Worm Condos Go Up in City Pads
Picture this: a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Manhattan during Memorial Day weekend. Gathered in a community garden are 45 people, at least – all sitting politely on benches waiting for three women to speak. A performance perhaps? A poetry-reading? A talk maybe on how to grow peonies?
Guess again. The folks that Saturday were there to learn about indoor composting. Yes, that’s right. They were planning to set up composting bins in their apartments, complete with 1,000 squirming red wiggler worms, the champions of food decomposition.
Any worries, you ask, about odor? Or worse, fruit flies?
Not this bunch. If they set up and maintained their composting bins properly, they were assured they wouldn’t have any such problems.
“You know you’ve messed up if it smells,” said Carey Pulverman, a striking young red-head from the Lower East Side Ecology Center who ran the composting workshop.
Carey walked the group through all the steps needed to build the perfect odor-free, bug-free composting bin, a place where worms could live and “be happy.”
“Don’t over-feed the worms,” she advised. “The worms won’t be happy.” Carey explained that worms consume about three pounds of food per week, roughly equal to a 10-cup container.
When the workshop ended, people lined up to buy their $10 composting bins, euphemistically called “worm condos” in the promotional flyer. The bins looked like the plastic storage bins you’d find in The Container Store, except that it had four air vents. They also received vouchers for a start-up container of the red wiggler worms. The bin and the voucher cost $10, a bargain. Ordinarily they go for $45.
While the number of New Yorkers that are composting indoors is not known, workshops such as this one consistently draw big crowds. According to Carey, the workshop usually fills to capacity. Similar workshops at the botanical gardens are equally well attended with a good percentage of participants buying the $10 bins. The Queens Botanical Garden, for instance, reaches about 300 people per month.
The workshops are part of a citywide program—the NYC Compost Project – to reduce the garbage that winds up in landfills. According to the Department of Sanitation, the average household discards two pounds of organic waste a day, adding up to 1 million tons of organic material a year. At that rate, food gets compacted and doesn’t decompose to the same grade that it otherwise would, said Karla Osorio-Perez, manager of the Brooklyn Compost Project at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Worse, when discarded in plastic bags, food scraps don’t get a chance to decompose at all.
Penelope Cruz of Williamsburgh, Brooklyn, one of the participants attending the workshop at the Manhattan community garden, has been dropping off her food scraps at a community garden for years. “I hate throwing things away,” she said, adding that she now wants to make her own compost in case she starts a garden in the parking lot near her home.
Carey, the workshop leader, explained that an indoor composting bin requires four essential ingredients: food for the worms, water, air and lots of “fluffy bedding” or moist newspaper strips loosely scrunched up. The bedding should always cover the food scraps.
Getting it all right sometimes takes time. If the newspaper strips are too wet and “not fluffy enough,” it will cause the bin to smell. So will meat, dairy and oily products like leftover Indian food. Too many food scraps can also cause a stinky bin.
“What about orange peels?” someone asks.
Orange peels, Carey explains, are OK, provided the bin is not overwhelmed with pounds of peels at once.
“The worms,” she says with an infectious smile, “won’t be happy.”
For more information about composting workshops in New York City, go to www.nyccompost.org.