A Conversation with Caitlin Lenahan | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Caitlin Lenahan



Caitlin Lenahan, 25, has found the perfect "pets." They don't make any noise; they don't smell or need to be walked. Best of all, they eat garbage, keeping it out of landfills and turning it into rich fertilizer. She shares her Greenfield home with a plastic trash can full of worms, who compost food and paper waste.



How'd you get into the worm racket? And why?

When I was a junior in college I was getting more into composting and learning about it. Somewhere I read that you can actually have a container of compost in your kitchen that doesn't smell. The answer was worms; it doesn't smell, you can't really smell it right now. I was all about it.


One of the best things about this worm bin is that I tend to buy lots of vegetables and fruits but I don't get time to prepare them for myself. There's a peach in here that's moldy and falling apart. I just left it in a bag for that one extra day ... crap! Usually if I was throwing it away, I'd feel bad. This is a closed cycle. I can take the tomatoes that I didn't eat, put them in here and it'll eventually turn into dirt and nutrients that I can put on plants. I feel better because even if I didn't eat the broccoli in the fridge, I didn't waste it. There's a lot of food waste in this country, and paper waste ... you can rip up paper and give them tons of paper. This is just one way that you can do stuff yourself.


How does it work?

Stuff starts breaking down in there, it gets moldy. The worms can't eat the garbage; it has to get moldy. They eat the mold and bacteria more than anything, I think. Castings ... that's what we call the worm poop. You just get a tarp and you just dump the whole thing out. You make little piles and then you just shine bright light ... right now, they hate the light, they're like, "Please, get me to the bottom of this thing." So you just scoop the dirt off the piles and it works pretty well. You can't just pot things it in, it's too rich. You mix it with your normal potting soil, or you could just dress the top of the pot.


Right now it's more garbage than anything, but there's definitely dirt down in the bottom. They do paper, they'll even do meat. I personally don't put meat in ... it could stink really bad.


What do you have to do to care for the little guys?

Just throw them some garbage, some fruits and vegetables. You could even give them meat and dairy, but I haven't. I think it would overload their system. If I put too much stuff in, they'll start to stink. I gave them the remains of soymilk and cereal once. It got really moldy which they probably dug. I take care of them, but they're pretty self-sustaining. I could put the lid on and forget about them for a few months. If you don't add anything to it and you wait long enough, all the worms would die but you'd end up with a big box of dirt.


The way I keep them in here, I should technically have little holes drilled in here for air, but I take the lid off a lot. They need water because they breathe through their skin, so if they're not wet they can die. You can get a spray can and spray them down.


I leave this inside; I could put it in the basement or a garage. They compost most effectively between 50 and 80 degrees. So when it's really hot, they're all like climbing up the sides ... they're like "I don't like it in here!" So I try to air it out for them.


What kind of worms are they?

They are red wigglers ... Eisenia foetida ... they aren't earthworms. There's earth-moving worms and composting worms. Earth-moving worms break down garbage, they don't really eat it. They aerate the soil. You wouldn't have a bin full of night crawlers to eat your garbage.

Do you think of them as little individuals? Are you like, "Hey, Frank!"?

I guess I think of them as collectively "the worms." Where I worked in Maine [at an environmental education facility], one box, all the worms in that box were named Loretta, all the worms in that box were named Damian. I haven't given my worms names; they're just the worms for right now.

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