Roman Sturgis Take care of each other and make good decisions.

May 5, 2009


Filed under: Blog — Roman @ 9:09 pm

Photo by Laura Mogel-Sturgis

For the past few weeks I’ve been researching how to start a worm composting bin. This all started with a New York Times article about composting in urban environments. Over the weekend, I decided to move forward, bought some “red wigglers” over the phone from a farm in South Carolina, and today, they arrived. One pound of juicy reds.

The basic idea is this: reduce kitchen waste by feeding raw veggies to worms, harvest their nitrogen-rich castings (poop) after 3 or 4 months, and use them to accelerate growth of my garden herbs and vegetables. It’s a neat little system that will a) save us money b) reduce our waste, and c) serve as a model for friends and family to duplicate. Along those lines, when the worms lay eggs, I’ll harvest them and start another bin, which will likely end up at my grandmother’s, where I’ll monitor it. With any luck, they’ll survive the summer, and I’ll have two more batches of worms in the fall to start two more bins, which will go to two more homes, and so on. That’s the dream; we’ll see if it happens. I’ll report on this mini-project over the coming months.

I used a RubberMaid tub that was collecting dust in the attic, old newspapers, and some leftover soil from my weekend gardening project. My only direct cost was for the worms themselves: $30 for one pound, including shipping.

Here’s a basic methodology:

I drilled a bunch of holes in the RubberMaid (1/4 inch) along the sides and in the bottom. This is for aeration and drainage, which is important for avoiding smells and attracting varmints. Supposedly, the smell is not detectable when the operation is running smoothly. We’re keeping this puppy outside until we consider ourselves proficient enough to explore a kitchen counter-top version. It’s important not to drill holes in the lid, as it will keep rain and sun out.

I shredded newspaper and got the worms delivered in the mail. They came in a black breathable bag filled with a kind of sawdust. I opted to have them delivered to the post office and held, so that I wouldn’t risk them baking on the stoop.

For about a week, we saved kitchen scraps in the fridge/freezer. What can you feed a worm? In general, raw veggies, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, banana peels, orange peels, garlic/onion skins.

What you should avoid: citris and a lot of onions and leeks. No oils, dairy, or meat. Not sending it down the Dispose-All does take some behavior modification on the part of the chef. Visually, it’s satisfying to see how much waste is getting recycled.

I had prepared the worm condo over the weekend, but when the worms arrived today, I added more newspaper bedding, just to be sure I had enough in there. I added water right to the shredder bucket and dropped the wet shredded newspaper like so much fettuccine into the mix.

Adding the worms was pretty rad. Once on the bedding, they started to uncoil themselves from the central knot and squirmed for darkness. I carefully separated them into smaller knots to help distribute them across the bin.

The nice thing about this newspaper bedding is that it’s really easy for them to move through, and acts as a good medium. They’ll eat the newspaper along with the food, and whatever juices the newspaper absorbs. ALSO, it retains moisture, which the worms need to survive. Pretty much the best method I’ve come across for recycling non-glossy newsprint. There’s some debate about whether to use colored print or not. I didn’t pay too much mind to that, but I did avoid the magazine-ish paper that the circulars are printed on.

I made an outdoor model, because I’m worried about the smell and attracting bugs. There are plenty of designs online for indoor models, and plenty you can buy. If I lived in a city apartment, I might go that route. One of the neat things about this project was that it was kind of like setting up an aquarium. There’s a whole mini-ecosystem in there now that is attracting microbes and little bugs, and they’re all doing their thing to break down my garbage and turn it into the best fertilizer. Pretty sweet.

There’s a lot of literature on vermiculture—I had no idea how much of a subculture there was around worm poop. The site that I found the most useful was


  1. The item in the list of kitchen scraps that caught my eye the most here was coffee grounds. Gosh, I sure throw a lot of them away (or run them down my sink & clog the drain).

    Is this finally a reason to buy print newspapers?

    Comment by Jim Sligh — May 7, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  2. […] Our composting method is simple, and unlike previous attempts at composting, (see vermiculture here) we are able to compost just about all our raw veggie and food waste (minus strong citrus), PLUS […]

    Pingback by Roman Sturgis − Suburban Farming — The Adventure Begins!! — August 9, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

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