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October 25, 2011 / Andrew

Composting Tuesday: A Worm Bin is a Great Solution for Urbanites

Commenter Maggie D weighed in yesterday, on Plastics Monday,  with the following comment, and we thought her conundrum deserved a proper blog post as a reply:   “My mom lives in the suburbs and I live in the city. We both hate plastic bags but find ourselves using them for garbage. Here in the City I have tried freezing stuff to take for composting but freezer space is limited & a worm bin scares me because I travel a lot. I can’t leave messy stuff around (mice & roaches would go crazy) and I’m required to bag garbage before putting it in the trash chute.” — Maggie D

Hi, Maggie!   As an urban-dweller myself here in Washington, DC, I had the same conundrum about composting, until I turned to a worm bin back in 2003, and drastically reduced my waste footprint by feeding my worms all of my organic scraps.  Worm bins are really doable, they’re not smelly or messy if you maintain them properly, and depending on your travel schedule, your concern about being away a lot could actually be a plus:  the travel time might give the worms a “rest,” if you’ve been producing too much waste for the worms to handle.

My experience has been that it’s actually a delight to get to know your worms and form a symbiotic relationship with them, as your own household waste recyclers.  I use the worms’ compost in window-sill herb pots, so the circle is complete, right there within my own urban apartment.  It’s not quite the same as having a yard and getting to dig in the dirt, but that’s what community gardens are for, so the worms do make a fairly acceptable garden-substitute for the urban apartment dweller.

The only times I’ve ever had a “problem,” with the worm bin is if I have overfed the worms.  If you provide them more food than they can consume within a reasonable time, then it’s true that the food could rot or grow mold in your bin, and then you have an ecosystem problem.  The rule of thumb for the ecosystem you’re creating is to follow a two-to-one ratio, i.e. two pounds of worms can consume about a pound of food per day.  I follow this schedule by saving compost in the fridge or freezer, if I need to spread out how much food I’m giving them, and in eight years of tending my bin, I’ve only allowed a mold problem to happen twice.   You can do this; good luck!

The following articles on the Green America site  delve into composting in greater depth, if you need more info:

Worm Composting:   All-Natural Recycling

Pick a Composter, Any Composter

The worm image on this post comes courtesy of Karmafarm, a member of our Green Business Network™.  They sell two pounds of composting worms for $53.  Find other composting supplies from other companies in the Green Pages, and please weigh in below with your own worm-composting tips and successes.  What strategies do you use keep your bin healthy?

Also, on Maggie’s original conundrum — the pastic garbage bags — I have to admit that while my worms drastically reduced my reliance on platic garbage bags, I do still use them.  If you have a solution or suggestion for how to take the next step to reduce plastic in the trash-removal arena, please weigh in via the comments.

8 Comments

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  1. Connie Supan / Oct 31 2011 12:15 am

    If you start with 2 pounds of worms, don’t they multiply? What then? Worms all over your basement?

  2. Andrew / Oct 31 2011 10:09 am

    No, the worms stay in balance with the ecosystem you have created. If you gradually feed them more food, they will multiply in balance with the food. If you gradually ease off, the population will decrease. Using the formula above — an average of a pound a day — the ecosystem is balanced.

    Also, the worms don’t WANT to leave the bin. The resources they need (darkness and warmth and organic food and cellulose) aren’t available on your bare basement floor, they’re only available in the bin. The only reason the worms would ever want to “escape” is if for some reason conditions inside the bin become less hospitable than those outside (an outbreak of mold, for example).

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