I bought a pound of worms. Pink, wriggly worms. Technically, red wiggler worms. They came in a black bag with a “live” guarantee, and they were part of an effort to reduce my carbon footprint.
An estimated 30 to 40 percent of food is wasted in the United States. That which reaches a landfill breaks down into methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to the climate crisis. Composting, on the other hand, breaks food down in a way that decreases those gases and brings nutrients back into the soil.
My new pets—my worm children, I call them—promised to make the process faster and more effective, decomposing everything from veggie and fruit scraps to newspaper and cardboard into a nutrient-rich soil additive. The worms would also create castings that would become food for my houseplants. It was a win-win—although it took more wiggling than I thought.
I learned about vermicomposting—the term for worm-aided composting—from a colleague who would bring fresh worm castings every few weeks. I’d mix them in with my plants, which flourished. I was intrigued, especially when Internet research revealed that a vermicomposting bin would fit in my apartment, unlike a regular composter.
I had misgivings, though. The worm bins I saw online sold for $80 or more (There are cheaper models). I felt guilty that my attempt to go green would involve spending so much on a plastic contraption that people all over the internet told me I could build myself. Theoretically, yes, I could build one. But would I?
It took me a year to answer that question, which was a resounding, “No.” When I finally ordered a bin, I realized that my guilt had unnecessarily kept me from diving into vermicomposting. The most important point is that I made a move to be more earth-friendly in a way that was sustainable for my life.
Rolling With It
The same way I anxiously watched my plants when I was a new plant mom—half expecting them to die—I watched my worms. And they did die. Some of them. That’s part of the circle of life, I’ve come to find out. But the majority of my worms did fine, regardless of my constant monitoring.
Then I spotted tiny bugs crawling around in the bin. A tub of worms was one thing; a tub of worms filled with bugs was another. My anxiety finally had something to hold onto: I knew vermicomposting couldn’t be as easy as it looked! These bugs weren’t part of my formula. I wanted to spray insecticide on them, or pick them out one at a time.
Scrolling through countless poorly-designed blogs, I found that vermicompost pros weren’t concerned about these little trespassers. Apparently, they even help break down food waste. But I hadn’t signed up for bugs, I just wanted worms. Alas, nature doesn’t care about our plans. I accepted my fate. I was now a worm mom/bug farmer.
Don’t Overthink It
The first day I had the bin, I put an apple core in and went to sleep. I could hardly wait to see how quickly the worms would attack and destroy that potential methane producer. The next morning I was surprised to see the core still intact. I realized that this wasn’t a 30-second TikTok video of a worm bin. This was my actual worm bin. It would take a lot longer than a day for them to break down my apple core.
This misunderstanding struck me as odd, considering how much research I’d done before starting. In fact, the biggest mistake I made was overwhelming myself before starting by flooding my brain with information. The Internet does not know all, and it certainly doesn’t know what’s right for your individual needs and abilities. In the end, all the extra commentary can slow down your progress—the same goes for much of life.
Vermicomposting is as easy as ordering a kit online and throwing some kitchen scraps in every few days. If the idea of building your own bin sounds exciting, go for it. If not, rest assured that I’m out here with my store-bought contraption, doing my part for a greener world.