Arts & More
1:39 pm
Mon April 29, 2013

Let worms do the work on your garbage

Nancy Essex picks up a handful of red worms used in vermicomposting
Credit Nancy Camden

The next time you put food scraps down your garbage disposal or in your garbage can, consider using nature’s garbage disposal, vermicomposting. Vermi is Latin for worm. So, it’s composting using worms.

“It’s cold composting as opposed to that compost pile in your backyard where it should heat up to say 146 degrees,” says Nancy Essex, owner of Flowerfield Enterprises. “And then, you turn it and heats back up. This is cold composting. It never heats up.” 

Flowerfield Enterprises in Kalamazoo sells the worms, bins and books for learning about vermicomposting. People can compost in bins with red worms in their basements, garages and even their kitchens.

“It takes eight gallons of water to wash one pound of food down your sinkerator, which goes to the city water system where it’s treated by chemicals and then, it’s released in our waterways,” says Essex. “So, if we can keep that much out, it’s simply a bonus all the way around. If you just scrape it in your garbage bag and throw it in the landfill, it stinks and nobody wants to live next to a landfill and we’re running out of space to put landfills.”

Flowerfield ships worms and supplies all over the country all year long. There are 600 to a thousand worms in a pound. The worms Flowerfield uses are called Eisenia Fetida.

“There are hundreds of kinds of red worms.” Essex says. “They’re composting worms and in the wild, right around here. They’re not rare. There is nothing unusual about them. They would be found in a manure pile, a leaf pile or a compost pile. And, they work perfectly in a composting environment in a bin. This particular worm tolerates a wide range of temperatures. If I put it in a bin and I meet all its needs, it’s damp, it’s dark, there’s food there, it’ll stay in the bin. So, this is the only kind of worm that we sell.”

To make the vermicomposting work, Essex explains that you need to layer your compost bin with garbage then newspaper, and then garbage and more newspaper. When the worms eat fruit and vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds and pulverized egg shells and other things, they turn it into a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your plants called castings.

Nancy Essex has been carrying on this worm composting business of Mary Appelhof who died eight years ago. Appelhof was known as "The Worm Woman."

“She got a pound of worms and she started in a horse trough in her basement,” Essex says. “When she used the castings on her garden and would see how much better the plants grew, it just excited her for the rest of her life. She was very much a research scientist. That was her training. That was completely her background. So once she focused on worms, it became her life’s work.”

Essex says that Appelhof didn’t like the business end. So, Essex handled that for her so she could concentrate on the research that was going. Appelhof became a world expert and traveled all over the world.

“Her vision and her motto always was to change the way the world felt about garbage,” says Essex.

What Essex likes about the business is that at then end of the day, she says she knows she hasn’t done any harm.