Sabrina Clarke, the founder of the Yukon Wigglers project, displays one of her red wiggler composting worms in Whitehorse on Aug. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The wonderful world of worm compost

Worms kept in a bin under your sink can let you compost organic scraps year-round

Most people are familiar with the humble compost pile, where vegetable peels and apple cores are turned into a nutritious jumble to sprinkle on your flowerbeds or supplement your heirloom tomato plants.

But what to do during the long Yukon winter, when even the mightiest of compost heaps is reduced to but a single, solid mass, incapable of doing anything to a banana peel except lower its temperature?

The solution lies in having hundreds, if not thousands, of little friends living under your sink in the form of a worm bin, whom you can feed your organic scraps all year long in exchange for plant food.

The compost you get from using worms — usually red wigglers — is “quite different” from the compost you get from heaps, explained Sabrina Clarke, the founder of the Yukon Wigglers project. The project aims to educate Yukoners about worm composting, and is holding a workshop at the end of the month on how to start your own worm-composting bin.

“Everything in (worm) compost has made it through a worm’s digestive system, so it’s really small, which means that it exchanges nutrients really well with plant roots,” Clarke said in an interview Aug. 14.

“And it’s really microbially-active because it doesn’t get to a high temperature (like) in your compost heap, so a lot of bacteria is able to flourish in your compost bin, which might scare some people but is actually a really good thing. I guess probiotic is the word people are using now.”

Clarke said she first got introduced to worm composting when she was a university student in Montreal, where there’s no city-wide composting program. She moved back to the Yukon in May to a country-residential area where there’s also no composting program, and so decided to keep going with worm composting.

The worms, Clarke said, are very low-maintenance — basically, all you need to do is put them in a bin (preferably one with an opening about two square feet in size) with some dirt and keep the bin in a dark place and at room temperature. The wigglers are good at self-regulating their population based on the space and amount of food available, and can be left alone for up to three weeks without issue.

The worms also aren’t too picky about what they get fed, although how long it takes to break something down may vary.

“Depending on the type of food, if it’s a banana peel, it’ll usually disappear within a week, if it’s something harder like a watermelon rind or something, it’ll take longer … Especially for harder things, they have to wait for it to be partially broken down by other microbes because they basically have no teeth, they just wait for it to get really soft and then they digest it through their system,” she said.

And to answer the question that Clarke says she always gets whenever she talks to someone about worm composting — no, the bin doesn’t stink.

“It has that earthy smell of course, because what the worms are doing is they’re basically digesting the food scraps and turning it into humus, like a type of kind of soil builder, so you’ll open it up and you’ll definitely get that kind of soil smell,” Clarke said.

The only time the bin might give off a funk is if you dig up food scraps before the worms have had a chance to get to them, or if you put items on the “no” list, like meat or dairy products, which the worms have a harder time breaking down.

“So in that sense, it’s not perfect, you won’t get rid of all your organic waste,” Clarke said, “but for me, in my apartment, having a choice between like at least getting rid of 80 per cent of it as opposed to none, I thought it was a good alternative.”

Clarke said that the Yukon Wigglers’ upcoming workshop is open to both beginners and those already familiar with worm composting — the morning session will be an introduction to the process, with worm composting kits available for purchase, while the afternoon will be focused on the components and benefits of the compost.

The worms in the kits will be supplied by Clarke herself; using a grant she received as a finalist for the Yukon Innovation Prize, she bought 10 lbs of worms, an amount she described as “semi-commercial but also quite small,” and set up an eight-foot-by-four-foot “mega worm bin.” They’re fed with food scraps provided by Whitehorse cafe the Poor Creature, with every two worms producing one new worm every week or so.

Clarke said she’s expecting two types of people to attend.

“(There are) really, really a lot of people doing it in Whitehorse already, so gardeners, farmers, and more and more people just concerned about what to do with their organic waste,” she said.

“So you kind of get two different types of people, one type of people who are really motivated to use the compost, the final product, and one type who like the idea of having their food waste get turned into something else right in their house.”

“A Workshop on Composting with Worms in the North” is being held at the Northlight Innovation Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 31 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. More information and tickets are available online at facebook.com/events/344840992858294/

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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