• Green Iowa AmeriCorps

Trash Talking

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

By Rachel Oswald

We often think that throwing our old, moldy food into the trash the only option, but what if I told you it wasn’t? What if I told you there is a quick, easy way is dispose of those bananas that just got a little too ripe for your taste? Well today is your lucky day friend, because I am about to tell you how you can cut down on your waste in the landfill!


One word; composting. Oh and also another word; vermicomposting. Now many of you have probably heard the word “compost” before and know that it means you throw your food outside in a pile and then it breaks down and you don’t really have to worry about it anymore, you may even use it in your garden. But what is Vermicomposting? Well friend, it is composting with worms, red wiggler worms in fact! Gross? Probably. But vermicomposting has some great benefits, especially if you live in town!



Your traditional “hot” compost is often thought of to be stinky because it is comprised of decomposing foods with a bad odor, however vermicomposting is a little more restrictive on what you can throw in. Vermicomposting excludes meat and dairy products which can greatly reduce that nasty smell you would typically attribute to compost, and with the right addition of dry materials your vermicompost should smell just like your average dirt. And you get the added bonus of the worms helping break down everything else that you may throw in even faster than your traditional compost.


Now you may be thinking, “wow this seems like a really great idea, how do I get in on this!?” It’s easy! Follow these steps and you’re on your way:


Step 1: Pick out a container/bin with a lid in a size of your choosing, drill small holes to allow for air circulation on top of the lid and on the sides of bin (make sure the holes are small enough they don’t allow for worms to get out).


Step 2: Tear up some paper and place along the bottom of the bin, cover paper with about 1/4in of soil. I recommend using some potting soil to start with because it is the easiest to get and you’ll have dirt leftover to share with friends or plant some pretty flowers to brighten up your home.


Step 3: Add some food! Fruits and veggies (with the exclusion of citrus, onions, and tomatoes due to their acidity) are a worm’s favorite foods, bananas are a great starter because they are soft and easier for the tiny worm mouths to eat. The smaller the food, the faster it composts.


Step 4: Add worms! Like I said before, you should only use red wiggler worms in your vermicompost. You can order these little buddies online, or if you have a really nice, environmental friend who already has a vermicompost of their own you could ask for a few of theirs. Remember you don’t have to start with a million worms, they will reproduce on their own over time and as long as they have something to eat you’ll never run out of worms.


Step 5: Cover your worms and their food with even more shredded paper, wet [with a spray bottle if possible] until the paper has that nice wrung-out sponge feeling.


Step 6: Start composting!



Now that you’ve got yourself a vermicompost bin, here are some key tips to keep your compost nice and healthy:


  1. Worms are like us if we were nocturnal, it is best to keep them somewhere temperature controlled and dark. I personally like to keep my bin under my kitchen sink where it is dark and easy to reach to add my kitchen scraps.

  2. Keep a ratio of 1 Carbon:3 Nitrogen or 1 part greens (wet - veggies, fruit) to 3 parts browns (dry - paper, cardboard, dried leaves). This helps with moisture control and reduces the smell of rotting food.

  3. Air is good for dirt and worms!

  4. Wet but not drowning, your compost should feel like a wrung-out sponge.

  5. “Loosen” your compost once a week to improve airflow and the rate of decomposition. Loosening does not equal mixing, you can use a fork and lightly stir but the worms likely won’t appreciate you flipping them around everywhere.

  6. In 3-6 months you’ll have a good amount of compost (aka worm poo) available. To remove compost, place food on one end of the bin to attract worms and retrieve compost from other side. Alternatively, you can wait for the worms to have processed everything but they will be well mixed in with your compost and make it a little more difficult to retrieve. Add to your garden to enrich the soil and replace the nutrients taken by your plants.

  7. Eventually your [continually reproducing] worms will begin taking over your compost, you’ll notice it may be getting a bit cramped for them. This is a good time to either upgrade your existing bin by transferring them to a larger container, or helping out your friends and neighbors to create their own vermicompost bins.



If you would like to know more about food waste and why vermicompost is a great idea, here is a link to a nonprofit call Food Tank: https://foodtank.com/news/2015/06/world-environment-day-10-facts-about-food-waste-from-bcfn/


For a more comprehensive How-To on vermicomposting, here is a link to UCSB: https://recycling.as.ucsb.edu/composting/home-composting-guide/home-vermicomposting/vermicomposting-feeding-and-maintenance/

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University of Northern Iowa
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