My worm farm is thriving.
The recycled two-liter pop bottle housing a dozen redworms, shredded newsprint, coffee grinds, and some vegetable and fruit peels, is turning out vermicompost, a black, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich humus.
Erie MetroParks naturalists Charlene Margetiak and Jess Henning helped campers at PlantPalooza build the worm houses this July. PlantPalooza is a three-day, half-day, camp sponsored by the Sandusky Greenhouse-Sandusky Recreation Department- Erie County Master Gardeners.
Worm composting uses worms to recycle food scraps into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost. Worms eat the food scraps which become compost as they pass through the worm’s body.
A few ingredients will get you started.
• A container. We used recycled two-liter pop bottles, cut in half, the top half inverted to form a lid. Look for a non-treated, nonaromatic wood or a plastic container. Your container will need a lid. Charlene explained that her five gallon plastic tote worm farm has been churning out vermicompost for five years.
• “Erie MetroParks naturalist Jess Hennings examines some redworms with PlantPalooza campers.”Bedding. We used non-glossy shredded newsprint. Shredded leaves, shredded office paper or cardboard, straw, hay, peat moss, or a combination of the above, are some other options.
• Water. The bedding must be kept moist but not wet to enable the worms to breathe. Worms take in oxygen through their moist skin. Soak the dry bedding in water and squeeze the water out so that the bedding is the consistency of a damp sponge. Then fluff up the bedding and fill the container about two-thirds full.
• Worms. Redworms, specifically - the scientific names for the two commonly used redworms are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. These varieties prefer the compost or manure environment. Scatter the worms over the top of the bedding material. We used 10-12 redworms for our two-liter worm farms. To calculate your needs for both size of container and amount of worms, allow one square foot of surface area for each pound of garbage generated per week, and two pound of redworms to process one pound of garbage per week. Keep temperatures in your worm bin between 55 and 77 degree Fahrenheit. Night crawlers or garden earthworms will die in your worm bin because they depend on cooler temperatures and an extensive tunneling system to survive. Purchase redworms from your local bait shop or from garden catalogs.
• Food scraps. Your worms will love vegetable and fruit waste, pasta leftovers, coffee grounds (with filter), tea bags, finely crushed eggshells, dryer lint, shredded newspaper, and dried leaves. Avoid meat scraps or bones, greasy or oil foods, fat, dairy products, or pet manure. Scatter the scraps over the top of the bedding. Keep the bin loosely covered to allow air to circulate, to conserve moisture, and to exclude light; worms like it dark.
• To harvest your vermicompost, empty the contents of the bin onto newspaper on a table under lights. The worms will crawl to the bottom of the pile away from the light. Remove the finished compost, return the worms and undigested material to the bin, add more food and bedding, and repeat the process. You can use the vermicompost immediately.
Vermicomposting is a convenient way to help manage kitchen wastes when the weather turns cooler and composting outdoors is less convenient and less effective.
For information, “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof presents basic information. If you Google the University of Maine Extension Office on YouTube, you’ll locate a vermicomposting video. Extension Offices in North Carolina and at Cornell University offer fact sheets.
Worm composting provides some of the best fertilizer available and extends composting throughout the winter. Give it a try.
Written by Connie Jackson, Erie County Master Gardener