BEIJING – Sixty-nine-year-old Zhou Xianqiang’s favorite hobby is recycling. A retired school teacher, Zhou makes her own handcrafts out of things usually dumped in trash cans – roses out of used red banners or hats out of milk cartons. Now she has a new toy: a crate full of thousands of earthworms in her little floral balcony.
Some people may not like having 2,000 smelly, slimy worms at home. But dozens of families in the Dongsi neighborhood, in the heart of Beijing, have taken them in as part of an environmental challenge from the non-governmental organization, “Global Village.”
Partially inspired by Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage” and with help from China Agricultural University, Global Village bought earthworms from a company in suburban Beijing and experimented with them for a few months before they delivered the little creatures to local residents.
Each family participating in the project was given one crate that contains about 2,000 earthworms. Once bedding (shredded newspaper, cardboard or leaf mold) was made inside the crate, another crate was put on top because the worms prefer it dark and quiet.
The top crate is also where food is placed, which could be cabbage slices, crunched egg shells or apples peels. Through holes on the bottom of the top crate, the toothless earthworms crawl up and grind the food with their gizzards by muscle action. In a few weeks owners can see the results: black manure-like compost that can serve as the perfect organic nutrients for flowers and plants.
“We hope by raising earthworms the community can have its own cycle chain. Our short-term goal is for the families to get rid of the kitchen wastes, and then use the droppings to grow plants or vegetables,” said Zhang Qiang, program coordinator from Global Village.
Since most modern families in Beijing live in apartment buildings and are busy leading fast paced lives running between home and work, Dongsi, the old courtyard area where you can still see hundred-year-old alleyways, seemed to be an ideal residence to start with the project.
The elderly who choose to stay in the old neighborhood have the time and patience to take part in something new and share their experiences.
Zhang and his colleagues hope to see a long-term project if things run smoothly. “We sure will encounter many problems, but we want to succeed. In the future, even if we pull out, I hope these local residents can spread the idea to other communities.”