and fungus are essential, Hayes said, but he noted again that they don’t smell.
The worms will eat the bedding material as well as the kitchen scraps. When your container is filled mostly with compost, stop adding garbage and move your worms to another bin, Hayes said. He estimates that it will take four to six months to get the great compost you see in the photo at the beginning of the story.
If you move your red wrigglers to an outside compost heap or to the garden, they will eat and breed this summer. However, there is little chance of them becoming an invasive species because they probably won’t survive the winter, he said.
Vermicomposting is a great project to do with children.
“Kids and worms are a natural combination,” Hayes said. “They seem to understand it quite readily.”
Buffalo ReUse plans to sell red wriggler worms in the future. Until they get a stock of them, you can try to find red wrigglers, also known as Eisenia foetida, in bait shops. Another good worm for vermiculture is Lumbricus rubellus.
by Connie Oswald Stofko