Let worms eat your garbage


Tired of having to turn that big ol’ pile of compost over and over?

’Cause if you don’t, it’s going to stink worse than it does when you do?

There’s an app for that. It’s called earthworms.

Yep, those little red wriggly guys that surface after a rain. They’ll joyfully churn your compost into free and nonoffensive fertilizer. Only you can’t simply scoop up a bunch of the worms that inhabit Colorado yards.

“Those are species that are either very deepdwelling or very large,” says John Anderson, a Fort Collins master gardener known as “The Worm Man.”

Anderson travels around Colorado to woo people past the “yuck factor” and give worm composting a try. He says the best composters are commonly known as red worms. It’s easier to pronounce than Eisenia foetida or Lumbricus rubellus.

Obtaining red worms is easy and sometimes even free. You can get them from enthusiasts such as Anderson, retail suppliers or compost worm exchanges.

A worm bin can be a box small enough to keep in an apartment kitchen, or as big as a re-purposed refrigerator. Lack of odor means it can be kept indoors or out.

They all need a snug cover, ventilation and bedding from shredded newspapers, dead leaves, sawdust and straw. Worms will then dine on pretty much anything of vegetable matter except grass clippings.

Depending on the bin, there are several ways to harvest the resulting worm castings and “compost tea.”

The easiest was demonstrated to me by Dan Moore, whose blog is called Boulder Vermicomposting. On a recent day, we met at his former home, a condo he rents out. The patio had a large plastic composting bin bought on sale in 2006.

Moore, a web developer who once spent two weeks in Australia as a volunteer farm worker, raised the lid and introduced me to his red wrigglers. There was a whiff of plant rot.

“I haven’t been here in a couple of months,” Moore apologized, as he hefted a bag of dead leaves into the bin. “It doesn’t smell when you give it regular attention.”

By that he meant renewing with fresh worm food and removing the compost more frequently. Still, the bin smelled less than my weekly wormless kitchen compost.

Moore pulled out a drawer near the bottom of the bin into which worm castings had fallen. The contents looked like the black gold that I buy at the garden center.

The bin yields about 10-20 pounds of compost twice a year that go to the condominium association for its community garden. Moore started another worm bin recently at the home he shares with his fiancée, Pam Sinel.

“Got plans for the stuff?” I said. Moore smiled. “Garlic. Tomatoes.”

This Boulderganic column is dedicated to the “Worm Woman,” Mary Appelhof, whose 1982 “Worms Eat My Garbage” remains the go-to vermiculture handbook. She died May 4, 2005.

More sources: Garbage Busters (“The Worm Man”), www.cowormman.com/Home/tabid/36/Default. aspx, Boulder Vermicomposting (Dan Moore’s blog), http://bouldervermicomposting.com, A.B.C. Composting (northeast Denver retailer), 303-919- 1508, www.abccomposting.com Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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