Why I Keep a Worm Bin
I have done many eccentric things in my life. For three years in my 20’s, I studied aerial arts and dreamed non-ironically of joining the circus. At 29, I quit a well-paying-with-benefits desk job to go to hair school. It is not uncommon for me to impulse-buy tickets and board planes solo to locales random and sundry.
For all the out-there jobs I have taken, hobbies I’ve started, and places I’ve been, folks seem to think that starting a worm farm is near the top of the eccentricity list. Which always surprises me because nothing could be more mundane.
My husband’s job allows us to live in a north-facing high rise apartment near downtown Dallas. We have hardwood floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, and raw cement accents. The light isn’t ideal, but it allows me to nurture various hardy indoor plants and a handful of stoic potted herbs. To say that my life is #blessed is a gross understatement.
My only complaint is the cat litter. It gets everywhere, and the floors are dark so it shows. We’ve talked about investing in a Roomba, but we already have a perfectly good upright Dyson that we acquired as our first Big Purchase as a married couple ten years ago; we paid it off in $35 installments at a Con’s over the course of a year.
Vacuum nostalgia aside, cleaning the cat litter is a real pain in the ass. We keep the litter box in an out-of-the-way nook next to the living room. The extra square footage was a splurge, but it gives my husband a home for his books, me elbow room to tend my plants, and the cats a corner in which to privately take a shit. Oh and a place to keep my worms.
The worms are way less work than the cat shit.
The idea of a worm bin first occured to me during an eight-month sojourn on the West Coast. Our previous North Texas apartment didn’t have a balcony or really any natural light, and I became drunk on sunshine and temperate winds as soon as the Penske truck rolled to a stop. The Del Mar location Armstrong Nursery employees soon knew me by name, and within a month my husband was picking jalapenos out of my balcony garden for our Thanksgiving meal.
My mind quickly turned to composting. I was amazed by how easy it was to recycle in California. In Addison we were the lucky few who had access to a few recycling bins in our apartment building that always seemed full and were collected on a somewhat dubious schedule. In San Diego we finally had access to convenient recycling services - why not recycle kitchen waste as well?
A few Google sessions turned me off of the tumbler methods. Most of the contraptions cost upwards of $100 and I was way too impatient to wait four-plus months for a damn carrot to break down. I was living my best life and I needed compost NOW. My local public library had a (very) small section on vermicomposting, and I found a volume that convinced me that establishing a worm bin would be a Very Good Idea.
At the time I had no idea just how very good an idea this actually was. You don’t have to be a hobby jumper like me to understand that our current waste habits are steadily, systematically warping the ecosystem we live in.
One of the most pervasive assumptions we make as a culture is that our trash just disappears when we throw it away. Magically. In reality, there is no “away,” there is only this planet, and landfills aren’t little farms where trash goes to decompose in a clean, safe environment.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, municipal waste is the third largest source of human-made methane gases. Landfills aren’t made to break down waste, they are made to store it. And store it they do. Trash is packed so tightly (and eventually sealed under layers of plastic and rubber) that almost no oxygen can find its way in, which causes organic matter to break down very, very slowly and produce the greenhouse emission.
And although methane only accounts for about ten percent of US greenhouse emissions, it is several magnitudes worse than carbon monoxide when it is initially released. OUR HOUSEHOLD TRASH IS KILLING THE POLAR BEARS.
I brought my rosey haze of California dreamin’ and a determination to save the world back to Texas, where I ordered some books and got to work.
A photo of the epitomise worm guru Mary Appelhof graces the back cover of her highly-regarded how-to, Worms Eat My Garbage, and you can tell you’re about to get hit with some worm knowledge. She’s just got that wormy look. WEMG gives us all the details, down to weighing weekly kitchen scraps, measuring pH, identifying competing critters, and exact measurements for your own DIY box.
I’m a bit more slap-n-dash. I just bought a plastic bin, tore up some paper scraps from work, and ordered my worms online. Truthfully, I fully anticipated a little worm holocaust. Appelhof made the whole thing seem so delicate and precise! Thankfully, the reality is much, much simpler than you can even imagine.
For the most part, my worms are alive, hungry, and content to be neglected. The kitchen is my husband's domain, and because he loves me and has to support my weird hobbies, he stuffs his vegetable scraps in a couple allocated containers in the fridge (the meat leavings go in a Ziplock in the freezer for stock, but that’s a story for another day). Every two to three days I’ll toss in a couple large handfuls directly from the fridge into the bin. When the medium becomes too, well, shitty I’ll throw on a pair of gloves and mix in some new bedding, aka packaging paper I saved from shipments at work.
To answer everyone’s first two questions, the bin doesn’t smell, and my cats don’t seem to know it exists.
To answer everyone’s third and fourth questions, yes the castings (poop) have a purpose, and no I’m not using the worms for fishing. I haven’t harvested the castings yet because it’s winter and I’m lazy, but once warmer weather hits, I’ll separate the worms from their excrement, re-bed the bin, and use the brown gold to fertilize my potted plants. BOOM.
Although worm farming isn’t the first step I took to reduce my impact on the environment, it has turned out to be an easy solution to a problem I didn’t even know existed. Maintaining a mini ecosystem for worms probably would have seemed extremely crunchy granola to me a few years ago - but as my mindset towards consumption has changed and I have become more aware of waste, I have realized that it is vital for each of us to take personal accountability for responsibly discarding the waste that we create.
And maybe there’s nothing wrong with being a little eccentric every now and then.
Photo courtesy Kyle Ellefson