IMPORTANT NOTE: This article was written more than 10 years ago and a LOT has changed since then (as I type this in early 2018, I’m pretty sure Terracycle doesn’t even sell anything related to worm castings/tea anymore). Various links in the original article no longer work as well, so they have been removed.
I just caught wind of a very interesting story via Hugg! Apparently our friends at Terracycle are being sued by Scotts Miracle-Grow, the very well-known line of (primarily inorganic) fertilizers.
The hugg post links to an article on the ‘Sustainable is Good’ blog, which outlines some of the key components of the the lawsuit filed by Scotts Miracle-Grow.
Here is a blurb:
Scotts claims that TerraCycle’s use of yellow and green in its packaging too closely resembles its star Miracle-Grow® product line.
In addition, the 177 page complaint filed in the US District Court of New Jersey alleges false advertising for claims the company made saying its product is “superior and safer” to that of competitors.
The complaint filed by OMS Investments & The Scotts company also alleges violations of “Trade Dress Dilution, New Jersey Fair Trade Act and Unjust Enrichment”
TerraCycle denies Scotts claims and has created a website, www.suedbyscotts.com (2018 UPDATE: Terracycle no longer owns this website. I’ve been told it is for an escort service ) showcase its side of the story. The website contains a PDF file with photos of over 80 similar fertilizer products that use yellow and green in their packaging.
It appears from looking at the complaint and the numerous other brands currently on the market which use a yellow and green color scheme that the real issue here is Scotts concern over protecting its new Organic Choice (TM) brand of Miracle-Gro products. The real issue here seems to be competition for market share in a rapidly growing industry – organic plant and lawn fertilizers.
Here is a link to the full article: Scotts Miracle-Gro Sues TerraCycle (amazingly enough, still up and running in 2018!)
Be sure to check out the Sued By Scotts website as well (NOPE – I don’t recommend that! lol). It provides a really interesting (and amusing) comparison of the two companies, aptly referred to as “David and Goliath”! It also lists more than 100 other products that use similar packaging to Miracle Grow.
I will be sure to provide any new updates as they become available. This whole thing sounds pretty far fetched to me! I think Scott’s is simply bitter that Terracycle has really been gaining ground in the fertilizer market, and is hoping to stamp them out before they get too big!
All I can say is thank goodness for the internet! The place where the ‘little guys’ can fight a big fight!
Over the years I’ve developed my ‘eye’ for compostable materials. If it’s biodegradable at all there is a decent chance it will end of in the bin (with the exception of those items earmarked for the recycling bin).
Cardboard in particular is a favourite material of mine. I tend to recycle coloured cardboard (ie cereal and cracker boxes etc), but anythying brown or gray get’s shredded and used for bedding. Worms seem to absolutely love it and it definitely helps to maintain balance in the bin.
One source of cardboard that I think most people overlook are cardboard rolls – typically associated with toilet paper and paper towels. I highly recommend you start collecting these in your household – I think you will be amazed by how many of these things can pile up over several months.
Not only will you be reducing the amount of organic waste that goes to the landfill, but you will also have yourself a great carbon-source for the bin. Admittedly, cardboard rolls are not as ideal as corrugated cardboard or the gray cardboard from egg cartons or drink trays (since they are not nearly as absorbent), but thats ok! Simply snip them up and mix them in with your other bedding materials.
The next time you hit the end of the roll, don’t be so quick to toss that tube! Your worms and the environment will thank you for it!
There is one thing I need to get off my chest right away – I’m far from perfect when it comes to vermicomposting! Despite my best efforts (or due to laziness) I often run into some of the same issues as most people new to the hobby.
There I said it!
In a lot of ways I just don’t “sweat it” when it comes to a slightly out of balance bin. Worm composting is not meant to be “perfect” according to human standards – it is already a demonstration of the perfection of nature itself. If conditions in the bin change, the ecosystem inside typically changes in response. Sometimes this results in new populations of different critters.
