Worms in the kitchen? Interest grows in the tiny composting machines that poop garden superfood
The 'humble little turd' produces a nutrient-dense soil amendment and helps cut down on food waste
They're slimy, and they come with a bit of an ick factor, but the use of the industrious and always hungry earthworm that gives kitchen waste a whole new life is catching on.
Vermicomposting, or worm composting is a process where worms eat kitchen green waste which then passes through their tiny little bodies and turns into worm manure.
The nutrient-dense castings are considered the gold standard of soil amendments — and incorporating it into gardens and containers cuts back on food waste and creates an optimum start for house plants, and fruit and vegetable root systems.
"It's going to get as close to its genetic potential as possible. All from this humble little turd," said Andrew Couzens, owner of Terra Flora Soil Works in Chilliwack, B.C.
Couzens said the appeal of worm composting for home use grew during the pandemic, but rising food costs have created "an explosion of interest."
Worm compost bins can be placed in backyards, balconies and basements and if you are like Andrew Couzens, right there in your kitchen.
"It smells like the forest floor," he said. "Properly made compost will never, ever smell."
Compost systems range from a basic worm bin for $25 to deluxe containers, which sell upwards of $500. One colourful system even won a gold medal in the 2020 Good Design Awards in Australia, which highlights the best new products and services in that country.
The City of Vancouver sells basic bins for $25 through City Farmer, which also has a demonstration garden in its Kitsilano location. Volunteers give visitors a tour of the different types of composters and answer visitors' questions around where to start.
Scot Bathgate has been selling worm composters for almost a decade and has seen sales steadily increase in that time.
In 2014, his Vancouver-based company Greentools.ca sold nine bins. This year, he's so far sold 265.
"Throwing away your organic waste makes no sense when you can produce the best all-natural nutrient rich fertilizer yourself. It's a no brainer," he said.
The red wiggler variety
Cherry Fan, a worm farmer who owns TriCity Worms, says 90 per cent of her customers are new to this form of composting.
She uses almost a dozen compost systems, from in-ground to on-wheels, that produce the red wiggler variety, which she says is best for beginners.
The 29-year-old says her phone starts ringing at the end of February when the snow starts to melt, and doesn't let up for months.
"In the busy season I can go through 10 pounds a week. Most people buy a quarter to half a pound to start," Fan said.
The casting are given to family and friends, and sold on her website. She also uses them in her own vegetable garden.
"My dad inspires me," she added. "He says you don't have a worry in the world when you are growing your own food."
Metro Vancouver offers an online guide that explains how to get started with an at-home worm composting system.
Worm composting may not be for the faint of heart, but Couzens says those who do it will be rewarded with bountiful organic results that are more drought tolerant, and produce higher yields.
"Worm castings will increase the size of the root ball over 30 per cent [and] what it does to the flavour of your food is incredible."