Wednesday, November 15, 2006

As the Worm Turns

Though I love my new apartment, with less space to clean and a great location close to almost all of my favorite shops and local restaurants, I admit that there are things I miss about my little house.

I miss the way the sunshine filtered into the kitchen on a Saturday morning, inviting me to bake and cook for a few hours. I miss the cool turquoise blue and white of the bathroom I redecorated. I miss the herb garden just outside the back door.

But what I think I miss the most, surprisingly enough, is the pair of compost bins that held my kitchen scraps and turned them into rich, dark compost.

And so as I moved into a place with no outdoor space for a garden or compost bin, I decided to conduct an experiment: Could I still garden and compost on a smaller scale?

The answer thus far is a resounding yes. My wide window seat holds a variety of herbs dug up and potted from my old garden, and so far they are thriving reasonably well (though the mint is wont to die back a bit).

As far as compost is concerned, I set up a small plastic bin under the kitchen sink, bedded with shredded paper and cardboard, and bought a small bunch of redworms to nibble and gnaw away at my kitchen scraps, turning them into nutrient-rich worm castings that can be mixed into the soil just like compost.

I read several helpful guides about worm bins for compost, and frankly, I'm probably doing all the wrong things. I wasn't able to drill aeration holes in the bin, I probably don't have the right mixture for bedding, and I regularly throw in garlic and onion skins, though the instructions usually say not to do so.

And yet, the worms appear to be thriving.

I dump in kitchen scraps about twice a week, and slowly, SLOWLY, the worms break down the food into dark garden gold. They seem to be doing just fine, despite my random efforts.

I'm sure that such an effort will cause many people (perhaps even some of my Dear Readers) to turn up their noses. Doesn't it stink? you may ask. Isn't that a little creepy?

Yes, there is a definite smell to the compost, but it's an earthy smell, not a stench of rotting food, and it's kept under control with an ever-handy box of baking soda right next to the bin. And though I did get a minor case of the heebie-jeebies when the worms arrived in a soft pouch and I had to open up the bag and dump them in the bin, we seem to be cohabitating rather nicely at this point, thank you.

In a few months, I'll be able to dig out lots of worm castings to mix into potting soil for my herbs or to share with friends to use on their gardens. I can't compost all my food scraps (I think big pieces of thick-skinned squash and stems might not do well), but it's much more than nothing. I hate to waste food, and I hate to waste the opportunity to return nutrient-rich goodness to the soil.

It makes a worm of difference.


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