Composting with worms

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Author: Cindy Garber
Date: July-August 1994
From: Countryside & Small Stock Journal(Vol. 78, Issue 4)
Publisher: Countryside Publications Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,071 words

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Vermicomposting is an inexpensive way to turn table scraps into nutrients for the garden. Start up costs for worms, bedding and a plastic bin is less than $30. Worms should be fed limited meat scraps and they need a warm place like a basement.

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In our house we do our best to take care of our environment. We recycle everything that we possibly can. If it can't go into the compost bin we feed it to the dogs, or the cats, or the birds and chickens, or the worms. Yes, the worms.

Worms are wonderful recyclers. In the book Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof says, "The process of using earthworms and microorganisms to convert organic waste into black, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich humus is known as vermicomposting."

Let me tell you how we got started. We bought a dark green plastic bin with lid at Wal-Mart for about $4, and a box of organic worm bedding for $2.27. The container needed to be washed out and we put a few holes in the sides with a hammer and nail. The worms need oxygen to stay alive.

Next we ordered our worms. Gardens Alive (812-537-8650) is a catalog offering all types of orgainc products for the home and garden. Redworms are the type needed for composting. We ordered 500 for $19.95.

A few days before we expected the worms to arrive we put the worm bedding in the bin and added water. It takes a few days for the bedding to absorb the water. As soon as the worms were delivered by the mailman we dumped them out on top of the bedding and they dug in.

All we do is feed them

Now all we do is keep feeding them. We feed our worms potato peels, apple and banana peels, tea bags, coffee grounds and eggshells. They also eat spoiled food and plate scrapings. This includes oatmeal, baked beans, moldy cheese and leftovers, macaroni, and even cake. The only items to avoid or use in small amounts are meat scraps, because of the odors they produce. Adding just a few meat scraps once in a while will provide the worms with nitrogen in a form they can use.

Our worm bin is in the basement which offers the worms an ideal temperature and keeps them out of the way. The container we started with may be too small. We are going to look for one with more surface area. When feeding the worms we bury the scraps a few inches deep and we run out of room after a few feedings. Our bedding is 4 to 5 inches deep which seems to be fine but we need a wider, longer container. The worm population has not increased and I'm wondering if the bedding is too wet or they're not getting enough air.

To clean out the worm bin we dump the whole thing out on a plastic bag or

newspaper. There needs to be bright light so that they will all bunch up together. Then we try to count them!

After rinsing out the container and adding fresh bedding we scoop them up and return them to the bin. Then the old bedding, full of digested worm food, goes in the houseplants, around flowers, shrubs and trees, and in the garden. I may even mix it with potting soil when I start my seeds this winter.

Most of the same items that we put in the worm bin can also be put into the compost pile. To get the maximum benefit from both systems we try to feed the worms what can't go in the compost pile and put in the compost pile what can't be fed to the worms.

Homemade compost bin

Our compost bin is homemade and didn't cost us anything but a little time. We got four wooden pallets. These can be found for free at lumberyards and factories. After getting them home we put them into a square and hooked them together with bent hangers that weren't usable anymore. There are a lot of other ways to build a compost bin, or you can buy one. Actually you don't even need a bin. You can just throw everything in a big pile, but a bin keeps things neater.

Grass clippings are great in the compost pile and I love using them as a mulch. When I planted my geraniums and petunias last spring I mulched them with 3-4 inches of grass clippings. Not once have I had to weed that flower bed.

Tomatoes love the nitrogen boost from a mulch of grass clippings. I mulch my trees and shrubs with grass clippings. I love grass clippings!

At our house we don't have any grass clippings. At our house we don't have any grass. Not having a lawn is somewhat of a statement about who I am. I don't have a lawn because I feel that it is a waste of precious resources and a waste of my time. Having a lawn requires the use of water, fertilizer, and space that could be used for other plants. Not to mention the hours and hours it takes to maintain a lawn. My time is better used in my garden or swimming, riding my bike, or just plain enjoying the summer. Grass has very little value to wildlife.

In my front yard I have four butterfly bushes. This afternoon my son watched a butterfly, a bee, and a hummingbird feed on the flowers. The rest of our front yard is filled with Queen Anne's lace, strawberries, raspberries, nut trees, Nanking cherry bushes, and a "few" weeds. We have planted white Dutch clover as a way to keep the ground from eroding or turning to mud. The rabbits love it and so do the deer. So I get grass clippings from anyone I can.

Of course, in the fall there are leaves. Why burn them? There is always someone willing to donate a bag of leaves or a truckload of grass clippings. With our landfills overflowing it makes sense to compost and give something back to the soil.

In our garden, compost is the only fertilizer we use, except for what the chickens leave behind while they eat the insects and weeds (and tomatoes) out of the garden. We don't want chemicals in our food or in our bodies. Maybe a simpler life can be found, and worms are just the start.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A15579128