Dairy Farmers are proud stewards of the the Earth, taking care of their cows and the land that feeds us all every day. We’ve talked about all of the creative ways they work to provide wholesome, nutritious foods like milk, cheese and yogurt, while using less land and water and maintaining cow comfort. But how can we help honor the harvest at home? We asked our friend, Registered Dietitian Kate Capen, to tell us how her family has become food waste warriors….with worms!
If someone told you they have worms, you might suggest seeing a doctor. If they said they have thousands you might take a few steps back—or they might a vermicomposter!
Vermicomposting is using worms to breakdown food scraps into compost that can be used for gardening—with the benefit of reducing your landfill contributions.
Red wiggler worms are the elite of composting worms. They like all scraps and trimmings from most fruits and vegetables, corn cobs, coffee grounds (even the paper filter), and egg shells. And on the weeks your strawberries mold before you can eat them…they’ll eat those too!
Scraps such as strawberry stems, apple cores, eggs shells, moldy cauliflower and broccoli are saved in a plastic bin in the freezer until it’s time for them to eat. Always thaw frozen scraps before feeding the worms.
There are a few foods that can harm your worms (or create a smell that will turn your nose up). Skip the meats, dairy, fats, citrus, and acidic foods. If you want to compost those items you might consider Bokashi, another type of composting (not a high fiber cereal). Learn Bokashi here.
Vermicomposting can be inexpensive and fun! Make your own composting system, or one can be purchased online. When choosing or making a compost system, be sure there is a drain spigot to remove liquid as it forms and ventilation holes in the top to give your worms airflow. Store bought systems look something like this:
The composter is made up of: a base with a drain, then multiple trays with holes in the bottom, and a lid. To start you will have one tray with all your leftover food scraps and shredded paper. This is a great place to use all your shredded bills and documents to further reduce your trash.
When the tray becomes half full of compost another tray can be added. As trays are added the worms will migrate into the higher tray leaving nutrient rich compost in the lower trays.
The newly made compost (technically called “worm castings”) can be used in flower beds and gardens, or to make “worm tea”, a liquid fertilizer–this is what exits from the spigot pictured above. While this may look just like regular dirt and water, use both of these in small amounts. They are very strong fertilizers and could burn up your plants. Vermicomposting is a great option for chemical free gardening.
You know your worms are happy and composting at their best when the food is breaking down, and you start to see new baby worms!
There are lots of great resources for building composters, how to get started, and even trouble shooting problems along the way. Build your own bin with tips from my friends at Purdue Extension and become a food waste warrior in your home.
Thanks Kate! Looking for more ways to reduce food waste at home? Check out this great infographic from the National Dairy Council and the Innovation Center for U.S.Dairy: