Grab Bag

Worm composting in New York City: “It’s disgusting and you’re absolutely crazy”

Wormgirl

In today's New York Times you'll find the most unlikely of articles – about worm composting right there in the Big Apple – and that quote refers to the practice of keeping a vermicomposting bin under one's bed.  Which I can kind of relate to – the disgusting part, that is.

Here's what was news to me:

Food accounts for about 13 percent of the nation’s trash — it is the
third largest component after paper and yard trimmings — and about 16
percent of New York’s.

And this:

But keeping food discards out of landfills
does more than twice the good of keeping mixed paper out, E.P.A.
officials said, because decomposing food that is buried and cut off
from air releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, at higher rates
than paper. (The ventilation in composting prevents methane creation.)

Photo: Proud worm composter at the Studio School in Washington, D.C.

Posted by on February 19, 2009 at 3:53 pm, in the category Grab Bag.
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23 Responses to “Worm composting in New York City: “It’s disgusting and you’re absolutely crazy””

  1. Its becoming quite popular, vermi-composting. The only thing I don’t like are the probable fruit flies to come of it. I don’t know how or where, but somehow they show up with fruit/veggies that sit. I have a little pile, outside that I rarely turn and thats where the stuff goes. What will all the people without soil do with their compost product? Maybe a citywide, or neighborhood wide depot where you can drop off the goods for others to utilize!

  2. Shibaguyz says:

    For those without gardens or houseplants to use the compost they are creating, they could donate it to community gardening projects.

  3. ChristyACB says:

    Vermiposting is really getting mainstream now with style and fashion showing up in the kits sold some places. While it makes me cringe a bit to think of fashionable bins, anything that gets people doing good things is fine by me!

  4. Michele says:

    I found it strange that the article hardly mentioned the benefits of compost in a garden.

  5. shira says:

    Is the last line of this article a joke?

  6. GardenJunkie says:

    Kind of a strange article – certainly wouldn’t convince many people to try vermicomposting (or any type of composting for that matter). I’m with Michele on this – strange that the article focused on emission of greenhouse gases (which is so far removed from the everyday life of most people) instead of the benefits of compost (which would seem to be a more immediate concern, or have a more personal and direct impact). Maybe if they focused on the personal benefits of it, more people would take up composting. As it is, the people featured in this article sounded a little strange (especially that part about taking up half the freezer with scraps and sending it out to California!).

  7. Pam J. says:

    To all the doubters and skeptics out there: try vermicomposting first, then you can criticize it. It’s addictive. I started my worm composting almost a year ago and I’m really hooked. And I don’t think I’m “a little strange.” In fact, I think I’m about as average a person as you’ll find. Worms are kind of spiritual.

  8. Brie says:

    I’m not bothered at all by all the worms in my compost. It’s the roaches that gross me out. They’re one of the few things I hate about living in Florida. But they are great recyclers, so I keep reminding myself of that each time I feel a vomiting reflex from seeing them in my bin. I just send them running, take out some wormy compost, try to forget the horror I just witnessed, and start separating. It’s worth it in the end.

  9. GardenJunkie says:

    Completely agree – I’m an almost fanatical composter myself (I’ll even pull things out of the trash if my boyfriend forgets to put it in the compost bin!). If people would donate food scraps to me I’d be very happy! I was merely commenting on the way the article was written – the author made the people look, well, somewhat odd.

  10. Not That Susan says:

    I have a compost heap in my back yard, fed with veg scraps, leaves, eggshells…. is there any reason why I can’t just set loose some red wigglers in there (when warm enough), knowing that they will probably die when it gets cold again here in DC?

  11. Brie says:

    I can’t think of any other than the cold temps…I guess I’ve never understood the point of getting a special composter for worms, when I just put worms in my regular composter and they seem to do really well. Actually, I started with earthworm eggs, and suddenly there was a huge worm community in the bin. The compost goes a lot faster now than before I had the worms.

