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Cathy's Crawly Composters - Vermicomposting

Cathy's Crawly Composters



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The Canadian Press

July 2009


Worms at work: Ontario woman relies on red wrigglers for composting

By Sunny Freeman

TORONTO - Children at Samba Kidz summer camp in Toronto squealed with delight as they scooped up squirms of worms at a workshop on composting with red wrigglers.

While some kids thought the worms were too icky to touch, others named their new pets - a group of which is indeed called a squirm - and went back to the bucket to ask for more red wrigglers, the best type of worm for composting.

Cathy Nesbitt, the namesake behind Cathy's Crawly Composters in Bradford, Ont., visited the day campers on their rooftop garden to drop off a worm chalet and give the kids a demonstration.

A hyper blond boy crushed eggshells, while a girl with pigtails mixed shredded paper in with soil. Another boy sneaked a look at the wiggly stars of the show.

Worms are Nesbitt's passion - and her business. She sells compost units, hosts corporate seminars, and drops in at birthday parties to talk about the benefits of worming garbage away.

"I think it's why I was put on Earth. It's my mission," said Nesbitt, sporting a bronze chain resembling a worm coiled around her neck and matching earrings.

"I was afraid of worms before starting my business. ... Now I can relate ... when people are like 'worms in the house?' and they freak out ... but I had a shift when I realized all the magic they do."

Worms can eat their weight in compost each day. Their diet is a mix of the bedding they live in, usually shredded paper, and food scraps. This mixture of carbon and nitrogen produces worm castings, a nutrient-rich soil, or black gold.

Worms are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both male and female parts. After worms mate, they produce a cocoon, which can contain up to 20 babies.

"When I talk about the phenomenal reproduction, sometimes people's eyes bugs out because they think, 'Oh my gosh, what am I going to do when I have too many worms?"' she said.

"Impossible, because they will regulate based on available space and available food, so the adults start dying off to make room for the babies."

Nesbitt started her business at a time when people were desperate for waste alternatives: in the midst of Toronto's 2002 garbage strike.

Now Torontonians, in the third week of a city-wide strike that has halted garbage collection, are once again searching for alternatives.

About one-third of household garbage is compostable.

Risa Strauss, who runs Kavanah Organic Community Teaching Garden, said she and other environmentalists are disappointed with the city's answer to dealing with organic matter during the strike: throw it in with other garbage piling up in temporary dump sites.

"When we throw organic waste into landfills, because there's so much plastic in there and there's no oxygen, you really interfere with the process of decomposition," Strauss said.

Strauss holds workshops of worm composting, or vermicomposting, to teach urban dwellers how to learn from natural cycles and create a small-scale ecosystem to deal with their waste.

"In nature, there is no such thing as waste," she said.

"One of the benefits is you'll have worm castings, which is worm poo, which is super-rich in nutrients. You can add that straight to your plants and it'll make such a difference, it will make them so happy."

Toronto Coun. Adam Vaughan and residents in his ward recently started a community compost project - a pit the size of a refrigerator where people can dump compost for use in their community garden.

But after a run-in with the provincial Environment Ministry over the site - negotiations are underway to amend a temporary trash site permit to keep the compost pit open - Vaughan said it's better for residents to avoid the red tape and try worm composting as an alternative.

"It takes a lot of crap out of the green bin ... and I hope people, having done it during the strike, don't discontinue because the garbage truck rolls by the next day," Vaughan said. "The less we have trucks driving around to pick up garbage, the better."

Vermicomposting is ideal for urban settings where there isn't room for a backyard compost. And it can be done year round.

Worm homes can be made from a plastic bin with holes poked in it. A pound of powerful red wriggler worms, which can eat up a tonne of garbage in a year, costs about $45.

The worm bin, which can be as small as a residential recycling bin, can be kept on a balcony during the summer, but should be brought indoors during the winter, Nesbitt said.

"Self-composting is something that doesn't take any municipal dollars," she said. "We don't need any infrastructure, we just do it ourselves. It's the responsible thing to do."

"Composting takes the stink out of garbage. So if everyone was composting we wouldn't really have a big issue with the garbage strike because ... you'd just have dry garbage, which doesn't really cause that much of a problem."


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