for National Geographic News
For environmentally minded urbanites, no kitchen is complete without an accessory that treats hundreds of wriggling, red guests to dinnera worm bin. Inside the units, worms munch kitchen scraps into rich, soil- like humus and help reduce the amount of waste reaching landfills.
Worm composting has become so popular in Vancouver, Canada, that the city has established a telephone hot line.
So is your kitchen complete without one?
Mary Appelhof's 1982 book, Worms Eat My Garbage, spawned many a home vermicompost system and has popularized the technique over the years. The guide has now sold over 175,000 copies and earned Appelhof international recognition as the "Worm Woman."
"Here were have some of the planet's most lowly creatures taking some of our most repulsive waste and turning it into fertilizer," Appelhof said during a telephone interview. "I realized that the more worms I raised or encouraged others to raise, the world would be a better place."
A 12-inch-by-24-inch-by-20-inch (30.5-centimeter-by-61-centimeter-by-51-centimeter) worm bin can process about five pounds (2.25 kilograms) of garbage in a week.
Managing a worm bin is relatively simple. An aerated container is filled with worm bedding (shredded newspaper and dried leaves, or straw), a small amount of soil, and perhaps a pound (half a kilogram) of red worms or bloodworms.
Bacteria and other organisms break down food scraps buried in a bin maintained at proper temperature and moisture levels. Then the worms get to work, eating everything in their pathwaste, organisms, and bedding. Afterward, the worms excrete a soil-like rich, dark humus.
But only certain worms can do the job.
"You can't just go out in your garden, dig up worms, and have them work," Appelhof said. "There are about 4,500 species of earthworms. Only six to eight are used for composting." One is Eisenia fetida, commonly known as a red worm.
Appelhof understands the initial reaction some people have to the idea of any worms in their kitchen. "You can almost see their nose curl up," she said.
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