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Cathy's Crawly Composters - Vermicomposting

Cathy's Crawly Composters


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Summer 2009


Renaissance Magazine

Ventures in Vermicomposting
RTO/ERO member rediscovers an ancient practice

By: Madalina Hubert


It is trendy to be `green' today. Measures to protect the environment are seen as new and innovative and its practitioners regarded as avant-garde. Ironically, however, many of the most effective practices are based on traditional methods that have been in use for thousands of years and until recently discarded due to technological advances. This is the case for vermicomposting, the practice of using earthworms to produce nutrient-rich soil compost.

Barbara Thibodeau of District 7, Windsor-Essex, first learned about the practice from a fellow teacher who had a successful vermicomposting project in his grade 6 class. Several years later, she decided to try it in her own garden, which suffered from the harsher climate and rocky landscape of Pointe-Verte, N.B., the small Acadian fishing village where she has made her home. "I figured if I can do it, anyone else can do it," said Thibodeau who has found the practice personally fulfilling.

The process of vermicomposting is relatively simple. One should start with purchasing red wigglers (eisenia fetida), a special type of earthworm (the quantity is based on the amountof food leftovers per day), as well as a special container (wooden or plastic) to be filled with bedding materials, such as shredded newspaper, leaves, sawdust and aged manure that should be moistened.

Once everything is in place, and one has found a good location for the container (Thibodeau keeps hers inside during the cold season, but outside during the summer) then one can start adding food. The red wrigglers eat anything ranging from coffee grounds to egg shells and vegetable and fruit leftovers. However, be careful not to add animal products, such as meat and dairy, as the worms cannot digest them.

Once a cycle is complete (when the bin is full seven months for Thibodeau), the contents should then be exposed to the sun, and as the worms fear light, they will burrow to the bottom. The worms consume everything in the container and their castings (odourless excrements) are what is left behind to be used as compost. One can then easily remove the castings which after being stored to dry for approximately a week, can be applied to the soil as compost.

While vermicomposting is a relatively easy procedure, it does require care and balance, which includes maintaining the proper conditions, temperature and ensuring that the worms are not overfed. In this manner, one will avoid odours, insects or other damage, and will get the satisfaction of a rewarding process. "There's a wonderful sense of being part of the cycle of nature," said Thibodeau who is happy to make a small contribution to bettering the environment.

Inspired by her own success, she has since introduced the practice to three classrooms, and now the landfill committee of the Chaleur region in New Brunswick is subsidizing the cost of vermicomposting in schools. Thibodeau said that the students were fascinated by the process and many of the older ones have even started considering it as a business. prospect. Now, she often reads in the local newspaper about schools who decide to adopt the project.

Few people would be as proud to be called a worm advocate as Cathy Nesbitt is. Founder and owner of Cathy's Crawly Composters, a vermicomposting business in Bradford, Ontario, Nesbitt has been actively educating the public (from children to seniors) about the benefits of the practice, which includes reducing landfill waste and improving soil quality.

Vermicomposting is becoming mainstream as more people are realizing its environmental benefits. The value of earthworms for agriculture, however has long been recognized by ancient societies, says Nesbitt. The Egyptians called them "soldiers of the soil", and Cleopatra deemed it an offense punishable by death to take them out of the country. In Greece, Aristotle referred to them as the "intestines of the earth," while the Chinese character for earthworm can be read as "angels of the earth". Thousands of years later, Nesbitt now believes thatworms and the nutrient-rich compost they produce are the solution to our chemically-ridden earth.

"As you start discovering what the worms can do, you can start to appreciate them," said Nesbitt who like many people, initially cringed at the idea of having worms in the house.

She advises would-be composters to do their research and start small. When deciding how many worms to purchase, use the 2:1 ratio (two pounds of worms for every pound of kitchen waste produced per day). It is recommended that the organic scraps be collected and weighed for a week or two. For those who are concerned about potential odour, bugs or having the worms crawl out of the bin, she says that while these cases can occur, they are in fact warning symptoms of an imbalance in the worm's ecosystem (i.e. overfeeding and improper oxygenization). In regular conditions, the bin is odour-free (thanks to the worms who eat the food) contrary to the green bin, where food is left to decompose on its own.

For those who see the benefits of vermicomposting, but who still cringe at the thought of handling the worms, Nesbitt has a solution: the worm chalet, a three-tiered container that isboth practical and clean (especially good for apartment dwellers). As soon as worms finish the food scraps and bedding from one tray, a new tray can be added on top and the worms will crawl up to the new tray on their own, leaving the bottom tray filled with compost for the soil. The worm chalet is also good for those who generally produce more food scraps.

For more information about vermicomposting, or to purchase vermicomposting supplies, visit Nesbitt's website:

Worm Facts

  • Worms have five hearts close to the head
  • Red wrigglers can eat at least half their weights' worth in a day
  • Worms do not have eyes, but can sense light; they also don't have teeth but grind food in their gizzard
  • Worms are hermaphrodites, so after mating each worm produces a cocoon containing an average of 5-6 babies (up to 20)
  • Worms can live up to 10 years in optimal conditions (but only 1-2 in the wild)


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