Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Worms Eat Our Waste

Most everybody who's stepped into a garden at some point in their lifetime had been made aware of the endless benefits that worms can lend to soil. They wiggle through, breaking up compacted soil as they dig. They also feed on dead, organic matter that exists in the soil, leaving behind nutrient-rich "castings", or poop, in its place! Even more beneficial to soil than compost created by decomposing a pile of organic matter alone, these worm castings, or worm compost, can be generated in any home and then applied to planting soil for a super-boost.

How can one go about producing worm compost on a usable scale, you ask?
It's much easier than seems at first.

In one of the arboretum's three greenhouses, Mary Jo keeps a massive four-tiered bin, complete with a mechanism for drainage of "worm tea!" These purchasable worm bins can cost up from a hundred or so dollars, so I explored different methods to build one of my own.

You will need:
a large plastic or wooden container
a drill
shredded office or newspaper(can be found in academic buildings, ask around!)
veggie scraps (cut into small bits)
and of course, worms.

First, drill plenty of holes in the bottom and sides of the container (I used a two-tiered plastic set of drawers). You'll want to space them about 2 inches apart from one another. If yours is multi-layer, like, mine and Mary Jo's, drill holes in the bottom of every layer.

Below the bottom layer, you'll want to lay down a tray to catch and liquid that might drain out. This liquid is called "worm tea," and is even more nutritous to plants than the castings. Dilute it with water, transfer to a spray bottle, and dampen your soil with it!

Next, dampen a good amount of the shredded paper to use for the worm bedding. Add it to your bin.

Give your worms a fair amount of scraps to munch on when they are introduced to the bin. See below for a list of foods to add and to avoid.

Finally, you are ready to add your worms. I ordered mine from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm in LA for a very reasonable price. You can find several online vendors selling Red Wigglers, the worm variety that will generate compost.

The bin should be kept in moderate temperatures, and receive little to no sunlight (if the bin is opaque, the worms shouldn't mind too much if it's placed in a lit area.)
Kitchen Scraps (Worm Food)
Uneaten Veggie or Fruit Parts (Peels, Tops, Flesh, etc.)
Coffee Grounds and Filters
Used Tea Bags
Breads in Moderation
Egg Shells
Fatty Foods (Dairy, etc.)

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