Monday, September 29, 2008

Pay Dirt

Yesterday, I launched a new project that I'm *very* excited about. I now have in my basement a vermicomposting bin, which, come spring, will yield for me some very tasty soil for the plants in my garden. And, in the meantime, there are a ton of other perks as well.

What is vermicomposting? Basically, it's using worms to make compost.

This excellent page describes what it is and how to do it.

All you need is a safe, dark spot that keeps a temperature of around 60-65 degrees, a bin, some bedding (newspaper), and food. We used an old plastic bin (18-gallons, maybe?) that used to be used for recycling and was sitting around gathering dust in the basement and some newspaper from our recycling bin. The bin is covered with an inflatable raft--the kind you'd use in the pool or at the lake. We are using it because it's free and we don't have the lid to this bin. It doesn't sit flush, so it allows air in, but keeps the light out. And we needed a place to put it so that it wasn't on the ground. Voila. Two problems solved at once.

The beauty of vermicomposting, apart from how amazingly simple it is, is that it allows you to compost your kitchen scraps into usable soil. If you pay for trash removal--or live in a climate where you can only compost outdoors during part of the year--you can create a vermicomposting bin in your own home and continue to reduce the amount of waste you have to pay to haul off to the land fill.

Other perks include a feeling of connection with the cycles of the earth, free nutrient-rich soil, a learning experience for kids--and worms make really affordable pets. If you don't want to spring for a cat or a high-maintenance caged animal that needs you to clean its bedding every week, worms are an excellent option for kids. They don't require any cleaning--in fact, you WANT them to make dirt. They don't require veterinary care or special food. Just give them your uncooked vegetable scraps once a week, make sure they have air and a safe enclosure and you're good to go. You can leave for vacation for a week and they'll be none the wiser. But kids can still get invested in their health and well-being, take responsibility for feeding them, watch their progress, and in the spring, they can help you harvest the soil and remake the bed.

You can purchase worms to start your vermicomposting project, but of course we at Thrift would never suggest that. We grew ours this summer in an outdoor starter pile made up of weeds, vegetable scraps, dirt, and wet newspaper. The pile was tucked away on a convenient patch of concrete next to our back porch, which meant that the worms wouldn't crawl back down into the earth, and that no one but us could really see it.

When the weather started to cool, we dug through and found the earthworms inside and transferred them to their new winter home in our basement. Our starter pile suffered a setback when our landlord cleared it away--we think he must have thought he was being helpful, but we were really dismayed by the unexpected destruction of our lovely pile. Luckily, the second pile remained untouched and has yielded a nice healthy crop of earthworms.

For more on what to feed them and how to make a bin, including tips on how to keep it from smelling bad and attracting flies, visit the link above.

Happy worming!

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