apartment living


Back when Husby and I were attempting to straighten out our apartment composting situation, one of the things we dabbled in was vermiculture. Vermiculture is composting with worms, and in the right conditions the worms eat your kitchen scraps and poop them out as vermiculite, a fabulously rich in nutrient garden addition. In a traditional compost pile, the work of changing the scraps is done primarily through bacteria, fermentation, heat, and time.

You can order special worms for vermiculture, but that’s not really necessary, as any worm has to eat and excrete. In fact your garden variety earth worm will frequently crawl its way into the outskirts of a compost pile and happily live and eat there. So, seeing as how in the summer in the great lakes region, you can go into pretty much any locally owned hardware store and buy “bait”, Husby did just that and brought home about two dozen earth worms.

The trick with indoor vermiculture is that you need to create the right environment for your worker-worms, as they will be contained in whatever sort of container you are keeping your compost in, and won’t have a chance to safely retreat from the pile if it is no longer meeting their needs. Worms don’t want it to be too hot, and if you have a compost pile that is primarily kitchen scraps in a small enough space, the natural rotting process of the food will build up quite a bit of heat in the center of the pile – great for a compost pile, but not at all great for the worms.  So it’s very important that the vermiculture pile has enough space to spread out, and is mixed with plenty of “brown” or carbon rich materials to help keep it cool. Good brown materials include shredded newspaper, torn up egg cartons (the cardboard kind, not the Styrofoam) torn up brown paper bags, and dried leaves. You also want to have airflow, which may mean holes in the container or a breathing material for the lid. Finally, starting out with an inch or two of dirt will give the worms someplace to retreat to if the center of the pile gets too hot.

Unfortunately our new pets did not fair so well. We made a couple of mistakes – our bin was just too small for the amount of scraps we were adding to it, and the worms didn’t have anywhere cool to retreat to once the scraps started rotting. But retreat they did, right out of the bucket and across our wood floors.  Which, by the way, are also not the right environment for worms to thrive in. Unfortunately, Husby and I didn’t realize we had a problem until we found a couple poor, dried out, worms on our floor. We mourned our pets and decided it would be best to wait on our vermiculture plans until we have space for a larger bin.

If you’re interested in starting your own vermiculture compost, Husby highly recommends the book The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. It looks like they’ve released a new edition since we got ours. I’ll keep you up to date on our future (hopefully much more successful) attempts at raising worms and making black gold.

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