Ask my children how many pets we have and most times, they'll answer 'one.' Our dog. But sometimes, when they're feeling playful, they'll say 'hundreds.'
"The worms!" they shout.
Last September, we took a short trip to the southern Maryland farm of Heidi and Stefano Briguglio and, to my surprise, came home with a compact composter filled with half a pound of red wiggler worms. I didn't know a thing about worm composting before that trip, so I never imagined countertop composting for myself. But, the couple made the venture seem so easy and it looked like a fun project to take on with the kids.
A year later, I'm ready to recommend it to anyone game enough to try.
Our composter is odorless, unobtrusive and conveniently placed next to the kitchen sink where I fill it several times a week with kitchen scraps like strawberry tops, cucumber and banana peels, spent tea bags, leftover peas from dinner. I usually add a layer of shredded newspaper or cut-up brown paper bags every few days as well.
The bulk of our kitchen and yard waste still goes to the giant compost tumbler in the back yard, but the worms eat their share of scraps too and as a gardener, I have to tell you the waste they produce is like gold. It's called "worm castings" and it's the thickest, richest looking heap of dirt I've ever seen. I've harvested three large buckets of castings in the past 12 months—each of them easily weighing more than 15 lbs.—that I've worked into the soil around my garden.
A 30-lb. bag of organic worm castings sells for $40 on Amazon.
The composter yields another nutrient-rich fertilizer affectionately known as "worm tea." Essentially, it's the liquid that pools at the bottom of the bucket which can be collected from the drain spout and added directly to plant soil. People with indoor plants swear by the tea.
I recently asked Heidi Briguglio a series of questions by email, including the most immediate: why should people use the worm composter? She replied that more than one third of the municipal waste stream is compost. Removing that from the system and composting it ourselves not only saves money, it helps the environment because, as she wrote, "… compost languishing in landfills is a huge, methane-belching, expensive problem."
"Americans are already actively recycling such a tremendous volume of other resources out of the waste stream, this is just the next easy step," she said.
The composters sell for $100 with worms and $75 without for people who want to split their worm squirm with a friend. The Briguglios offer lifetime tech support, so if you notice mold, a funny smell or simply need help with the how-tos of harvesting, the couple is available by phone or email.
The composters can be bought directly through the Briguglios' company, Azure B. LLC., and at Restoration Foods in Edgewater, Md. The Briguglios hope to grow their business to sell the composters throughout the D.C. Metro area, then eventually into such urban markets as New York City, Chicago, Tokyo and Dubai.