Waste management is particularly difficult for northerners because much of the land remains frozen through the long winter months. Apartment dwellers are also limited by a lack of outdoor facilities for composting. No matter where you live, however, there's a way you can compost to reduce waste, and you can do it year-round, right in your home, using worms!
This indoor method is called vermicomposting. It uses busy worms to achieve the same results as outdoor composting. You can use the finished compost as fertilizer for your wildlife garden, as nourishment for trees and shrubs, or (if you live in a high-rise) as a valuable contribution to someone else's backyard habitat.
• Red worms (Eisenia foetida) are the worms of choice for vermicomposting. They'll happily eat and excrete their own weight every day. Red worms are unlike the worms you usually see in your garden. They're normally found in the manure of livestock, which generates enough warmth and provides the right nutrients to keep them alive.
• For a household of one or two people, you'll need a vermicomposting bin measuring 45 cm wide x 60 cm long x 30 cm high, plus 120 to 225 g of worms. A household of three or four people will need a larger bin, measuring 60 cm wide x 60 cm long x 30 cm high, plus about 225 g of worms.
• To obtain red worms, check the Yellow Pages for vermicomposting suppliers or composting services. Your municipality may also offer vermicomposting supplies at a reduced price. Alternatively, fishing bait stores may be able to provide you with red worms. (Red worms aren't suitable as fish bait, but small outfits can often order them from larger worm suppliers.) Make sure the worms you get are red worms, as other species won't work for indoor composting. Some vermicomposting suppliers provide books and videos with step-by-step instructions.
• Provide bedding for your worms using moist straw, lawn clippings, dry leaves, torn-up plants, or ground-up cardboard and shredded paper.
• Place the worms on the bedding.
• Add almost any kitchen waste, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. Do not give the worms meat, fatty foods, or starches.
• Cover the bin with a lid.
• Keep the bedding as damp as a squeezed-out sponge.
• You can leave the vermicomposter outdoors from April to September, but bring it inside when temperatures drop below four degrees Celsius.
• Any scraps you add to the vermicomposter must be covered with a layer of bedding material.
• Your compost will be ready within three months. Move the finished compost (worms and all) to one side of the bin. Put a new layer of bedding on the bottom.
• Add fresh food scraps to the new bedding. Soon, the worms will abandon the finished compost.
• After a week, remove the bin lid under a bright light so the worms will burrow into the bedding. Scoop out a few layers of finished compost and store it in an open plastic bag or spread it in your garden right away. You can also mix it with potting soil for indoor plants.
• When your worm population gets out of hand, divide the worms and start a new bin, or give them to other would-be vermicomposters. Do not release red worms in your backyard; they will freeze and die without adequate warmth.