Book Review: Worms Eat My Garbage

Well I’m stuck in the throes of what can be called a historically typical Pennsylvania winter: a difficult time for a person with an unheated workshop to feel motivated to do much of anything. On the bright side it’s given me an opportunity to finish some books, and several nights ago I finished Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.

You might be wondering how a person might come to the conclusion that they should bring thousands of worms into their home. My girlfriend’s dad  has been raising red worms to sell as bait in his sporting goods store and his experience got me thinking: could I use these critters to compost my kitchen waste?

The answer to that question is: Hell yes.

Worms Eat My Garbage

The point of Worms Ate My Garbage is to teach you the basics of vermiculture and how to set up a worm bin that will compost your kitchen waste while not being completely disgusting.

I’ve tried a couple of composting methods and vermiculture (worm composting) is definitely my favorite.  My experience with Bokashi wasn’t positive enough to ever follow-up on it on the blog.  My compost bin is great–except in the winter when it’s not hot enough to process anything and it’s a pain to suit-up for the frigid weather just to toss in scraps.

My worms bins are great: since Worms Ate My Garbage taught me how to do it right the bins don’t smell, they don’t attract other pests, they eat my garbage, and they turn it into something I can use in my garden. On top of that, they’re reproducing fast enough that I can give them to the in-laws to sell at their shop.

It didn’t start that way.  When I decided to setup a worm bin I dove in head-first with no research.  I purchased 1,000 redworms from Amazon (yes, that Amazon) and an 18 gallon pastic tub.  I filled it with scraps, leaves, and a little soil. What I soon found was that moisture would pool at the bottom, eventually drowning worms at that level.  The worms up top weren’t eating the scraps fast enough and the environment became smelly and attracted fruit flies by the thousands.

My second worm bin fixed the moister problem. I designed a wooden bin with an angled bottom that directed water to a copper pipe, where it could flow out into a bucket. That worked great, until the moisture bowed the lumber and my bin was no longer water-tight.  In addition it did nothing to fix the fly problem and it created another: the thing was too heavy to move around after it was filled.

I finally decided to do a little bit of research.  I purchased Worms Ate My Garbage and Mary Appelhof’s small book about worm-raising quickly showed me where I went wrong.  Worms need bedding and moisture and I was providing neither in healthy quantities.  My bins were attracting fruit flies because I was just tossing the food on top. Instead, I now dig a shallow hole and bury scraps, then cover them with fresh bedding, then cover the top of the bin with damp cardboard.  The flies no longer make an effort to find it.

Ms. Appelhof also takes the time to talk about how to separate worms from their “casing”, which is code for worm poop so you can keep the compost and restart your worms in a fresh bin.

One thing you may have to overlook about this book is the occassional sensational comment.  In the chapter that deals with pest management the author explains that she won’t use the vacuum to eliminate fruit flies because using electricity to do it seems “counter-intuitive” to the whole exercise. That’s certainly her right, but for the rest of us who just don’t want flies in our house: break out the friggin Shop-Vac.

In the video above you might notice that my worm bin consists of an 18 gallon plastic tub inside of a similarly sized tub. The inner tub has holes drilled in the bottom.  As long as you keep food and fresh bedding in the top bin the worms will stay there, but when you’re ready to clean the bin out you can let the worms do the work for you by adding bedding and food to the bottom bin and in a few weeks most of the worms will migrate down on their own.  Then you can use the worm casting in the top bin however you please and restart your whole process by dumping the contents of the outer bin back into the inner bin. You can read all about it here.

Overall I highly recommend Worms Ate My Garbage.  It’s technical enough that science geeks will enjoy and appreciate the proper terminology, but simple and practical enough for the every-day recycling junkie to quickly put into practice.