I had an interesting conversation last weekend. A woman I had just met was telling me that she was interested in having a worm bin but was afraid that it would not be able to handle all of her kitchen scraps.
Well, she just might be right! When I first set up an in-home worm bin, it couldn’t handle all the kitchen wastes my family was producing. I felt like I was doing something wrong. Everything I read told me that red wiggler worms in an in-home worm bin should be able to handle eating their own weight in food every day or two. So, if I started my bin with a pound of worms, why weren’t they eating a pound of food each day or two?
There are several problems with that “ideal” equation. First of all, an ideal environment for red wiggler composting worms is not exactly an ideal in-home worm bin. Second, the bedding in which the worms live also counts as food. Third, all good things come to those who wait (as my parents always told me and my siblings).
So, the first point — an ideal environment. Your in-home worm bin should be set up so that you can conveniently keep it in your home. That includes the fact that it should not have any foul odors and should not host flying insects. You will simply have to accept the fact that your worm bin must be socially-acceptable enough for your home which will be good enough for your worms. At times, I have seen hundreds of red wiggler composting worms practically dancing through the sludge at the bottom of a rain-soaked manure bucket. While they may enjoy the occasional “pool party,” that is absolutely not the kind of thing you want in your home. If your worm bin has the moisture level of a well-wrung kitchen sponge, plenty of high-carbon bedding materials, and adequate food for your worms — but not so much that fruit flies are gathering en masse — your worm bin is fine. Your worms will be happy and healthy and will reproduce — they just may not do it as quickly as they might in other materials. But, your home will also be free of unnecessary odors and flying pests.
The second point is important. The bedding we add to our in home worm composting bins also counts as food. This is a GOOD thing. All of that paper, cardboard, and paperboard that does not have to be trucked to a recycling center and trucked again to a recycling plant will be turned into organic matter that will be good for whatever plants you add it to. Dry paper may not have much heft, but once you add water to it in appropriate levels to attain the correct moisture level — there is weight there. That all counts in the worm’s daily diet. And best of all, you didn’t have to use any fossil fuels to transport those paper-based products from one location to the next — you kept them in your home and took care of it yourself.
I feel as if I spent my entire childhood building patience. I know I cannot count the times I was ready to pull out my hair in frustration as I wanted things to happen now, Now, NOW! But, good things really do come to those who wait when it comes to composting with worms. You may not have been able to start with the 2,000 worms that many sources recommend. Even if you did, that may still not be the ideal number of worms to have. For an average family, an ideal worm bin may have several times that number of worms. That takes time. But, with good management, your worm bin will slowly increase its capacity for how much material it can consume each week. Trust me. Your worms will reproduce — just not as fast as you hope.
So, in answer to the problem that a worm bin may not be able to handle all of the waste you want it to — you are right! Chances are that it won’t. At least not right away. There is always the option of setting up a second bin or adding more worms. But, sometimes you just need to accept the fact that even if it is not handling all of the waste you want it to, at least it is handling waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Every single thing you throw away does not magically disappear, but rather it becomes a problem somewhere else for someone else. Even if you simply reduce the amount of organic materials you are throwing into your garbage can, you are still taking steps toward cleaner, healthier living. You are helping the planet one small step at a time.