Wriggling the winter away: Scarborough man says worms, compost belong indoors

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SCARBOROUGH — Mark Follansbee’s wife had two rules when he told her 10 years ago that he wanted to keep a container of worms in the house.

She said there couldn’t be any bad odors or any bugs.

So he did some research and built an elaborate box for his worms and the compost he would feed them.

“The bin leaked all over and made a really stinky mess,” Follansbee said.

In order to keep his wife and family happy, but still have his worms, he needed to get creative. So he decided to simplify his design.

He cut six holes near the top of a large, plastic storage container, put some worms in with some compost, covered the whole thing with shredded newspaper and since then, the indoor composting project has not only been bug-free, but odor-free, too.

“I needed to idiot-proof it and make it as simple as possible,” Folansbee said. “Over the past 10 years, I’ve made every mistake you could make.”

Now he wants to share his knowledge. He started WormMainea, with a website and a blog explaining how to start and maintain an indoor worm compost called vermicomposting. He talks to gardening groups, scouts, school classes and anyone else interested in indoor composting and has a stand every year at the Common Ground Country Fair.

Follansbee even sells the tiny worms, called “red wigglers,” to people interested in starting their own indoor composting.

He recommends those interested in starting a worm bin begin with a pound of red wigglers and a plastic tote bin with several air holes cut into it. Follansbee said feeding the worms about half their weight – 1/2 pound of food scraps each week – will mean the worm population will double in approximately 10 to 12 weeks. Then the amount of food can be increased.

Follansbee said the most frequently asked question is “will it smell?”

“If you feed them the right amount, it doesn’t,” he said.

He also recommends not feeding the worms any dairy, meat, oil, bones or salted items.

Follansbee keeps several worm bins in his garage, where he makes sure they stay an an ideal temperature, between 65 and 70 degrees.

The soil itself is midnight black, with the occasional egg shell and tomato skin mixed in. The tiny, red worms wiggle to get away from the light as Follansbee digs his hands into the bin. He’s right — there is only the pleasant scent of damp earth.

In the spring, Follansbee will use the “black gold” in his back-yard garden and as “compost tea,” soaking the compost in water and then using that water for his garden. He also gives it away to gardener friends as gifts.

He said vermicomposting has cut back dramatically on the amount of garbage his family creates and that his garden loves the enriched soil and water.

“It’s so easy to do,” Follansbee said. “If you have even an inkling, you have to try it.”

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

Scarborough vermicomposter Mark Follansbee displays a handful of “black gold” compost, wriggling with “red wigglers,” worms he says are perfect for indoor composting.

Mark Follansbee of Scarborough pulls up a handful of compost and worms from a compost bucket on his dining room table. Follansbee has been composting indoors with worms, a process called vermicomposting, for more than 10 years and wants to share his knowledge. (No, he says, it doesn’t smell.)