CHICAGO — On a recent Sunday, at a lovely River Forest, Ill., home, there was a party for its newest occupants: 1,000 red worms.
Friends and neighbors of Mary Susan Chen gathered to snack on macaroons, sip green tea and watch their pal get set up with a new three-tiered worm bin. It would be in her utility room and naturally transform her kitchen scraps into rich, beautiful, black fertilizer — also known as worm poop.
Leading the party was Stephanie Davies, a sunny occupational therapist and part-time vermiculturist, who was sporting sassy pigtails and a pink and white jersey that read "Urban Worm Girl." She has been conducting worm parties for about six months and got interested in vermiculture when she visited a friend in Berkeley, Calif., who not only kept composting worms in her home but had access to a community-funded "worm hot line" when she had questions.
"So, I thought to myself, 'Wow, why don't we have that?' " Davies said.
The vibe at this shindig was not unlike a Tupperware party. Except that the partygoers said "eewww" a lot more often.
Davies brought packets of information, the new (and empty) worm tower, supplies and a writhing tangle that she calls "the worm brain." As she prepared the bin, Davies dug up some amazing worm stories and facts that she shared and swapped with the guests.
• Davies says worm escapes are rare and can be prevented by leaving a light on (they hate light) during their first night in the house so they can get settled in.
• When you put your ear next to the worm bundle, you can hear the invertebrates move.
• Unlike their fat, aerating earthworm cousins, these slender wigglers look like thin red rubber bands and live near the top of the soil.
• Once the worms settle into their bin, they can eat up to half of their body weight in food scraps and paper a day.
• A thousand worms will eat only about a pound of garbage every four days. Davies figures a family could save 500 pounds of garbage from going in the landfill each year by composting.
• The castings smell like dirt. And when they are watery — from juicy food scraps — they produce a rich "worm tea" you can tap from your bin and use on plants.
• Worms like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea bags, pizza cardboard, cardboard egg boxes and newspaper.
• You should not feed your worms meat, dairy or much citrus, acidic or spicy stuff.
• The worms are deaf, toothless and blind.
• Worms like it when you chop up their dinner in the food processor.
• Wigglers like ground-up eggshells, which are good for the grinding mechanism in their gizzard.
• Although red wigglers are considered hardy, they will die in temperatures above 80 or below 40. Humid and 70 is ideal. In Florida, your garage or utility room may be the best bet.
• Worms like their privacy, and you can leave them for up to two weeks, with a little extra food.
• Red wigglers are hermaphrodites and will reproduce quickly, but they will self-limit reproduction to fit the size of their living space.
• After the worms have produced a few cups of castings — in about two months — it is time to move them to a fresh tray.
• Feeding them black and white newspaper scraps is fine; colored newspaper is controversial.
• According to The Worm Book, some people eat their composting worms. A Web site in New Zealand (web.tdc.govt.nz/index.php?SomeExtraActivities) offers directions and says the worms are considered "nearly pure protein."