  12. Brie says:

    This was meant for “Not That Susan” above…

  13. Pam J. says:

    Hmmmm. Well. Confession time. Although I brag constantly about how much I love my worms, I don’t think there’s a power on this earth, or elsewhere, that could get me to love composting cockroaches. “Vomiting reflex” indeed.

  14. Brie says:

    TELL ME ABOUT IT. I’m struggling as it is to just respect their role in the whole process, and if I could control it, they wouldn’t be involved at all. But I’m not about to spray a bunch of pest control stuff in my compost. So at least they’re useful.

  15. Pam J. says:

    Brie you’ve inspired me. I’m going to spend some mental time on the issue of (shudder…I hate even typing the word) cockroaches. I too want to “respect their role” in the process. I wonder if their castings are as useful as worm castings? Worms have those digestive juices that act to break down organic matter. And those nice gizzards for acting on sand and other minerals. And those nice long alimentary canals for processing everything. Too bad Darwin didn’t write a book about roaches.

  16. Brie says:

    Ha! Have at it. While I have no idea if their castings are anywhere near as good as those of an earthworm, I do know they are part of my region’s ecosystem, that their excrement does provide nutrients for the soil. As hideous as they are, they certainly have their places (usually in the oak trees surrounding my property…bleh).

    From a HowStuffWorks article:
    “Many cockroaches live in warm, tropical areas and feed on decaying wood and leaves. They help break down this organic debris; in the process, they add nutrients to the soil through their waste. They’re also a food source for small reptiles and mammals. In other words, in spite of their bad reputation, cockroaches are ­an important part of many ecosystems.”

    So as much as I hate to admit it, they’re my friends. But I prefer the worms.

  17. Pam J. says:

    Makes perfect sense. I think for now I’ll refer to them as palmetto bugs, which makes them so much easier to think about. From someplace out there on the internet: “Roaches indoors are roaches. Roaches outside — for example, in your compost — are palmetto bugs, and there’s nothing wrong with them or any other bug in your compost.”

  18. Brie says:

    Amen to that! I think I’ll do the same.

  19. I think the roach complaint here is inside. We’re talking vermicomposting, we’re talking inside. So are we drawing roaches into the kitchen, or where ever, in the house?

    I do what I can to keep them out, short of pesticides, knowing how infested the apartment was before I moved in. Thankfully, I rarely find one now, and usually only after the cats have played with it to death.

    I know the outdoor roaches, I had them in NM, mostly outside, under pots and things. Bugs outside are bugs, love em.

  20. Amy Stewart says:

    Reason for a special composter: a worm bin can be a very easy way to deal with kitchen scraps without making a trek to the compost pile, and you very quickly get rich castings that can go right into houseplants, container plants, or straight in the garden, especially when you’re putting in new plants. Some people prefer not to put food in their outdoor compost pile because they don’t want to attract critters.

    Worm composting is a little different in that it’s very much a closed system, and you’re putting in those scraps that worms can break down quickly–as opposed to my outdoor pile, which gets bulky cuttings, etc.

  21. Brie says:

    Sorry–got off topic!

  22. Amy Stewart says:

    The best solution to the fruit fly thing is one that does not get mentioned often enough when we talk about worms–putting a thick layer of shredded paper on top of the food scraps. Either shredded office paper or torn-up strips of newspaper. Really pile it on. However much space there is between the food scraps and the lid of your bin should be filled with shredded paper. It will gradually break down–worms will work their way through it–and it keeps fruit fly problems to a minimum.

    It also helps regulate moisture–if the bin is too wet, the dry paper will absorb some of that dampness. If the bin is too dry, just toss a few ice cubes into the shredded paper and let them slowly melt — the paper will become uniformly damp and help hold dampness in without drenching the bin.

  23. Brie says:

    OK, I see…thanks! I know this article was about vermicomposting indoors, but I’ve just kept a nice worm population in my outdoor compost and it’s always worked out great, so I think of that as vermicomposting as well.

    Sorry for disregarding the indoors aspect of the discussion, which I feel a little silly about now…since reading the stuff again it’s basically screaming at me. Is there a button I’m not seeing for deleting my own comments?

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