A perfect example of a ‘critter’ that can make an appearance in your bin from time to time is the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). Not surprisingly, fruit flies and other flying ‘varmints’ tend to annoy worm bin owners more than most bin creatures because they easily escape when the bin is opened. Add to that the fact that fruit flies can easily survive the conditions outside the bin (an exception to one of the rules in this post), and it’s no wonder people are frustrated by their presence.
Well have no fear, there are some solutions!
One simple practice that tends to help a lot is making sure to maintain a thick layer of bedding material over top of the main composting zone. This alone will go a long way towards eliminating fruit fly infestations. Also, it will definitely help if you bury your food scraps rather than placing them on the surface.
If you seem to still have recurring fruit fly problems in your bin or around your house in general I would definitely recommend using fruit fly traps. These are very simple in principle – basically, they are made up of an enclosed reservoir of some tempting liquid (apple cider vinegar is ideal), with a downward funnel and small hole where the fruit fly can crawl through. Once inside, it is virtually impossible for the flies to escape.
Out of curiosity a number of years ago I purchased fruit fly traps (see above picture) and have been very happy with them. The vinegar inside will eventually evaporate away, but you can simply refresh the supply by pouring some in through the hole.
You don’t have to buy traps though. This morning I attempted to make one myself (pictured to the right) – while it certainly doesn’t look pretty, it is very easy to make your own using a cup and a piece of tin foil (perhaps an elastic as well). The advantage of the homemade design is that you can take off the funnel and periodically clean out the contents.
So there you have it! Fruit flies in your worm bin can certainly be annoying at times, but there are definitely ways to fight back!
Stay tuned for more posts in my “Pesky Worm Bin Varmints” series!
I‘m sure there are a lot of people out there who would need more than a gentle nudge to get them to start composting with worms. After all, worms aren’t exactly as appealing to most people as little puppies and kittens (I’ll admit that I even find my cats more appealing than my worms).
Regardless, there are a lot of great reasons to jump in to the wonderful world of worm composting!
Let’s first start by exploring some of the possible reasons for people not wanting anything to do with a worm bin:
- Worms are gross!
- It’s going to stink and attract vermin!
- Worms and bugs are going to invade my house!
- It can’t possibly be good for our health
- Too much work/Not enough time
- I tried it once and all my worms died
- I have a backyard compost bin
In all honesty, I can’t say I’m too surprised that a lot of people feel this way. There was probably a time when even I found worms a little creepy. But over the years I’ve certainly developed a much different perspective.
Let’s examine each of those potential negatives and see if I can’t manage to put a positive spin on them.
1) Worms are gross!
Sadly, this will probably remain one of the major reasons most people will never bother vermicomposting. Over the years society has gradually distanced itself from nature more and more. Most invertebrates tend to be viewed with at least a certain amount of disdain and worms are probably no exception. Hopefully with more focus on environmental matters in coming years we’ll see many more people re-connecting with the earth and developing a great appreciation for other life forms. If you happen to be a little “grossed out” by the thought of having worms in your house but you like the idea of worm composting in general, why not simply create an outdoor system (or simply add them to your backyard composter)? I guarantee if you approach the process with a childlike curiosity and an open mind, you will develop a new found respect for your wiggling friends.
2) It’s going to stink and attract vermin!
While it is certainly possible to create a horrible stinky mess, with a little attention paid to a few key principles this should rarely be a concern. Stinky smells tend to be caused when conditions go anaerobic (ie no oxygen). It’s perfectly normal to have certain anaerobic zones in your bin, but for the most part our aim is to keep things fairly well aerated. One tactic for creating more aeration is to drill holes in your bin (for air and drainage). Another great way to up the air flow and absorb excess moisture (which contributes to anaerobic conditions) is to add lots of bedding material. In fact I’ve reached to stage of not bothering to drill holes in my plastic worm tubs at all – absorbent bedding is the ultimate ‘anti-stink’ safeguard. Aside from mixing it in (dry) with any food waste you add, be sure to include a nice thick layer at the top – this provides a second wall of defense against bad odors.
