Posted on Thu, November 05, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
2 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, Take Action, Uncategorized,
by intern Jorge Cubas
MAKE is a quarterly DIY magazine for geek hobbyists and everyday item-hackers who gladly void their warranties to unlock the hidden potential behind their Robosapiens and old iPods. I inhale every issue; Cory Doctorow’s insightful essays on intellectual property (which I often cite to defend my rampant file-sharing), potato-guns, cigar-box guitars, soldering lessons, and lately, humanure and vermiculture. My worm bin is my latest obsession, and this one might stick. But first, a bit on how I got here.
I had once proudly placed Norman Borlaug at the top of my personal heroes list. His passing last month was, for me, eerily emblematic. At school, among scientists, the Green Revolution was framed in such a way that I could never doubt its nobility and the urgency with which it was executed. Borlaug had saved a billion lives. How could that be wrong? One evening last winter, my friend Evan angrily (over cheap Trader Joe’s wine and pierogies) began me down a path of revelation: food aid had been used by the US to gain political power over developing nations. GMOs threatened food sovereignty by providing absurd legal power to companies like Monsanto. I read Raj Patel’s work, watched King Corn. I sadly gave up my dreams of feeding the world. I felt betrayed by science.
I traded Borlaug in for an urban farmer named Will Allen. Most intriguing was his curious affection for the worms he keeps. He seems to measure the worth of his farm by the health of his worms. People had been responding to agribusiness all around me and I had never before paid attention, because I believed them to be radical, and traditional farming techniques antiquated. I learned about CSA’s and composting and a non-profit called Slow Food USA.
So when the Re-Make America issue of MAKE arrived this July with instructions for an indoor worm bin, I thought it serendipitous. I ordered worms from the Lower East Side Ecology Center and bought a plastic container, into which I drilled many many holes. A neighbor’s giant bag of shredded legal documents provided the bedding and my family’s immense supply of kitchen scraps meant my new pets would never go hungry. My worm population soared. Now I have a bin full of food-growing power.
A valuable resource is routinely considered waste—this is a notion through which I see tremendous opportunity. I love my neighborhood, particularly, the foods on which I was raised. But a stroll down Roosevelt Ave at midnight reveals a wealth of renewable materials laid out in plastic bags on the street. What if I could finagle some space somewhere to compost all that discarded food and paper? What if I could get those restaurants and food carts to provide me their scraps? Could I get others to compost with me?
Composting is fascinating and valuable because it reconnects us with nature through a direct demonstration of and participation in a functioning ecosystem. Worm bins make it easy to compost even in relatively tiny NYC apartments. Mom, who was initially disgusted, has started feeding the worms and caring for them. She marvels at how I’ve beefed up her house plants with worm tea (a byproduct of the composting process).
Mary Applehoff’s book, Worms Eat My Garbage, is probably the best resource on keeping a proper bin and it is SO EASY. No, really!
1. First, find a container, like a RubberMaid storage bin. A wide top surface area provides more effective aeration than something tall and narrow.
2. Get an extra lid to place under the bin as it will leak a natural odorless fertilizer, dubbed worm tea.
3. Drill holes all over the top lids and sides with a 1/16 bit. Use a bigger bit (1/4) to drill the bottom holes. Do not drill holes into the bottom lid. I borrowed my super’s tools.
4. And use something to elevate the bin over the bottom lid. Anything will do. I used some old empty pill bottles. Aeration is key!
BEDDING: Newspaper, cardboard, white paper, junk mail, even used napkins can be utilized as bedding. Fill your bin with as much bedding as you can and wet that stuff. Make sure it is not sopping, however. Worms need moisture to eat, poop and move around.
FEEDING: A few simple rules can ensure a healthy worm population. First, what should you feed your verms?
Low acid fruits
Breads and pastas
Dry plate scrapings
Tea bags & Coffee grinds
Fatty, greasy foods
Citrus fruits (little to none)
Meats and bones (although, there are methods for the advanced worm worker)
Remember to bury naturally powerful smelling vegetables, like onions and garlic, in moderation.
Find a way to store your kitchen scraps in order to control the amount of food that goes into your bin. Keeping a container in the freezer will kill any flies’ eggs and harmful bacteria that will otherwise lead to unspeakable grossness.
Begin feeding very small amounts at a time, say, about a handful for a half pound of worms every couple of days (worms are sold by weight, so you will know how many pounds you are starting with). Overfeeding is the number one mistake that leads to failed worm bins. After a while you will get a good idea of how quickly your worms can eat which foods. But, within reason, your worms will adapt to the feeding schedule you provide them and not the other way around. These are very low maintenance pets.
You can feed your worms however you like. Dig holes and bury waste or lay out a thin layer of food over the whole surface. As long as the food is always under an inch or two of bedding, pests should not be present. If you can, put a piece of cardboard over the surface to allow for a darker moister environment. Presto. In four months time, you will be ready to harvest.