Nearly twenty years ago, on a whim, I attended an afternoon-in-the-park workshop at Whitman College with a small group of college students. They were cutting class and I was skipping work. Little did I know, that reckless, irresponsible act would lead to a twenty year penchant for worms! In my capacity as the University’s Food Service Director, I was responsible for finding new and innovative ways to recycle, reuse and conserve ingredients and food. I heard about an outdoor workshop on the subject, hosted by the city’s Parks and Rec Department and I decided to go. The brochure promised, “A lesson in recycling that can change your world.” I was intrigued as I read further, and it was then that I first heard about the science of “vermicomposting”.
Vermicomposting is an organic process whereby earthworms feed on decomposed materials to produce nutrient-rich soil amendments.
OK, so that’s the long-winded way of saying, “We’re gonna harvest some worm poop.”
Worm poop. What’s not to love?! OK, don’t answer that, but seriously, it’s a fun concept, pure and simple. In just a matter of weeks, you can turn ordinary kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer for your plants and garden. Red worms are prolific and renewable. When the bin is completely converted to castings (poop), you simply introduce new media and start again. In the coming weeks, I’ll outline what it takes to achieve perfect poop!
SETTING UP SHOP
HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT WORM HABITAT
Prepare the bin. Using a 1/4″ bit, drill several ventilation holes into the bottom and sides of a plastic bin. Drill holes in the plastic lid as well.
Moisten the newspaper until it is damp but not dripping wet. Worms thrive in moist media, but cannot tolerate standing water. Once moist, fluff it up and put it in the bin.
Add some decomposing leaves, a handful of sand (a digestive aid) and a small amount of vegetable scraps to the bin. Worms LOVE coffee grinds and egg shells. Don’t add liquids, meat, dairy, fats or oils. Worms won’t eat that, and it could attract vermin and make the bin stink.
Place the worms on top of the scraps and newspaper. Because they are sensitive to light, they will immediately dig down beneath the surface. And just like that you have helped 500 of your closest friends establish residency in their new digs. Contact your local Extension Office for a list of local vendors, or check online for mail order worm farms. You should expect to pay approximately $20 per pound for red worms, to get started. But that should be the only time you need to purchase worms. They’re prolific little buggers.
This step is a “Best Practice”, and not necessarily a requirement. It is time-tested and has worked well for me, over the years. Worms love cardboard almost as much as they love darkness and solitude. They are very sensitive to the light and will do anything to avoid it. Place a fitted piece of cardboard as a top layer in the bin, and the worms will love you forever. The cardboard will eventually get moist and the worms will help it to decompose.
Put the lid (perforated with drilled-holes) on the bin and store it in a laundry room, spare bathroom, under the kitchen sink, garage, or outside in the shade. Now, let nature take its course, and add to the bin a little at a time, at first. If you’re concerned about stink, or if your bin begins to draw gnats or flies, bury the waste just beneath the surface.
In the coming weeks, we will take a look at my latest worm bin’s progress. As the bin matures, we can take a look at the life cycle of the worms as well as the quality of the castings and soil. Vermicomposting is an inexpensive and responsible endeavor, perfect for a science lesson plan, a homeschool project, youth organization project or family activity.
INVESTMENT in TIME
Project buildout – 1 hour
COST of MATERIALS
Plastic bin – $6 at Home Depot
Sunday Paper – $1.25
Worms – $20 per pound (this bin was started with less than 1 pound of red worms)
Editor's note: photo, courtesy C. Douros