We're not much of a pet family. We had a cat for a few years, but he didn't get along with the new baby. He was old and accustomed to having all our attention; he did not like the intruder. (A few years later she returned the favor by becoming allergic to cats.) He left for greener pastures, i.e. other family members who returned him to his spoiled, prince of the family position. As the kids grew older they acquired a few pets—two hamsters and a cockatiel. We enjoyed them all, and even paid for surgery on a hamster that could have been replaced for $2.50, but I never did understand people who treat their pets like children. I'm not saying that's wrong, just that it doesn't appear to be part of my makeup. What's more, we tend to travel a lot, which is a lot easier to do if you don't have pets to worry about.
So...those who know us may be surprised to discover that we have recently acquired some new pets. Many new pets: about 2000 red wiggler worms. They live on our back porch in their own recycled-battery-casing worm condominium. I've been admiring these garbage-converting little guys for four years, and finally took the plunge with a visit to the Our Vital Earth worm farm in Apopka. There I met Bernie and Carl Moro, both in their 70s and more spry and active than many of us in our 50s. They started their worm venture as a retirement project after discovering how well home vermicomposting works in Australia. You can see a news story about Bernie and Carl here.
As with all new pets, it's going to take a while to get things running smoothly, but when they've all settled in nicely they should begin to turn our kitchen scraps, dryer lint, vacuum cleaner dust (minus the occasional button and pin), and paper into fantastic fertilizer for our garden. Animal products are out, except for egg shells, because they attract rodents, and also tend to smell up an otherwise—supposedly—odorless system. A little milk on leftover breakfast cereal is fine, I'm told, and these amazing worms can even turn small doses of battery acid into harmless fertilizer. But I think I'll skip the cheese, even if the Swiss do compost theirs, rather than face the prospect of rat visitors to our porch. The occasional mole is quite enough.
This isn't a money-saving proposition, since we have fixed-fee garbage collection, and it will be a long time before our $234 investment can be returned in fertilizer savings. But it certainly feels better to be doing something useful with our waste rather than adding to the landfill, and I'll be happy to have worm castings and worm "tea" with which to pamper our fledgling garden. Family and friends who wish to venture into vermicomposting may be able to get away with a lower initial cost; we bought the whole package, both to get the best start we could and to support the business. We can certainly lend out the instructional video, and if you procrastinate long enough we should have enough worms to give some away.
Here are a couple of videos about the vermicomposting system.
Update 23 May 2009 If you watched the videos, you saw the hemp "moisture mat" that covers the worms and their food. Our unit did not come with one of those; suggestions were to use damp newspaper or an old towel or t-shirt. We don't get the paper, so rather than raid our neighbor's recycle bin, I went the old t-shirt route. When bagpipe music starts emanating from our well-educated worm bin, I'll let you know.