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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Worms at work. © Robert Queen

December 1998

A new wiggle on waste

Using worms to compost food waste and save landfill space.

Maureen Mecozzi

Worms: They're hungry for work!
© Robert Queen
Table of contents

Cleopatra called them sacred, and Charles Darwin felt they had perhaps the most profound effect on the history of the world of any species. They weren't thinking of cats. Or Galapagos turtles. Or apes coming down out of the trees.

They were thinking about worms. And the vital, useful role worms play in enriching the soil for other species, Homo sapiens included.

So this is about worms. And why you – yes, you! – should welcome worms into your home.

In Wisconsin, about 17 percent of the trash that goes to the landfill is food waste. That's a lot of wasted food, and a lot of wasted landfill space.

It's food that could be fed to worms, which will graciously turn it into useful compost with just a little help from you.

Charles Darwin on worms.

By setting up a vermicomposting (worm composting) system at home, you won't have to throw away as much waste – an important consideration, especially if you are charged by the bag, can or weight for waste disposal. You'll also help extend the life of the landfill used by your community.

Keeping worms is easy, enjoyable and educational for people of all ages. The time commitment is minimal. When it's done properly, vermicomposting is clean and odorless, and there's no need for expensive or elaborate equipment.

It's simple: The worms are kept in a bin with shredded paper or other biodegradable bedding. You feed them food waste. They digest the waste and bedding then excrete nutrient-rich castings. After a few months, the castings combined with the well-decomposed bedding, become vermicompost – one of the richest soil amendments around. It will do wonders for your houseplants, flowers, fruit trees and garden vegetables. And anglers will appreciate having a steady supply of worms on hand.

Anyone maintaining a worm bin will be fascinated by the way worms work. You may even find yourself thinking of them as pets. As one Wisconsin vermicomposter says: "Nothing beats the sound of thousands of worms sucking on cantaloupe skins!"

To hear the worm music yourself, read on...

Table of Contents

Composting with worms
The bin
Build your own wooden box
The bedding
The worms
The menu
Composter's corner: Joan North

Time to eat
Worm watching
The harvest
How to harvest
Composter's corner: Mary Ann Swenski

Welcome and unwelcome guests
The castings of thousands
When you're ready to squirm
Worm wisdom