3) Worms and bugs are going to invade my house!
I’ll be honest – worms and other small critters will from time to time attempt to venture outside the bin, but this usually only occurs when conditions inside are intolerable. Again, many headaches can be avoided when you continually add new bedding to your bin – I can’t emphasize that enough. It helps to balance excess nitrogen in food wastes, it absorbs excess moisture, it offers more clean habitat for the worms, and it allows for great oxygen flow. Also, something else to keep in mind – if anything does venture out of your bin you can be sure it will be dead within a matter of minutes. Remember, these creatures are adapted for dark, wet, warm conditions.
4) It can’t possibly be good for our health
Naturally, some people tend to think that vermicomposting (and composting in general) is ‘dirty’ and hazardous. Of course (like many things) it certainly CAN be if not done properly. It’s very important to stick to certain safety guidelines (particularly with a small indoor bin), but for the most part people just need to lighten up a little. If you think that completely eliminating microbes from your life is a great way to be healthy you’d be wrong. Not only do ‘anti-bacterial’ agents just tend to lead to stronger breeds of bacteria, but exposure to normal outdoor microbes is important for building up immunity in children.
A reasonably well balanced worm bin should pose no more threat than digging in the garden.
5) Too much work/Not enough time
Aside from setting up your bin (which can be accomplished very quickly), worm composting should take virtually no time at all. You simply add your waste materials to your bin (along with some fresh bedding if needed) and leave the rest up to the worm bin residents. There are of course some advantages to spending a little more time getting to know your system better, but this is certainly not a requirement. I’m sure virtually everyone can spare an extra hour or two per month, right?
6) I tried it once and all my worms died
Can you imagine the state of the world if we all gave up after trying something once. With worm composting, like anything else in life, ‘if at first you don’t suceed…’ – yeah you know the rest. My best advice for people just getting started (or thinking about starting again) is to focus on patience and moderation. As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I highly recommend creating an ideal worm habitat well before you even add the worms. Then once it is up a running make sure to err on the side of caution for at least a few weeks.
7) I have a backyard compost bin
Ok great! The first thing I would recommend is adding some composting worms. They will definitely help speed up the process and provide you with better compost. There have been quite a few scientific studies indicating that vermicompost has some beneficial plant-growth-promoting qualities over and above those found in ‘normal’ compost. Also, you can’t beat the advantage of being able to continue composting indoors during the winter if you decide to set up your own worm bin!
So there you have it. Hopefully I have put some of those concerns to rest, and provided you with some good reasons to start composting with worms!
I’ll be writing a LOT more about all of this in coming weeks and months. In the meantime, if you are interesting in learning more, be sure to check out our “quick facts” and “getting started” pages, and sign up for my email newsletter.
Back before Christmas 2006 I contacted Ray Cooper and Gerrie Baker, owners of “The Worm Factory”, to inquire about the possibility of doing some sort of interview with them. I have ordered red wiggler worms from them in the past and was interested to learn a little more about their business, and thought it might make for an interesting blog post.
Both of them were very friendly, and seemed more than happy to take part – In fact I DID manage to conduct the interview with Gerrie via email a short time thereafter. Unfortunately I proceeded to let things fall by the wayside from there.
I figured with the launch of this new worm composting site, what better time to publish the interview? Gerrie kindly took the time to answer all my questions, so the least I can do was share it with our readers!
Without further ado:
BC – How did you first get into the worm farming business and for how long have you been involved?
GB – We have been at it for a number of years and as necessity is the mother of invention we decided to make our own soil with the help of the worms to become completely sustainable.
BC – Is The Worm Factory a full-time business? How many employees (if any) do you have?
