May 24, 2006 | General

A Vermicomposting Inspiration

BioCycle May 2006, Vol. 47, No. 5, p. 32
If the city of Toronto could clone Betty Price to live in every apartment building and townhouse, garbage hauled to Michigan landfills would be cut by 35,000 metric tons a year.
Larraine Roulston

BETTY PRICE, an active senior living in a condominium, was inspired 12 years ago at an Environment Day display to try vermicomposting. She paid $10.00 for the subsidized kit and bedding, and arranged for the worms to be mailed to her. After reading Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, and finding a food processor for faster decomposition, she began placing a weekly buffet under a layer of their damp bedding. Her reward quickly became rich castings, together with more worms for her condo’s garden, as well as fertilizer for her balcony flower and vegetable trays.
One year, she put all her red wigglers into the garden only to discover that Toronto had discontinued its vermicomposting program. Without red wigglers, she set her bins aside until she found supplier Cathy Nesbitt ( Last year, when Price did not have enough food for her new worms, she began collecting organics from neighbors. The response was so great that she required a second container. With her very prolific worms, she soon had six active bins, three of which were placed in the condo’s plant room for the winter.
“Everyone I spoke to was concerned with the garbage crisis and was delighted to be doing something constructive to help. I will have additional contributors this summer, as more people are aware of what I am doing and I will be better equipped to handle it,” says vermicomposter Price.
Price asks neighbors to put their food scraps in plastic containers so she can return them for further use. Often, when she is out, she returns home to find containers in plastic bags hanging on her door knob, on the floor, or on her balcony which is assessable from the garden court. She does most of the work herself. Occasionally, when Price has accepted spoiled vegetables not suitable for the food bank, neighbors have helped her chop them up into small pieces for the worm bins. She recently purchased a 35-gallon container to increase her vermicomposting “capacity.” Price’s son drilled holes in the bottom of the container to keep the liquid from accumulating. “The worms were drowning,” she notes.
To make separation of the casting easier, her son recently built her a screen that fits over a large box. The screen also will help break down the particle size of the vermicompost. Over the winter, Price found several potted plants that were practically dead in the condo’s plant room where she keeps the worm bins. She needed some soil to cover the top of a bin, so took the plants out of their pots, sprinkled the dirt over the surface, then placed the plants in the bin as well. As testimony to the power of the compost, Price notes, “those plants are thriving now. They are in bloom!”
In late March, Price approached the owner of a local market about putting in a worm bin in the corner of a lot used as a garden center during the warmer months of the year. He agreed to the idea, and Price is working out the details. Produce trimmings as well as materials from the garden center will be composted.
As an amateur traveling photographer for the United Church of Canada, she has given members red wigglers for their backyard composters. This spring she plans to talk to her women’s group about her experience with vermicomposting: “I’m pleased that Toronto started composting. Each individual can make a big difference and I hope that all who compost now, will continue, perhaps adding red wigglers to help speed up the process. It may be a little more work but the results and personal satisfaction are well worth the effort. I plan to keep my bins working as long as I’m able to do it since our garden needs the compost. I feel that it is a worthwhile project and I enjoy doing it!”
It was an honor to meet this amazing great-grandmother at Toronto’s Canada Blooms Expo recently where she volunteered to help at the Composting Council of Canada’s (CCC) display. Staff at the CCC noted that Price was a real inspiration, not only to visitors but also to themselves and other volunteers alike.
Presently, Toronto uses green bins to collect organics from all residential homes. Also, there are 15 apartment buildings, of different sizes, participating in source-separated organics pilot projects. Two of these have the large Molok containers. For the others, tenants are taking their kitchen catchers that include meat and bones, as well as disposable diapers, pet wastes, and kitty litter to the 35 gallon green carts located beside the apartments’ recycling bins. As the results so far have been favorable, there will be another 15 buildings added this year. If these pilots are successful, the green carts will begin to be phased in for multiunits in 2007.
The city still wants homeowners to continue backyard composting but unfortunately has discontinued its backyard and vermicompost programs. Although the green bin, with its wide array of organics accepted in plastic bags, is good for diversion, we also need to create purer soil conditioners for ourselves that not only put nutrients onto our garden areas but also save tax dollars on collection and processing.
As rooftop gardening becomes increasingly popular, and with townhouses and high-rises needing fertilizer for their plants, encouragement should be given to on-site composting and utilization. These can include: three bin units, insulated worm bins, vermicomposters, community composting, and teams of Betty Price clones.
An author of children’s books on composting, Larraine Roulston can be e-mailed at And visit the website

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