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Not so great, leaves a lot to be desired
on November 19, 2012
This is a cute and eccentric, rather dated, oddly organized, and not very scientific guide to vermicomposting. It's fine on the basics of keeping a worm composter, but much of its advice is easy to misunderstand or understand incompletely due to the lack of good pictures and hands-on, detailed description of specific scenarios. On some issues it is simply wrong. If you really want to understand your worms and the compost ecosystem you're creating for them, you'll be better off reading multiple online sources devoted to vermicomposting and talking with people who do it.
"Worms Eat My Garbage," like many guides, provides fine advice as far as it goes; it just doesn't explain much about *why* you should do this or not do that. It also fails to put the key issues front and center for people new to worm and compost care: how the worms will behave in your vermicomposter if they are healthy or unhealthy, what they need or like and don't like in their environment and diet, how to understand what you see, and the main ways you can screw up.
I don't believe the book ever points out that worms live on *microbes* in decomposing organic matter, and they only eat your "garbage" in the process of getting at microbes. Explaining the chemistry of composting and decomposition processes (aerobic and anaerobic) would be really helpful, but that's not really covered here either. For example, nitrogen and sugars or starches can break down into wet, potentially toxic byproducts like ammonia and alcohols, which are not good for worms in quantity, especially if the worms can't get away from them. How pH/acidity levels rise and fall is a related concern you won't learn much about from this book.
Here is an example that is typical of the book's main flaw. There is a rambling discussion about how worms may not like something in lemon rinds or orange rinds, or citrus fruits in general. The author talks about a kid who wrote to her about this, explaining how limonene works, apparently based on experiments or expertise of a parent who may or may not have worked at a laboratory. Wouldn't you rather have some hard science and real sources about the relative toxicity of limonene and acidity in your compost, what fruits have it in quantity, and so on? Instead you just get this long anecdote that shows the author does not understand the chemistry and can't tell you definitely how to handle certain fruits in your compost based on an actual known risk. You will find other sources online that say citrus is fine, including lemon and orange peels, but some worms dislike their acidity, as well as other food, like onions, that is acidic. Worms will only eat things they don't like when there is nothing else to eat or the disagreeable food is decomposed enough to be full of microbial life and attractive to worms. I am not sure what the 100% correct view is on this subject, but it's clear "Worms Eat My Garbage" provides more opinion and anecdote than science.
Some things I've read in this book and others like it are confusing because they're presented as rules to follow but are contradicted later, or by other sources. For example, "Worms Eat My Garbage" advises blending up and microwaving your food waste before adding it to the vermicompost, but it doesn't explain the pros and cons, especially if your bin doesn't allow much airflow. Breaking down the food before adding it to the bin can actually help offset the potential problems of foods worms like less, especially if you let the blended mush dry out and get moldy before you add it to your worm bin. In "Worms Eat My Garbage" there's no explanation like this, and no warning about how too much finely chopped food waste -- especially if it's wet -- can also create a sludge the worms can't enter. Too much dense sludge will result in anaerobic decomposition as well, creating a stinky mess and leachate that may be toxic to worms and houseplants. The importance of surface area, air flow, and loose solids should have been emphasized to offset the idea that you should put a lot of "compost smoothie" in your bin.
What you're dealing with are many variables in a dynamic system, so it's really not a matter of "don't ever do this" or "always do this" -- it's "do A if you also B this under these other conditions C and D, but look out for E and F happening." I don't mean to make it sound like vermicompost is a very delicate system but that it's much more educational and fun to understand as a variable and dynamic system that provides certain feedback you can understand and respond to as conditions change.
"Worms Eat my Garbage" is, like many worm guides, insufficient on the subject of proteins in a similar way it mishandles acidity and citrus. Meats, eggs and dairy, raw grains and processed grains or breads are generally not wanted in compost due to the odors, flies and critters they can attract. Nevertheless, these foods will break down and be enjoyed by worms, so with sufficient care in a well-sealed (or basement/garage) composter you can add them if you take care to understand what you are doing and maintain appropriate moisture and airflow levels. "Worms Eat My Garbage" says small amounts of meat are OK but should probably warn the reader that meat is generally a bad thing to add to compost due to the smell and leachate meats will produce and the creatures it may attract, especially outdoors. On the other hand, dairy and grains can work fine--a subject not covered in this book. Wet, spent (brewing) grains or breads are a special case, as adding a thick pile of them may cause anaerobic decomposition that creates alcohols and ammonia. Yet grain can work out fine if it's not overdone in a well-drained and aerated composter.
This level of detail is entirely lacking in "Worms Eat My Garbage." If you want more than dos and don'ts, if you want to experiment and explore or learn the science of worms and decomposition, this book won't satisfy you.