This weekend, I finished constructing my vermiculture incubator. What is such a thing? Take away the academic language and you've got a worm bin. Vermicompost is an easy way to compost food scraps that doesn't throw off the balance of your outdoor yard waste compost. (If you are looking for a free outdoor compost set-up, look no farther than the City of New Haven Public Works at 34 Middletown Ave.) The best yard waste composts consist of 2/3 brown (carbon-rich) waste and 1/3 green (nitrogen-rich) waste. (What's brown and green? The EPA knows.) In the summer, most waste is green (trimmings, weeds, sod). Green waste includes kitchen waste like fruit scraps and coffee grounds.
If you still want to keep green kitchen waste out of the landfill, you can use worms. Worm bins are a fast and non-smelly way to generate a moderate amount of high quality compost from your kitchen scraps. The worms love to eat the bacteria that break down your (non-meat) food scraps. They burrow through watermelon rind like nobody's business and dig coffee grounds, corn husks, fruit scraps and even the occasional piece of produce gone bad. Since you bury the waste underneath the existing substrate, the smell that you've known escaping from your trash bin is not present. Sure, the bacteria are still there, but all you get is a musty fragrance of earth.
How do you keep worms happy? For one, not any old worm will do. You will need red wigglers, or the more difficult to find European earthworm. The worms in your back yard, while probably not native to North America, are neither of these. Those are probably of the variety known as dew worms or Canadian earthworms. What do the worms look like? They are characteristically red with yellow stripes. There's a good picture I took from the Yankee Worm website, which is actually a good place to get information about what you'll need to build a worm bin. All of the materials can be gathered from around the house. I recently ran out of duct tape, and didn't have hardware cloth, so had to buy thise items. So my grand total for this project was $7.91 and a couple hours of my time. And the worms? I joined my neighborhood's Freecycle community to find people who could give me a handful of their worms. I found two enthusiastic donors. Thanks Jean and Betsy! My do-it-yourself approach saved about $100 for the compost bin and $40-50 in worms. The make a bin .pdf at Yankee Worm is a pretty good guide, although I'm not sure how easy it will be to collect the worm castings at the end without spoiling the styrofoam peanuts. Since we have an abundance of peanuts from our move, I tried it anyway. Other guides use other ways to keep the worms from getting too soggy.
My worms are now hanging out in their cool dark corner of the basement munching on their first meal of kitchen scraps. I'll check in on them in a week to see if they need any more!