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Open a Can of Worms

| 10/15/2008 12:38:12 PM

Two months ago, I received a complete worm composting system from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farms. Having 4,000 worms arrive in a package frightened one of my unsuspecting coworkers, but so far, my experience with worm composting has been deliciously disturbing. 
The Worm Factory
This is the Worm Factory, which advertises itself as an incredibly-efficient, easy and odorless method for recycling kitchen waste into nutrient-rich compost.  Or growing fishing worms!

Politically named a “vermicomposter,” each factory comes with several bins to fill with bedding and food material, along with red wigglers (Eisenia fetida).  The composting system recreates the recycling process in nature at an advanced pace using thousands of worms and millions of bacteria.  

The Worm Factory is most certainly efficient – perhaps a little too efficient.  The worms are expected to double in numbers by month 3, so, soon, I should have nearly 8,000 worms that require half a pound a food (minus meat and dairy) a day. That’s a lot of wigglers!

After the digestion process, worms secret “worm castings” (poo-poos) that are rich in natural nitrogen, an important fertilizer for soil.  Unlike with sensitive artificial fertilizers, worm castings won’t burn your plants.

You can use the soil-like material left in the bins after composting is completed in potting mix or top soil, or collect “Compost Tea” – liquid fertilizer – at any time from a spigot on the front of the factory. 

The composter, if used correctly, as an earthy smell, so it can be used indoors.  Odors occur only when meat or dairy is placed in the composter (a big no-no) or if there is too much food, in which case any kind of fiber can be added such as dryer lint, tissue, wood chips, egg shells, shredded paper, vacuum dust or junk mail (all of which are composted!).

I should say, that to date, my composter is very clean, no red wigglers have crawled out, and no offensive odors have been noted. 

But I just can’t bring the worms into my kitchen – just like I just couldn’t eat green or purple ketchup (remember that?)  The vermicomposter has to be in a temperature between 60 and 80 degrees, so for me, they are safe and out of the way in my garage.

Vermicomposters can ultimately attract other types of bugs, some good and some bad (such fruit flies or fungus gnats [read: Your Fungus Gnats are Showing]), and should be avoided around cats who might use it as a litterbox.

Why?  Cats can be infected by a parasitic protozoa called Toxoplasma gondii, which can result in an infection called Toxoplasmosis.  This infection is one reason why pregnant women should STAY AWAY from cat litter. 

But, in a creepy way, the infection is really cool: T. gondii affects a rodent's natural fear of cats (surgically precise - ONLY its fear of cats), so they are less likely to flee when a cat is near.  When cats prey on the affected rodents, they become carriers, with a high instance of the protozoa in their urine.

The infection, along with the high level of ammonia can be toxic to both you and your worms.  In humans, active toxoplasmosis can cause neurological disorders, organ infections and even death.  Latent infections can cause anxiety issues, feelings of in-security or neuroticism, just what we need, huh?

Keep your cats away from the worms, and all will be right in the world.  Rodents aren't a problem if you don't try to compost meat or dairy.

If you have any questions about vermicomposting, leave a comment or send me an email.  I’ll be happy to provide you with specific and further information about this delightfully disgusting art of recycling.  

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