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Ready to add "worm farmer" to your resume?

By Jana Fischback

Composting food waste is an important way to divert waste from the landfill. It also reduces emissions like methane that come from food decomposing in an anaerobic environment. The bonus with composting at home is producing a wonderful fertilizer for your garden or house plants. As someone who’s looking to reduce waste and my carbon footprint, I started composting my food waste a few years ago. I already had a yard waste bin through Waste Management, but I wanted to compost food waste and kitchen scraps in addition to my grass clippings and leaves. I knew I didn’t want to add the food to a backyard compost pile and attract vermin, so I bought a small tumbling composter. I read up on the ratio of “greens” (nitrogen) to “browns” (carbon) and got to work. Except, it didn’t really work. I kept adding food waste, and tried to be mindful to keep the appropriate amount of browns by adding in some paper products such as toilet paper rolls, newspaper, and leaves. I did an ok job of remembering to spin it each time I added material. I also put it on our front porch which gets lots of sun, thinking the heat would speed up the process. But, it never turned into that nice, rich compost that I had envisioned. It also completely stopped working during the cold of winter. I learned later that in NCW, with our summer heat and dry air, outdoor composting systems really need water added for the process to work.

Seeds students admire their new worm bin

About that time, my friend Betsy told me that composting with worms was much lower maintenance. I wasn’t sold at first. Then she added, these are INSIDE worms. Not exactly what I had in mind for a pet. But after I took her class on composting with worms, or vermicomposting, I thought I’d give it a try. The fact that I didn’t have to worry about the ratio of greens to browns was very appealing, plus I liked that it would work year round. I ordered a fancy multi-layer worm bin called the Worm Factory 360, which thankfully came with some great instructions. In fact, the lid features a sticker with advice from Washington State University, my alma mater. I set it up in my basement since Red Wigglers, the preferred species of composting worms, do best in temperatures from 40 to 80 degrees. Betsy shared some of her Red Wigglers with me and I eventually ordered even more. The downside of composting with worms in NCW is that some of the supplies you’ll need, including the worms, will need to be ordered online unless you can find a friend with extra worms to share. Red Wigglers do a great job eating up food waste but they’re not your typical earthworm or bait worm.

DIY Worm composting bins with the museum

After a little trial and error, my worms have been doing great. Now that I know what I’m doing, I’ve even joined Betsy in teaching classes at the Wenatchee River Institute, a partnership with Waste Loop, and at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, where we used their Maker Space to create DIY worm bins out of stacked 5 gallon buckets. But maybe the most rewarding group I’ve converted into worm farmers are the adorable kids at Seeds Learning Center. Last year I visited them for a presentation and brought my worms, which were a big hit with the young students, ages about four to six. I visited them again last week and they surprised me by showing off their very own worm bin. While they might not understand the reasons to compost yet, they happily shared their knowledge of how to keep the worms happy and fed.

Happy little worm farmers at Seeds Learning Center

[Watch the whole class at WRI that Betsy and I taught on YouTube here. ]

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