Composting, Vermicomposting and Other Options for City Dwellers

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you produce. This can mean lower garbage fees for some, like my uncle, from Indiana, who says they pay $20 per trash can removal and nothing for recycling. Vermicomposting is what you're up to if you're employing the service of worms to compost materials, like the company Terracycle does on a commercial scale.


There isn't citywide recycling in Chicago. I participate to kill my guilt, reduce my waste, and build my empire of worm minions. The City of Chicago seems to be rolling out recycling bins on a ZIP-by-ZIP basis - Go Blue, Go!


What follows are some of the stories from my worm experience. There are many resources online :

Shedd -- as a basic resource for vermicomposting information.

McGill Composts -- Our neighbors to the north have a great resouce on composting, including some great links to vermicompost initiatives that span borders - worms without borders? hm... Here's the direct link to how-to-vermicompost.


Ongoing conversations with a friends about vermicomposting experience

* lesson: Storing my compost in a bin in the freezer seems to cut the occasional fly problem ( still a problem)


Basically, find a resource for worms, which are quite spiffy lil' organisms, and buy a couple pounds (one pound per square foot per pound per week). WHAT? right. One pound of worms, spread over about one square foot of space will process about one pound of food scraps per week. Easy enough, eh? Right.


The two primary challenges I have faced are odor and flies. As close as I can tell, the odor may be related to the capacity of your worm bin or worm condo or worm dwelling - whatever - and the volume of material contributed by the human system participants (you).


If you have more worms and more surface area, they can process more scraps. Any guide will tell you not to add animal fats - this is important. The Shedd guide also mentioned that worms have a tough time with stronger smelling foods, like onions. I forget the reason, but I don't think it has to do with the odor ;-) Maybe the acidity? In any event, a friend and I both discovered that egg shells, although touted as important, are processed very, very slowly, so your plans for omelette and fritatta bonanzas, enabled by your new vermicompost bin are... maybe not quite destiny.

In any event:

  1.  get shallow, ~2 sqft bin (see guidelines from your resource of choice)
  2.  drill holes in sides, top of bin -- not so much in the bottom... just a few - look!
  3.  another local blog entry about it with details - the internet is fun!!
  4. add dirt, worms.

Soil Exchange Inc.
2307 Colby Dr.
McHenry, IL  60050

Maybe they'll be able to afford hosting fees with the referrals I send ;-) $30 for 2 pounds (think of your vast,untold fortunes!)

4) add shredded paper, without dyes -- I resorted to adding some paper with dyes since it was what I had on hand, but let the lil' guys get started on the right foot, eh?

5) let them be -- we all like some time to adjust, so add a little bit of food scrap

6) off you go -- lil' water now and then and add the food scraps under the paper


That said, I have two experiments (I know, "confounds, confounds...") going on in my bin these days:

A) I added a lot of beans (don't ask) at one point and many of them have been observed to be sprouting -- kind of nifty, but not sure what the repercussions might prove to be -- I'll keep ya posted...

Update April 2010: beans have come and gone. Bin split twice - populations observed in decline. New worms added. Marked reduction in fly populations on reintroduction of new worms.

B) I haven't been removing the castings, also known affectionately as "worm poop". It's really great stuff, apparently, and I hope I'm not doing my worms wrong... If I had a rooftop garden, I'd be adding it for sure. Until then, before reporting me to the ASPCA, please drop a line. These guys crawl out all on their own, sometimes & I've used light as a deterrant, but still, once in a while, when conditionas are right/awfully wrong, they make a break for freedom onto the unforgivingly dry floor.

C) I dropped about 50-100 espresso grounds-clumps into one bin the other day. I can get these for the price of a coffee beverage per day. Where-oh-where did by Starbucks Black Amex go...? Now it's the 'gold' card - pft. gold.


Here's another worm vendor I've used: Worms Wrangler. They shipped two packages. I went to pick up the order, which was being held as the US Post Office. The woman behind the counter promptly asked me WHAT I had had shipped and then told me that it smelled so bad they had to put it outon the dock. I was incredulous, but went around back to pick up what was, indeed, the most foul smelling organic thing I've ever encountered. I put it directly in their dumpsterand contacted Worms Wrangler. No one can be sure exactly what happened with the first package -- did they put the worms out when it was realy cold, befre they got funky, and they all died, which made them stink? Had they died in transit? -- Pointing fingers is not one of my favorite hobbies, so I asked Worms Wrangler how they intended to proceed. It took them a while, but they ultimately shipped a new batch of worms, which arrived without incident. These worms are rockin' and rollin' in my bins and all is well again :-) I would buy from them in the future.