A growing number of apartment dwellers concerned about saving the environment are turning to vermicomposting - using worms to consume organic waste.
"It is gathering momentum," says Cathy Nesbitt of Cathy's Crawly Composters in Bradford. "Most tell me they feel guilty about putting garbage bags down the chute."
Nesbitt sells composters ranging from a starter kit to a large model that holds 80 litres. But she says a 55-litre kit is usually best for apartments and sells for $79.95, which includes one pound of Red Wiggler worms.
"The size of your unit depends on the number of people and the kind of diet they have," she says. "If they're meat and potato people, they're going to have less (compostable waste) than vegetarians.
"People always ask how long it takes to compost and I say it depends on what you eat, how often you eat at home and how much you chop up the stuff. Because the worms don't have teeth, they wait until it rots."
Nesbitt says the bins take the same waste that are put into backyard composters.
She says the worms particularly enjoy fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, crushed egg shells, cooked rice or pasta. But don't add meat or dairy products.
The waste should be buried under the bedding to prevent an outbreak of fruit flies. You shouldn't add too much food at one time, or allow the waste to get too wet or too dry.
"It's not that the worms won't eat cheese or meat," Nesbitt says. "It's just the danger that it has a tendency to become smelly." She adds, though, that smell shouldn't be an issue if the composting is done correctly.
"If there's a smell then there's something wrong. The worms require oxygen. If it smells, it means the oxygen has been squished out."
The bins will fit neatly under most kitchen sinks. One kilogram of worms will eat roughly half a kilogram of waste a day, according to Nesbitt. She estimates that for every 20 kilograms of waste, they provide one kilogram of castings (waste), which can then be used as fertilizer.
Nesbitt will deliver composters to anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area and help buyers set them up.
"The bedding can be shredded paper, straw, leaves, coffee or egg cartons and cardboard," she says. "A 14-gallon (55-litre) bin takes two garbage bags of shredded paper to set up, so it's an incredible waste management tool. And once it's started you add a few strips of paper every week or two."
The result is a harvest of nutritious material for your houseplants or community garden.
For those who think of worms as yucky, Nesbitt says the creatures are industrious, shy, can live up to 20 years, and are one of the best ways to deal with household waste that is organic in nature. Unlike ordinary backyard composters, vermicomposters are fast and can be fed a couple of times a week.
You also don't even have to touch the worms; Nesbitt provides a spoon. "When it comes time to harvest, it depends on how hands-on you want to be. You can dump the entire bin out and then sort through it. Or, the worms don't like the light, so you shine a bright light on the top and they'll burrow down."
Veronica Foster, 28, has had a worm composter since her university days. "I have one for environmental reasons," she says. "I was guilty about how much garbage I was composting and I couldn't compost in an apartment. I got the composter and instead of creating many stinky bags of garbage, I create maybe one bag of garbage a week."
Another market for Nesbitt is children. She sells a starter kit that includes worms for $34.95.
"Elementary schools are a huge focus for me, since education about these amazing little composters is key," she says.
"At the fairs and markets I attend, I tend to prey on the kids. They love watching the worms so it gives me the opportunity to get my message out to the children and to their parents. I even sell a kid's book on the subject."
For more information, visit WWW.cathyscomposters.com or call 905-775-9495.
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