A box of worms, dirt and decomposing food in your dorm may sound gross, but it can help eliminate waste.
Music education junior Marissa Broome is a compost newbie. She keeps her worm population under her desk.
Worm composting is a method of using worms to recycle food scraps. When worms eat the scraps, their waste becomes compost, which can then be used to grow plants and vegetables, FabLab librarian Morgan Chivers said.
Chivers has been composting since the early 2000s and hosts events that teach students the ins and outs of composting at the FabLab. Advanced composters may utilize large garden spaces, but beginners can use shoe box-sized containers to get started, he said.
To get started, you will need two plastic bins, one within the other, with a lid on top, Chivers said. The bottom one catches drainage. He recommends a matte lid for darkness, but a student can cut out dark construction paper and put it on top of a clear lid.
In addition, add a drill, peat moss, soil, newspaper, water, food scraps, cardboard and, of course, worms to your supply list.
First, drill small holes into the lid and the bottom of the top container. After that, apply a layer of soil to the top container. Then dip newspaper scraps in water. Add a layer of these scraps to the soil, but do not mix them in, Chivers said.
Damp newspaper scraps provide moisture. Avoid glossy magazines and reach for matte paper instead, he said. Add in food scraps and stir lightly. Now it’s time to add in your worms, but do not mix them in, Chivers said.
The biggest misconception is that worm composting has to be stinky, Chivers said, which is why he makes workshop attendees put their face in a box of worms and sniff.
They’re usually surprised it doesn’t smell like anything, he said. If maintained well, a worm compost bin shouldn’t give off bad odors.
If the worms are given more food than they can eat, the food will decay and spoil in your bin, leading to a rotten smell, he said.
For a shoe box-sized compost, he recommends only feeding the worms twice a week.
Worms can’t eat everything, Chivers said, so no meat or dairy for your slithery friends. Also avoid potatoes, onions and citrus fruits, as they take a long time to decompose and contribute to a rotten smell, he said.
Add a little water or wet newspaper scraps each time you feed. They’ll eat the newspaper scraps as well.
Broome said her small compost box doesn’t quite make her feel like an environmental hero.
However, little things like this go a long way, Chivers said. If everyone had a little shoe box like this, he said, it’d make a world of difference.
Valerie Kilburn, music education junior and Broome’s friend, agrees with Chivers.
“I think learning about composting is a really great introduction [to] knowing more about food waste,” she said. “Just being mindful of things that we use and what we waste.”