The early birds get the worm… and the title of Master Composter

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Donald Bourne and Colleen Kohlman have wormed their way into becoming the first Columbia Shuswap Regional District Master Composters.

The pair were recently acknowledged for their dedication in completing the requirements to become designated Master Composters, which includes taking a full-day training course on composting techniques and recycling programs throughout the region. Participants are then asked to volunteer 35 hours in the community to help others learn about the benefits and methods of composting, recycling, and general waste reduction.

Donald and Colleen's specialty is composting with the help of their 40,000 basement residents – a squirmy colony of Red Wiggler Worms – which very efficiently turn organic waste into garden compost.

Known as vermicomposting, the worms live in a plastic tub in the couple's furnace room and eat 90 litres of organic waste in a six-month period, resulting in approximately 56 litres of soil-enriching compost in that time frame.

The couple have a history with recycling that began at their Edmonton home before they retired in Blind Bay and joined the Blind Bay Garden Club. From there, they attended a presentation from the CSRD's Waste Reduction Facilitator, Carmen Fennell regarding composting and the Master Composting course. Their success in completing the course is due, in part, to a bet with the president of the club to see who could complete the requirements first.

"Pretty soon, our neighbours and other people started to hear about our efforts and we have now become known as the Worm Couple," jokes Colleen. "There's nothing like saying 'we've got worms' at a party to make you the centre of attention!"

Part of achieving the Master Composter status is sharing their knowledge and the couple have made numerous presentations to other garden clubs, informal neighbourhood meetings and are particularly pleased by talking to young people, like a class full of preschool children.

"The kids are so attentive and they love to see the worms and find out what to feed them," says Donald, noting the worms love most food waste but they avoid avocado skins, onions and garlic. And they always leave the hard end of the banana peel.

If you are wondering what to do with all your old documents, the couple say their worms love to eat cardboard and shredded paper, and it is especially satisfying to see the worms eating up old tax returns.

All that is needed to get started with vermicomposting is a handful of worms. Donald and Colleen's worms have now become well-travelled, having been shipped to new homes from Saskatchewan to Vancouver Island to help others get started with vermicomposting.

The worms are also easy keepers, as they don't need daily feedings. When the couple want to take a trip, they just load up the bin with some extra food and away they go. Harvesting the compost takes a few hours twice a year, but doesn't require any complicated separating of worms. That's because the worms don’t like light, so when Donald goes to collect his compost, he shines a bright light on the bin and all the worms wiggle to the bottom. This allows him to scoop the nutrient-rich soil off the top.

"I just avoid eating spaghetti that night," he jokes.

The couple now have more worms than they can feed on their own, so they also collect compostable waste from friends and neighbours. They freeze the food waste, which helps break it down for the worms, and cuts down on any unpleasant odours.

"People walk in the basement and have no idea what's in the room. If you do it right, there's very little smell," says Donald.

With their newly minted Master Composter certificates, the couple plans to continue their efforts to help others reduce waste in all forms. If you would like to contact them for an educational presentation or to answer questions about the various different composting methods, contact them at: or

Photo Above: Donald Bourne shows his Red Wiggler worms to a group of preschoolers, as he explains how the worms quickly and efficiently turn organic waste into compost. (Photo contributed.)

Photo Below: Carmen Fennell, CSRD Waste Reduction Facilitator, left, and Darcy Mooney, the CSRD's Manager of Operations present Donald Bourne and Colleen Kohlman with some gardening tools after the couple became the first to earn the CSRD Master Composter certification. (Tracy Hughes/CSRD photo)