Strange pets

If you’re looking for change of pace in your daily life this year, Paul-Antoine Trolex at Eco-Quartier Peter-McGill has an idea for you – how about a new pet?

Trolex would be happy to find a number of new homes for some Eisnea faetida – earthworms that are commonly used for home composting. Although people are usually hesitant to allow these little red critters into their homes, Trolex is confident that vermicomposting (composting via worms) will become as common practice in our lives as recycling paper, cans and plastic.

Regular composting requires access to the ground, making it impossible for those of us living in apartment buildings with nothing but a balcony to keep in touch with the great outdoors. Vermicomposting offers the alternative of composting directly in the comfort of our city homes. The special Eisnea faetida worms, kept safely in their own small box, eat through whatever organic waste they are given and then leave behind a gift of fresh, natural, soil-enriching fertilizer. Vermicomposting actuallly requires very little toil as the worms take care of the dirty work themselves.

Your local Eco-Quartier branch serves as a resource center for beginners and will provide you with all the tools and info you’ll need to get started. Trolex will sell you the composting box for $5 and can point you in the right direction to find the appropriate worms. Because they are farmed specially, the little guys cost a bit more, but a half-pound of worms will only run you up $20 and will be enough to get you going. An added bonus is that the E.faetida is a hermaphrodite and will reproduce easily; within a short time your worm population will undoubtedly increase. With enough growth in population you can pass some worms along to a friend so they can start their own vermicomposting system!

The E.faetida is a shallow earth worm, so your workers won’t require a large, deep receptacle. The box (about 8 inches deep) can be stored inconspicuously under a kitchen sink, or in a dark storage closet. Trolex assures weary beginners the worms won’t leave the composter to venture around the house. Because they don’t like light, Trolex says it would be “like asking a fish to leave an aquarium” and the worms will be happy to stay in the composting box you provide. Other than a need for darkness and regulated temperature, these pets require very little special attention.

You will find it relatively easy to keep them fed with your own fruit and vegetable scraps (uncooked please!), as well as coffee grounds, teabags, bread, eggshells and unseasoned rice and pasta. When you have to leave town for a while a pet-sitter won’t be necessary. These easy-going animals will sustain themselves on newspaper you can leave on the top layer of the box. While it’s not their favourite snack, the E. faetida worms can munch happily on your old news while they await your return. Once they’ve fed through the paper, the worms will even go into a state of hibernation until they find you’ve come back with more delectable treats.

When the food you have placed in the composting box is unrecognizable (ie: that banana peel now looks like a mound of dirt) your compost is ready for harvesting. By simply shedding some light on the compost box, you will force the worms down towards the bottom of the box in search for darkness. With the workers out of the way you will be free to scrape off the fruits of their labour. The top layer is compost material that will be very enriching for any soil you can find nearby. If you don’t have a garden of your own, Trolex suggests you offer your compost as a gift to a friend with a green thumb. Otherwise, any soil (in a city park, or at the base of a tree on the street) will be grateful for the natural fertilizer you have created in your own home.

Vermicompost is a very rich soil conditioner that improves soil structure and increases its ability to retain water. Plants that receive the gift of vermicompost will become more productive and more resistant to parasites and disease. A “compost tea” can be made by infusing compost wrapped in tissue in water for a couple of days. The dark liquid can be diluted with water and sprayed onto house plants as helpful tonic.

Not only will the practice of composting reduce your own personal waste by approximately thirty per cent, it will also help to reduce growing pollution in landfills where we dump our city trash. It may seem harmless enough, but an orange peel, when left without oxygen to mix with other waste in a landfill, can release acidic water. This acidic water filters through the mixed waste and carries contaminants like bacteria, chemical pollutants and heavy metals. The decomposition of this waste also generates biogas, a mixture that contains up to sixty percent of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas). This added ground, water and air pollution caused could, in part, be avoided by handling organic waste differently from regular trash.

Vermicomposting may seem like a hassle at first, but within a short period of time it can become second nature. We can program ourselves to stop throwing away natural scraps that could be used towards a more useful purpose.

Why not take the help offered by one of earth’s smaller creatures, and let the Eisenia faetida into your home to get started?

Good luck, and happy composting!

To find the Eco-Quartier closest to you, call (514) 872-3434. Paul-Antoine Trolex is also standing by at 1414 Pierce (between deMaisonneuve and Ste. Catherine. One street west of Guy) to answer any questions you may have. He’ll equip you with all the tools and instructional booklets you’ll need to become a composting pro.


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