Green Gold

You could say my need to compost borders on an obsessive compulsion. That would not be far off the mark. My boyfriend can definitely testify to the pained expression that crosses my face each time I have to scrape some organic material into the rubbish bin. There are nights when I lie awake letting my imagination loose and envisioning a whole city composting; everyone cultivating food and produce from the remnants of what they ate. I fantasize about steaming piles of humus that is crawling with microbes devouring what I couldn't. I go slack-jawed when I think about how much space in landfills could be created, and how we could usher in a whole new era of less waste.
Hold on, I need a moment.

You've already decided that I am a fanatic with an army jacket festooned with green peace badges and rainbow warrior buttons. Clearly I have dreadlocks, and that pungent breath betraying my vegan diet (also another display of my fanaticism). But I assure you: I love eating meat, I once considered matting my hair (in college), and I'm deeply skeptical of organisations such as Green Peace (I find them a little frightening, to tell the truth). I'm not being hyperbolic:
I freaking love compost.
Of course I love it for its many life-giving properties. The fact that something as mundane as a collection of potato and carrot peelings, or onion skins and a few moldy peaches that you didn't get to quite in time can decay and mix with some dirt to make this... magic that will grow more of all these things sometimes just blows my mind.
My love affair with compost started with my mother's house in Calgary. We had a greenhouse in the back and a little heap of compost that I honestly cannot remember doing much with. My father also had a garden at his house, but he took it rather more seriously. He learned to garden while stationed in Japan during the Korean War. Since I was a rampaging little child who loved mud, he steered me away.
When we moved to New York we were first in an old farmhouse that had been converted to 6 apartments. In the back there was a little square of tilled land and we developed it into a vegetable garden complete with a compost section. It was my job to take our kitchen's bucket outside.
Then we ended up at an apartment that had no opportunity for a garden plot, or none that we ever explored. But it did border the woods. So we started what I like to call "Guerrilla Composting." Vegetable matter wold collect in empty ice cream containers and we'd fling it into the trees.
If you have ever wondered why your kitchen garbage stinks, or why the raccoons simply will not leave your garbage alone it's because there's food in it.
Perhaps you live in a condo with no little patch of earth or woods to receive your leftovers and devour them. There are solutions, however.
I recently moved from a quirky cottage-like apartment that had some grassy parts to hide kitchen scraps in. Now I'm in a condo complete with bamboo floors, and granite counters. There are, however, little plots of earth dotted about the courtyard and I plan, this weekend, to claim one of them as mine (and Dan's) with some herbs. But I don't think this is the kind of place where I can surreptitiously tip out my egg shells and slimy spinach. This is where a worm bin would come in handy.
Gardeners are practically in love with worms. The more worms in their soil, the happier they are. It's a signifier that the soil is full of air and moisture. When we were tilling the soil in our community garden there were earth worms in just about every spade full and Dan could not stop himself from commenting on it. They help by tunneling through the soil and conditioning it with their castings.
Red worms are a variety of earth worms that are specifically suited to take your left overs and food waste and you can buy them from just about any feed store or bait shop. Garden worms are not so great for your kitchen because they need a hella lot more dirt.
A pound of red worms can gobble a half pound of vegetable matter a day and then translate it to soil-nutritious castings. These castings, although they're already broken down nutrients of the wilted lettuce you put in there, also contain microbes that then get busy breaking it down further. Meanwhile the red worm slides about the bedding and scraps, coating everything in a thin layer of mucus that will help retain everything when you put the compost in your garden bed and water it.
2-3 months later, voila! You have some of the most powerful compost ever made. It will be so powerful and rich that you probably don't want to use for starting seeds. But you can mix it in with the soil and give occasional dressings afterwards.
I'm sure, Dear Reader, you are on of two minds right now: Totally grossed out, or completely fascinated. I hope it's the latter and that you are now scouring the Internet for how you can get your hands on a pound of red wrigglers. You need to have a bin for them, and it is ppossible to make your own by punching holes into a rubbermaid plastic bin with a lid. The lid is definitely important because worms do not like light. You need to holes to make sure air is moving through the material and your worms don't suffocate or drown.
But let's be honest, vermicomposting and worm bins are all about the convenience. They mean a small space in your apartment's kitchen and no have to dump the compost you've accumulated through the year to tumble it and mix it. So I'm tempted to go with the convenient option of buying one.
I've got my eye on this worm factory 360:

This model is a little pricey, costing around $110.00. But I'm almost convinced it's worth it. There's a year-long guarantee with it, a 16 page manual and dvd and tips to help maintain the bin. It also seems to take up the least amount of space. It's also manufactured in the USA.
The worms themselves you'd have to buy separately and from everything I've read, I recommend going with just a pound to start off with. Worms are self-regulating in that if there's less food, there's less worms. On the flip-side, if there's more food there's more worms. 
Home gardening has been pretty trendy lately, with 100-mile boxes (as in, your produce originated within 100 miles of your kitchen) and slow-food movements and of course the determined organic foods movement. They say that in the garden is closest to God, and I can see how that would be.
A simple truth lies in that things into which you put effort and time seem that much more enjoyable when they come to bear fruit. Dan and I have rented a plot in a community garden for the summer and going there, even for a few minutes, cheers up even the most rotten day. We've got some peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, and marigolds. Some of them I started from seed in little yogurt containers inside my apartment. When I first spotted little sprouts creeping shyly, but with determination, up through the soil I literally whooped with excitement.
This community garden does come equipped with a rather large compost pile, and it is only a block away from my apartment. Maddeningly, however, they don't want any food waste in there. I understand the concern: pests like bugs and rodents are attracted by refuse and not so much snap pea stems. Not to mention it's also a shared pile. We all started the growing season with a small little heap of compost to mix in with our plot, but should we want anymore we can get it from Greenway Environmental Services, a company that collects the food waste from Vassar and Marist Colleges and turns it into the most beautiful dark rich humus you ever saw. It costs $1.00 a bucket. Or, I could get a worm bin.
I fully expect this little plot to produce more vegetables than the two of us could ever eat. But that's part of the beauty of it and I'm already daydreaming of sending friends away with care packages of strawberries, peas, beans, cukes and buckets of tomatoes.
That is another simple truth: Things taste better when shared.


  1. Rosemary, I too love my compost bin. There is just something so satisfying about turning waste into something productive. I completely agree with you.

    I have heard of under counter worm bins. Not quite sure I'm ready for that, but it does intrigue me. Let me know how yours works out.


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