Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: Worms Eat My Garbage - Mary Appelhof

One of the easiest ways to responsibly process food waste if you have limited real estate (e.g., an apartment), is with vermiculture, or growing composting worms.  We've been culturing de vermi's for about six years, and from the beginning we've been referring to Mary Appelhof's Worms Eat My Garbage -- a great resource for rookie wormkeepers.  We got an old paperback edition online, and found it to be a quick and enjoyable read.  Although it's only about 150 pages long, Appelhof covers really everything you need to know to get started with a vermicompost system (or 'worm bin' if you're talking to people who aren't grossed out by Annelida species).

Apelhof makes the first page a checklist for everything you need to do to grow worms and reap the benefits of their hard work--a twelve-step program leading to minimal food waste, worm castings for your garden, and worms you can sell, trade, or put in your aquaponic system.  The chapters are written essentially as a set of answers to the fourteen most frequently asked questions by beginning vermiculturalists.  Those questions are (with how we answered those questions in our own case in parentheses),

  • What should I call it? (worm bin.)
  • Where should I put it? (in the living room.)
  • What container should I use? (plastic totes, for now.)
  • What are worm beddings? (shredded newspaper.)
  • What kind of worms should I use? (Eisenia fetida, or red wigglers)
  • What is the sex life of a worm? (none of our business!--although "breeders" are the ones with the raised band)
  • How many worms do I need? (probably about 1 lb. to start with)
  • How do I set up my worm bin? (shred newspaper, add water, add worms, add food)
  • What kind of garbage, and what do I do with it? (fruit, vegetables, bad cheese, and meat trimmings, and spoiled leftovers.)
  • How do I take care of my worms? (don't let them freeze, drown, or starve--we want castings and worms! definitely don't overlook the drainage aspects.)
  • What are the most commonly asked questions about worms? (for us, this list)
  • What are some of the other critters in my worm bin? (springtails, mites, and occasionally fruit flies and fungus gnats)
  • How do plants benefit from a worm bin? (worm castings!)
  • How can I treat (food) waste as a resource? (by feeding it to worms to turn into worm castings!)

Additional sub-questions for us were, "How big should it be?," "What ratio of water-to-bedding should I use?," and "How can I get rid of fruit flies when they show up?"  Appelhof addresses each of these in sufficient detail, but we would recommend planning for a bigger worm bin than you would normally need, if you have space for it.  That way, you have a better chance at being able to keep up with all the trimmings during canning season.

With minimal effort, simple and inexpensive vermicompost systems can be maintained without odors.  These bins reside in our living room (in the Worm Trunk sneaking into the upper right of the picture), and are generally well-behaved.  Appelhof says that for a given volume, a larger surface area is better because the worms will process the waste faster.  These two bins have handled nearly all of our food waste for more than a year (with periodic harvesting of castings).

 Appelhof details a few designs for making wooden bins and points out a few commercially available designs that were around when the book was published (we have the second edition, from 1997).  While the discussion of bin construction is good, the internet is a far more valuable source of inspiration for worm bin designs, in our opinion.  There are numerous examples of DIY "fed-batch" bin and flow-through setups, and a greater variety of commercially available systems than the book indicates.  Color photos and videos are also a big plus for the internet.  We've learned a few other things about worm bin design that will be easier to share when we cover our setup in the 'Projects' section.

However, in general, Worms Eat My Garbage is a classic book with timeless advice for beginning vermiculturalists.  Although some parts of the book are starting to become dated, Appelhof's process for getting a worm bin up and running will always work.  This book truly should be required reading for anyone considering Annelid-based agriculture or food waste disposal. 

No comments:

Post a Comment