Bentley Christie is a blogger, entrepreneur and composting worm guru. The father of two lives with his wife, children, two cats and "a bazillion" red wiggler worms in Ontario, Canada, where he spends his time running his business Red Worm Composting, blogging about vermicomposting, and producing video courses on the subject. He's also a passionate gardener with a particular fondness for giant sunflowers.

Christie studied science in college but decided he wanted to strike out on his own into the world of worm composting. I have known Christie for years in my capacity as an environmental blogger, and I've always been a fan of his writing and his business. In fact, my worms come from Red Worm Composting.

Here are seven questions with Bentley Christie.

MNN: How did you get into worms?

Bentley Christie: It all started with a worm bin! I was working at an environmental consulting firm, where red worms were actually ... uhhh ... employed in the ecotoxicology lab (yikes). A co-worker had set up her own vermicomposting bin with worms not needed for the testing, and was keeping them well-fed with various compostable lunch scraps.

When I caught wind of this “magic” bin, I requested a viewing and, needless to say, I was totally intrigued! When my co-worker saw how excited I was, she insisted I take home a bucket of wormy material so I could set up my own bin. Fast-forward 11 years and here we are!

Why would your average person want to have a box of worms in their home?

The average person almost certainly wouldn't (haha)! Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about worms, and vermicomposting in general (will talk about some of these a bit later), so the tough part can be getting people to give it a try in the first place.  

Joking aside, what’s great about vermicomposting is that it offers a fantastic means of “composting” on a smaller scale — regardless of where you live or what time of year it is. Unlike your typical backyard composting approaches, this is great news for those who live in apartments, condos, etc., and those generally looking for a more convenient way to deal with their compostable wastes.

There can be a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it (get a good grasp of the fundamentals that is) it’s actually quite easy. Apart from being an eco-friendly way to get rid of your food scraps, you’ll also end up with your own personal supply of “black gold” — fantastic stuff for your plants.

How can city dwellers get in on the worm composting action?

Very easily. Composting worms ship really well, so assuming you can’t track down a local supplier, there are many websites where you can order your worms. (Remember, these are not regular “garden worms” we’re talking about here.) There is also plenty of helpful info on how to set-up your own worm bin (do a quick search on YouTube, or check out our “Getting Started” page). My recommendation is always to set up the system, then let it “age” for a week or two before the worms are added. This way the system will seem a bit more like “home” and the worms should settle in more quickly as a result.

One quick thing to mention that ties in with the last question as well. I don’t want people to assume that composting worms can only be used indoors in “worm bins.” They can also greatly enhance breakdown of wastes in most typical backyard composters (not great for tumblers or big hot piles though), and there are also various ways to integrate vermicomposting into gardening (trenches, worm towers etc).

What’s the difference between green and greener?

Interesting question, but rather challenging to answer I must say! The term “green” gets used so much these days, it’s hard to say for sure what it really means. Once you start tossing greener into the mix, I think it can end up sending the wrong message to a lot of people. It starts to sound a lot more like a competition — “my green is greener than your green!” — and the real point of all this can end up lost.  

Most people don’t like feeling as though they are not doing a good job at something, and I think this is why militant environmentalism has never been all that effective (in the grand scheme of things).

My aim is always to try and emphasize the fun/interesting/rewarding side of the activities I’m passionate about (composting, gardening, etc.) rather than nagging people about their environmental responsibilities. Everyone wants to have fun, right? This way, being “greener” just means you’re having more fun! 

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Does the world need saving?

I think what the world really needs is a vacation from its problems (as Bob Wiley might say) — a big long extended period without any of us around to fiddle. 

OK, so I’m mostly kidding — but my point is that the Earth itself is pretty resilient, so I don’t know that it’s so much a matter of us “saving” it, as it is a need for us to “fix” ourselves and undergo some sort of massive global paradigm shift.

I’m a diehard optimist, and perhaps it’s partially due to my immersion in the eco-blogosphere these last five years or so, but I do feel like we’re seeing some pretty significant shifts in perspective about all of this. Is it “too little too late”? I dunno — I’ll leave that for David Suzuki and Al Gore to decide!

Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?

Maria Rodriguez, founder of Byoearth. She is a young entrepreneur from Guatemala dedicated to eradicating poverty in Latin America via vermicomposting.

One of Maria’s projects, “Fertilize Your Future,” involves teaching women in poverty-stricken areas about vermicomposting and entrepreneurship — helping them to provide for their families in a meaningful, environmentally responsible way.

Maria recently won a coveted fellowship at the Unreasonable Institute, where she will further develop her latest project, Worms-4-Change.

I think I speak for everyone in the worm composting community (and beyond) when I say that Maria Rodriguez is an inspiration, and certainly someone with a very bright future ahead of her!

(Shea's note: I invited Bentley to come up with and answer his own question) What are some of the misconceptions people have about vermicomposting?

I think a lot of people can’t help but associate organic “wastes” with dirty, smelly, unsanitary conditions (sadly, I don’t think city “green bin” programs really help with this — but don’t get me started). Factor in the “ick” factor linked to worms and bugs, and it’s no wonder a lot of people don’t like the idea of setting up an indoor worm bin.

The reality of the situation, however, is that a properly set up worm composting system is odor-free and presents absolutely no health risk for the average person (those who are hyper-sensitive to fungal spores may want to keep there bins outside though) — nor is it going to become a roach motel and/or unleash countless pests into your home.

As for the vermiphobia — what’s amazing (and always fun to witness), is that a lot of people who are brave enough to give vermicomposting a shot end up changing their tune pretty quickly once they see the process in action, and of course once they see the results! These worms are pretty remarkable little creatures, and it’s not very difficult to warm up to them.

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