By Debbie Sowell

Cooper-Young is known for doing its part when it comes to the environment. Many of us are hippies at heart, aren’t we? 

The Cooper-Young Community Association decided at this year’s board retreat to focus on what we can do that might protect our environment. We are striving to make our office, our events, and all our work to be as close to zero waste as possible. I would like to suggest something small that you could do at home if you want to join in the zero-waste movement.  

My contribution is WORMS. I have been worm composting for several years and love my worms. I am not afraid to admit it! Food scraps, junk mail, and paper products make-up about 30 percent of garbage. Worms can break it all down and make “black gold” for your flowerbeds, planters, and gardens. This is also called vermicomposting. It can be done from an apartment on a small scale up to large worm on farms. Yes, some people make a living raising worms for this very purpose.

It might sound crazy, but if you love playing in the dirt, growing your own veggies or having beautiful flowers, this is right up your alley. All with the great side effect of not throwing this stuff in the plastic garbage bags that end up in the landfill.

Worm composting can be done on a shoe-string budget but does take a bit of prep and attention. A kitty litter bucket or plastic bin will do the trick. If you want to go all in you can buy a fancy worm composter kit. The key to set up is air circulation, bedding, moisture (but not too much), and just paying attention to your wiggly friends. Drill some holes in the top for air and bottom for drainage. Bedding can be as simple as some old leaves or dirt from your yard along with some torn up cardboard, non-glossy paper or shredded paper. You always wanted to know what to do with the paper from your shredder, right?  I think placing the bin somewhere convenient is best or you might forget it. It needs to be out of the sun like a covered front porch, back porch, or even a basement. I put mine in my carport area.  

I have a composter pale by my kitchen sink that I put scraps in, and then when full, I take it to my worms. Worms do not like light, so they tend to bury themselves, so I try to dig up a corner of my bed and dump my scraps in the corner rotating corners with the next full pale. That keeps them moving around the bin.  

Ok, now for the paying attention part: Use your nose and your eyes. You want your worms to be moist but not wet. I will spray my bedding with a spray bottle of water and I wet a large piece of paper, ring it out and lay it on the top to make it nice, cozy, and dark. They say that the worms want small pieces of scraps vs large pieces to make it easier to break them down but don’t overthink it, cause they eat it all. Watching what they have eaten or not finished eating each time you add more scraps will tell you how much they can eat between feedings. The worms will multiple or scale down based on the amount you normally feed them. Amazing, is it not?!

If you start to get a smell, there could be a problem like too much water. There tends to be water in the pale of food scraps and I try not to just pour that in the worm bin causing them to be too moist. Also, if you don’t bury your food a bit, flies will tend to lay eggs and you might get a lot of flies. My bin outside does fine with a few flies and they really don’t hurt the worms. If it is too hot or too cold for long periods of time your worms can die and it will cause a smell, but again, with mine in a covered outdoor structure they still survive to live another day.

If your first attempt fails, don’t give up, just bury your failure in the garden and try again. I start fresh usually once in the spring every year I fish out most of the worms into a new fresh bed and spread all the wonderful compost on my beds, planters, and such. I will make worm compost tea if I am really good and my veggies love it.  

If you want to give this a try, set up a bin ahead of time and then order your worms. Red wigglers are what you want for this job! It is a great experiment for young kids and good for your environment and garden. Just google it and have fun with your new wiggly friends.


Food scraps (including things like melon rinds, roots, stems, leaves, cores, husks, seeds, skins, peels, etc.). Exceptions to this are listed below.

Egg shells (but not whole eggs), seaweed and rinsed seashells (like oyster shells; not shrimp peels)

Old natural fiber clothing (old t-shirts, socks, boxers, etc)

Natural yarn, twine and string

Non-glossy paper products (cardboard boxes, newspapers, magazine inserts, most junk mail, envelopes, etc)

Tea leaves and bags (remove the staple!); coffee grinds and filters

Dead plants, grass clippings, pine needles and leaves – just make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides

Natural non-treated wood and byproducts like wood ash, sawdust and shavings (no coal ash)

Feathers and hair (human, cat, dog, etc.)

Dryer lint


Lemon, lime, orange or other citrus peels and juice (in excess this will make the soil too acidic)

Onions and garlic (a good rule of thumb is if it makes you smell, it makes your worm bin smell)

Meat, fats, grease, bones or oils (no butter, lard, stocks, soups, etc)

Plastics and plastic coated paper (like glossy magazines)

Stickers, including veggie stickers (remove stamps from envelopes)

Bread or yeast products (no crackers or cakes)

Salt, pepper and other spices

Milk, dairy or dairy products

Cat or dog feces

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