My first step in this zero waste thing was (finally) to start worm composting, something I had contemplated numerous times in the past. Erika generously offered to send me some of her worms, and after having accepted her offer, I realized I had committed myself to actually using them.
Note: Everyone, do NOT email Erika to ask for more free worms! I took all her excess so she doesn't have any more to share. But they are inexpensive and easily obtainable here or here or from any of these places. Or elsewhere; Google is your friend in these matters.
Unfortunately, it seems to be packed away somewhere and I cannot find it. So I have been consulting the internets for my vermicomposting wisdom. Lots of good information here and here and here (prowl around that last site -- it was started by Mary Appelhof, the Worm Woman Extraordinaire who wrote that book above).
My worm bin:
It is a Sterilite® plastic bin from Wal*Mart (Plastic! Wal*Mart! Oh, the irony!), approximately 15" x 12" x 12" and with a lid. I also bought one that has the same footprint but is much shallower, thinking that I might have to put holes in the bottom of the large bin to let the compost tea, aka worm juice, drain out. So far, no compost tea, so no drainage holes.
Now, before you start thinking of questions to ask me about how to start your own worm compost bin, let me warn you: I am a rank amateur at this and am doing it with little or no knowledge other than that others somehow make it work. There will be no wisdom forthcoming from me.
If this actually works, I plan to move the bin to the under-sink cabinet in the kitchen where it will be handy. Right now it sits on in the middle of the floor in my office so that I can keep an eye on it. The office is not too far away from the kitchen; not as handy as under the sink, but close enough that I don't mind walking over there with a handful of lettuce leaves and tomato cores.
So far, I cannot see that the worms are doing anything but lying around filing their little nails and eating bonbons. The foods that I have put in there do not seem to be disappearing. It should be noted, however, that the whole apparatus has been *operational* for only a couple weeks. Perhaps that is not long enough to see results; more likely, I need to go slowly until my worms make more worms, enough to handle the amount of vegetable waste produced by a two-person household. At least the worms are still alive; I checked last week and they still wiggle.
Since I returned to work on Monday, I haven't been able to monitor my little friends very closely. They should require far less maintenance than a dog or cat and so ::fingers crossed:: should survive a few weeks of benign neglect.
However, this is NOT what you want to see on the inside cover of your worm bin when you return to it after several days:
This condensation means that the bin was too wet. That happened because I had allowed it to get rather dry last week; before I left for Minneapolis on Monday morning I added about 3/4 cup of water and put the lid on tightly. So now I have the cover off to let it dry out a bit. Again.
I have done pretty much every wrong thing that one can do: let it get too dry, added too much vegetable matter and got a couple fruit flies as a result, added too much water. If My Little Preciouses survive all this worm abuse it will be a sign that this whole vermicomposting thing is largely idiot proof.
ETA: They survived!!! I just stirred up the whole thing and discovered wiggly worms. Yay! This idiot hasn't killed them yet!
As you can tell, I am going into this as low-tech as possible. Some people really get into it. Look at these photos that I found on Flickr of another person's set-up (used with permission):
"The Wriggly Wranch is a multi-tiered system. Once one bin gets full of
worm castings, you put another bin on top (each bin has holes on the
bottom). In theory, the worms migrate upward to the next level where
the food and bedding is. Sometimes a bunch of them linger below
munching on who knows what. You don't have to worry about losing any
though, they're always multiplying.
"There is a spigot on the side where you can drain the lovely worm juice (that's what I call it anyway). You can dilute it with water and feed it to the plants & garden."
Go look at her whole Flickr set --she shows all the stages of composting and has good explanations. ETA: I just realized I didn't include a link, and now I cannot identify her photostream on Flickr. But search for "worm composting" there and you will find LOTS of photos and ideas for different, low-cost, low-tech, small-scale vermicomposting.
Now to go swat that pesky fly...