Monday, January 31, 2011

We're Gonna Be Farmers!! (and the kids are mortified)

We have a problem and it looks like this.

We religiously save our food scraps and add them to the backyard compost bin. There's just no sense letting all that "fuel" go to waste when compost is one of the best things you can do for your garden.

But the bin is stuffed to the gills and we need another option. That got us thinking about these guys...

Now, full disclosure. Tanya brought up the idea of vermicomposting several years ago but was roundly poo-pooed. We were living in a townhouse and didn't have a designated space for a worm bin. Sure, lots of people raise worms in a small bucket under the kitchen sink. But that totally grossed out the kids. So we tabled the idea.

But now we live in a house that boasts the world's largest laundry room (seriously, it's bigger than our first apartment!), so there's no excuse.

We did a little Googling and found this guy (and his incredibly cute little girl)...

He's Bentley "The Compost Guy" Christie, a self-professed "vermiholic wormhead". His website is chock full of great info. Especially his Getting Started Page, which is sort of our bible for getting started:

Step 1 -- Get your hands on an opaque container that's large enough, but not too large. You want opaque so the light doesn't mess with the worms. Oh, and if you can, get yourself a trusty sidekick like Ruby to keep you company.

Step 2-- Drill 20 holes in the lid.

Step 3 -- Drill a total of 20 holes around the sides of the bucket. We did 7 on each long side and 3 on each short side.

Step 4 -- You'll need bedding for your wormies. Bentley "The Compost Guy" says they prefer cardboard.

(Who knew Girl Scout Cookie boxes could be so useful? Just another reason to buy some extra cookies this season!)

Cut up the boxes into small pieces, then layer the pieces in the bottom of the bucket.

Step 5: Add food scraps.

Now, a couple of tips on food scraps from Bentley "Our Compost Guy" (yes, we've spent so much time on his website lately he's starting to feel like family!):


* Vegetable & fruit waste (citrus fruit should be added in moderation when using smaller bins)

* Starchy materials – bread, pasta, rice, potatoes – all in moderation (beginners may want to avoid these altogether initially)

* Aged animal manures (careful with rabbit and poultry – need lots of bedding to balance)

* Shredded newspaper, used paper towels (common sense applies here), cardboard (great idea to add these carbon rich materials at the same time you add any wet food waste)

* Egg shells (best if ground up and in moderation)

* Coffee grounds

* Tea bags


* Human/pet waste

* Non biodegradable materials

* Dairy/meat

* Oils/grease

* Harsh chemicals

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 & 5 at least three times -- creating a layered lasagna of bedding and food scraps -- and allow the mixture to stew for 1 to 2 weeks before adding worms.

So, that's where we are right now. We're stewing. In the laundry room. And the kids are not totally grossed out, but they have asked us not to mention our new farming venture to any of their friends ... or their friends' parents ... or anyone who might possibly know their friends' parents.

So, yeah, basically - we're covert worm farmers and we're loving it!


  1. Believe it or not, I've been worm farming for years, and my first setup was exactly like yours.

    A few things to keep in mind:
    1. It will become a maggot farm. It just will. It will, and there's nothing you can do about it. They're not normal maggots, though. They're bigger and eat veggies. Then turn into soldier flies and die. It's nature's way.

    2. It will also become a slug farm, ant farm, and home to all manner of other vile organism. Just repeat to yourself: "They're all breaking down my compost."

    3. Your worms will die. Probably because they get too wet. Or too dry. Or because they hate you and all the work you put into their home. Honestly, I stopped replacing them. Now it's just maggots working overtime. Also, I've moved the box a lot farther from the house.

    4. You can never feed them too much coffee. Then again, maybe you shouldn't listen to a guy with no worms left in his worm bin.

    5. If it starts to stink, add more dry leaves, etc. and mix it up. Try to be good about mixing it around as often as possible and keeping dry stuff on top to keep away maggots. I mean, you'll fail. Still, trying is important.

    6. The day you quit worrying about it actually working is the day you go out and find a box full of beautiful compost. Which I then dump into my garden, cover with a tarp, and start the whole disgusting process all over again.

    Have a blast, Tanya!

  2. Thanks David. Was that a pep talk? Because after reading your comments (all really helpful) I'm ready to say the heck with it all and just go to the store to get good compost.

  3. I was just thinking tonight that going veggie, we seem to have waaaaay more scraps than we can compost! Does this qualify as "an embarassment of compost riches"? Time to fertilize the shrubs ;) - Mo

  4. I got chickens to do it all for me :)

  5. Wish we could have chickens, Cam! Do you live in the country ... or are you an urban chicken farmer?

  6. Hey - I didn't realize you were YOU... the CAM threw me off and the pic was small enuf... well..

    So, tell me about your chickens! And seriously, could you imagine my Vestavia HIlls neighbor's reactions if I had chickens in the back yard :) ?!?

    I'm still trying to figure out how to work the veggie garden into the front yard since this house is totally wooded out back.

    David - You never did share your photos of that raised garden bed you were building a while back. Would love to see it.

  7. I know it's legal to have chickens in Homewood and Mountain Brook, but I'm not so sure about VH. Dear Husband and his broken ribs really didn't appreciate me reading this post aloud. Laughing isn't much fun for him right now.

  8. Hey Kathy! I just keep remembering the Homewood front yard garden lawsuit ... and it scares me. Although there is a VH house (on Garland) that has a front yard garden and it doesn't seem to be much of a problem. Not sure how chickens would go over.

    What happened to DH??? Broken ribs? That sucks!

  9. He had a dispute with the spiral staircase at the Shades Valley Y. The staircase won.

    There's a house in our neighborhood with a lovely front-yard English garden. It looks like all flowers, but there could be vegetables hiding in there too. It's surrounded by an attractive low fence. I haven't heard any complaints, but I'm not plugged in to neighborhood politics. I say go for it. With the way food prices are rising, we may have our entire yard -- front, back, side -- growing vegetables soon. We could try to smuggle in a chicken or two, but the dogs would either eat them or be too terrified to go outside. I lean toward the latter.

  10. Youch! Staircases can be evil.

    The image of your dogs cowering in the shadow of chickens makes me giggle! Ruby would be out there mixing it up with 'em in a heartbeat.

  11. I'm so impressed you guys went DIY! We bought a worm farm at the home and garden show about a year ago and it's been chugging along in the basement (maggot-free thank god!) ever since. But it's so small I eventually signed us up for Denver's composting program just to take the rest of the stuff. Poor Sean, he's still adjusting to the demands of a three-bin household...

  12. Well we're not there yet! We started the bin, loaded it with a bunch of scraps and then got super busy and forgot to order the worms. So now we have a moldy, soupy mess! Ordering worms this week, though, and will give you an update when we've got it going.

    Tell Sean to hang in there. Takes some getting used to. Jason was super proud when earlier today he announced that we've only sent the trash can to the curb one time this month. (didn't even know he was counting!)