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
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
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
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 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.
"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
"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.
Back to Articles