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Cathy's Crawly Composters

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The Toronto Star

April 15, 2006


Betty Price holds some Red Wiggler Worms
Photos by Tannis Tooohey

Condo owner Betty Price holds some of the Red Wigglers she uses to eat away fruit peels, coffee grounds and other organic garbage.


No wiggle room

By Donna LaPorte - Staff Reporter

Betty Price isn't afraid of getting her hands dirty.

After helping her husband, who trained and groomed standardbred racehorses to race in Toronto and New York state, she says worms are easy.

They like the dark space at the bottom of the kitchen pail, don't make any noise and produce wonderful compost for the 38 containers of flowers she has on her huge balcony, spring through fall.

Living in a condo is no excuse for not recycling organic waste, she figures.

Price, who turns 80 on June 1, has been vermicomposting for many years. She first began under a city program, which provided a container, lid, tray, bag of bedding and a slew of worms in the mail, all for $10. (The program no longer exists.)

Unaware the worms needed organic detritus year-round, she would dump them in the courtyard in the fall, thinking they would survive like earthworms do.

But Red Wigglers, native to warm climates in the southern United States, need temperatures of15C or higher to survive and won't last unless they're fed fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, crushed egg shells, cooked rice or pasta - organic waste whose proper disposal otherwise confounds highrise dwellers.

Now, Price keeps the worms in her condo's plant room in the winter, moVing them to her balcony in spring.

To ensure quicker turnover, she pulverizes scraps in a food processor - though she mentions that you could also just cut them up into small pieces.

One kilogram of worms will eat roughly half a kilogram of waste a day, producing worm castings, a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. A byproduct is worm tea, which, when diluted with nine parts of water, can also be used for plants.

Even though Price bought only half a pound of worms (they multiply), she didn't generate enough organic waste to feed them, so she enlisted several neighbours. They hang bags of scraps (no meat or dairy products) on her door or leave lidded coffee cans outside her door. In good weather, they can access her balcony from the interior courtyard, as she lives on the second floor of her Scarborough highrise.

To speed up the Red Wiggler Worms digestions, Betty grinds up her scraps.
To speed up the worms' digestion, Betty Price grinds up her own and her condo neighbours' scraps before putting them into a worm bin. The result is wonderful compost for her balcony flowers.
Vegetable scraps are a favourite snack for Red Wiggler Worms

"I find it very rewarding," she says. "You get all that beautiful compost for your garden." For a few years, she was unable to locate the Red Wigglers, but once she found Cathy's Crawly Composters on the web (www.cathyscomposters.com), she renewed her passion.

Cathy Nesbitt, who has operated the Bradford-based business for about four years, has about 800 customers across North America. About 25 per cent of those live in apartments and condos, she estimates.

She says the worms reproduce, so you can start small. A halfpound of worms sells for $22; a pound costs $40. A complete kit with a half pound of worms is $69.95.

In partnership with Urban Options Michigan, Nesbitt is currently in the process of setting up "Worms Without Borders," an online forum for Canadian and U.S. schools to explore and share stories about the wonders of worms.

"The kids so get it:' she says, as do seniors like Price. with whom she has demonstrated vermicomposting at the recent Canada Blooms show. "The challenging group are the baby boomers."

She says she knows children who will never again throw a banana peel in the garbage.

Nesbitt says she is aware of some highrise customers keeping their worms in insulated bins on rooftops; other customers with garages, such as townhouse owners, use lightbulbs to keep the bins warm.

The squeamish can use a scoop to empty the compost, to avoid getting their hands dirty.

Michael Levenston, executive director of City Farm Society, a non-profit group funded by the City of Vancouver, says the city subsidizes a vermicomposting program for about 300 apartments and condos per year.

Residents pay $25 for kits, worms and lessons, plus a book. That figure doesn't include people who buy from a store or the Internet, he says.

Levenston says that, owing to Vancouver's mild temperatures, people can put the worm composters on the balcony, thus avoiding any issue of odours or fruit flies. He says the response has been "enthusiastic."

Cathy's Crawly Composters can be reached at 905-775-9495.

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Cathy's Crawly Composters

Bradford, Ontario
Local: (905) 775-9495
Toll Free: 1-888-775-9495
email: cathy@cathyscomposters.com