Guest post by Claire Pfeiffer
Yes! A worm can be your friend, especially when it consumes your vegetable waste and turns it into yummy rich soil. Never mind that this wonderful black earth is actually worm poo, it can enrich your plants’ lives immeasurably, and keep them happy, not to mention your garden, too. Wouldn’t you like to witness the dazzling miracles of nature in your own cabinet, and reduce the amount of stuff in your garbage can? Well, you will soon learn that it is simple and fun.
First, you gotta get the worms. Not just any worm will do. The red wriggler is the little worker you need. These worms are specially sold for the purpose of vermicomposting. (‘vermi’ is worm in Latin, hence ‘vermicelli’ and vermicomposting.) Check out local environmental groups, maybe your campus Public Interest Research Group (PIRG or GRIP if you live in Quebec like me), or follow the links below to find out who can supply you with these beauties. They are extremely cheap, and people with their own vermicomposters will often just give you a whole bag full, because, as you could’ve guessed, these worms multiply.
Next, you’ll need to provide your little wigglers with a comfy work/live studio. A large container of some sort that’s not made of metal will suit them fine. Big Rubbermaid brand containers work well, especially because there needs to be holes in the lid of every worm’s home. Think width, not depth when looking for your container. Worms prefer to spread out a bit while they dine. Give them some room to move. Punch or drill some holes (in a Rubbermaid container that’s about one by two feet, punch about 12 holes) in the lid only.
Finally, you’ll need to furnish your worm palace. Rip up a bunch of newspaper into very fine strips, enough to cover the bottom of the container with an inch of paper, and sprinkle water on it to wet it, but not soak it. Too much water drowns worms: remember this to avoid disgusting mishaps, trust me. This paper will be the first stuff the worms eat.
Now the wrigglers can move into their new digs. Let them loose along with some regular dirt, or maybe the earth they came in. Put their lid on and put the worms in a cool, dry, and DARK place (they want to feel like they’re underground), for a day or two before feeding them.
Worms have refined palates. When you feed your worms, you must know what to give them, how much, and where. First of all, they can tolerate mushy and semi-mushy stuff like pear cores and carrot tops just fine, so long as they’re cut up into small pieces. (The size of their food is very very important.) Also, they can eat eggshells, but not an overwhelming amount, provided they are finely crushed. Worms don’t like to dine on banana peels, beans, tofu, or anything that’s bitter. They will munch coffee grounds, as long as they are pretty dry, but not every day: they’ll get a major buzz-on and not be able to function.
Okay, now for the how much, which ties-in with the where. Depending on how many worms you’ve got and how healthy and active they are, you can feed them about a third or a half of the vegetable waste one normal-sized vegetarian human who eats at home once a day can produce. That’s about how much a batch of worms in a Rubbermaid-sized container will like to eat. Play it by ear – (actually, you can hear worms chowing down when you bend down low) – start by putting about a cup or so of chopped up compost in one corner of the bin, not spread all over. The worms will go to it and eat. A few days later, put some more food in the adjacent corner, and see if they are ready to go there. By the time you put some compost into the fourth corner, the food from the first corner should be pretty much gone, assimilated into dirt by the worms. Keep up with the rotation so as not to clog the worms’ path, or confuse them. Also, it is necessary to bury the food, so that they will eat it (they hate light), and so that air doesn’t get to it and cause it to smell bad. So long as you bury your food, you will have no trouble with fruit flies or composty smells.
Back to the birds-and-bees part: in time, your worms will multiply. There is no avoiding this, because sex is as natural to a worm as is turning apples into dirt. Take a close look. You may notice worm eggs in your vermicomposter. They are small and white, and look like nothing you’ve stuck into the bin. You could pluck these out and flush them if you’re not completely horrified by such behaviour, or you could just let em hatch. You might have to expand production to a second container, or give some of your worms away. These worms like a warm climate. They won’t survive the winter outside. Putting them into your garden is not a good idea.
Before too long, it’ll be time for the harvest. To do this, you’ll need to separate the worms from the little black fruits of their labour. Don’t be squeamish. Mound the soil into cones, up toward the light your worms avoid. Skim the surface dirt from the cones until there’s nothing left but a few dirty worms wriggling around. When you use the rich black yummy earth or worm castings you’ve got in your worm-bin, be sure not to use too much. Don’t pot your plants in this alone. Instead, treat your plants to a couple of scoops placed on top of the potting soil. When you water, all the minerals and vitamins and such will trickle down through the plant’s roots. In your garden, the same principle applies. This dirt also makes a great gift, whether to people you know, or to the flowerbeds in your town. There are always creative ways to use dirt!
Step by Step
- Get some red worms (Eisenia foetida)
- Acquire a large, plastic bin. Either a Rubbermaid container or a pre-made vermicomposting bin.
- Drill 12 or 13 1/4″ holes in the bottomof the container and 5 large holes in the lid.
- Rip up newspaper into fine strips and loosely fill the container 1/2 way.
- Spray the newspaper lightly with water to moisten, but not soak it.
- Types of food that can go in the vermicomposter. Do not add veggies that
have been cooked in oil.
- Place a cup of food waste in a corner of the bin and cover it with the newspaper bedding.
- Bury the food in a different place everytime you feed the worms.
- Harvest the nutrient rich castings and store in plastic or glass containers in a dark place.
This is by no means an exhaustive discussion of vermicomposting. Since you’re already on the web, I encourage you to do more research, and I hope you have fun with your worms.