GB – It is a full time mom and pop shop with wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms) lending a hand when they visit our farm.
BC – What do you enjoy most about the business? What are some negatives?
GB – We enjoy the knowledge, rewards and the joy of teaching this wisdom to others. The only negative is that it is quite time consuming with little financial rewards and there are always so many jobs requiring our hands on an organic farm.
BC – What kind of worms do you breed/sell? Do you sell compost as well? (what do you do with it if not)
GB – We breed eisenia foetida or red wrigglers and full indoor mini worm factory kits. We keep the castings for our own growing purposes in the greenhouse and the market gardens.
BC – If you had to ‘guesstimate’, approximately how many worms would you say you have on the farm these days?
GB – There are millions of worms in various stages in many beds inside and outdoors.
BC – What do you feed your current worm herd? (and where do you get it?)
GB – We feed what they love best, animal manure and green garbage. We generate it from our own animals and also get some from a neighbour who has an organic dairy.
BC – Do you have indoor facilities for your worms during the winter months, or have you perfected the secret of outdoor winter vermicomposting?
GB – We let the outdoor beds go natural in winter and keep a good stock over the
winter inside the greenhouse.
BC – Would you say there is an increased public interest/awareness re: worm composting than say 10 years ago? Any ideas why?
GB – There is definitely an increase due to the growing concern for the environment in particular the extensive abuse of agricultural land with chemical fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides all which kill worms.
BC – Is there anything new and exciting you’d like to mention about your business? Anything else you’d like to share?
GB – Everyone can easily and responsibly compost all their own green garbage and never have to purchase potting soil or fertilizer again! This is one of the kindest things you can do for the environment giving all this good nutrient back
to the plants and at the same time saving millions of dollars in waste disposal as I have heard that as much as 78% of garbage is organic compostable material.
Thanks very much to Gerrie for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Worm Factory, located in Westport Ontario, sells full vermicomposting kits, red wiggler composting (and bait) worms, along with a wide assortment of worm-related books.
Also be sure to check out Ray and Gerrie’s Herbs and Berries, where you can learn more about their organic farm.
[UPDATE 2018: Links in this post were no longer working so they were removed. Last contact I had with Gerrie was in 2013 – it sounded as though she was looking for people to take over the business since it was getting too much for her to manage.]
When it comes to anything related to vermicomposting (worm composting) it certainly doesn’t take much to get me excited.
I’m always particularly interested to learn about those eco-entrepreneurs who have put their heart and soul into some form of vermicomposting (or vermiculture) business – something I’d like to eventually do myself.
Kitsap EZ Earth, located in Bremerton Washington, is a prime example of the type of business I’m talking about – and one I find particularly inspirational based on their business model alone.
They are owned and operated by Peninsula Services, a “non-profit rehabilitation agency organized in 1971 by parents and concerned citizens for serving people with disabilities”.
Here are some exerpts from their ‘about us’ page:
Finding meaningful employment opportunities for people with disabilities has been a real challenge in Kitsap County. To remedy this situation Peninsula Services is promoting an unique, non-governmental employment model called Kitsap E-Z Earth. This innovative business enterprise centered around manufacture and distribution of vermicompost and other environmental sensitive products.
Kitsap E-Z Earth products are 100% natural vermicompost which is packaged in 2 and 10 pound bags for sale at retail outlets. Bulk quantities are available for sale directly from the Kitsap E-Z Earth greenhouse.
The product line includes red worms (in limited quantities), vermicompost (worm castings), worm bins and other supplies. Vermicompost is also a main ingredient in brewing ‘worm tea’, a natural substitute for pesticides and environmentally harsh fertilizers. This new technology offers great promise for home and commercial applications and increased revenue and employment opportunties.
UPDATE 2018 – I learned from a reader that the original Kitsap EZ Earth link was no longer working. Looks like they are no longer open unfortunately. You can learn more >>HERE<<