Composting with worms recycles food scraps and other waste and it is fun to raise worms. Children will especially enjoy the project. Garden plants benefit from the rich fertilizer that results.
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, seems to be reaching fad proportions. Among the many articles we have seen on this lately is this news release from New Mexico State University.
Worm composting is becoming a popular way to recycle food wastes in the winter, said a New Mexico State University horticulture specialist.
"We encourage people to recycle kitchen wastes like potato peels, old lettuce leaves, carrot tops, coffee grounds and other leftover vegetable wastes in the backyard compost pile," said George Dickerson of NSMU's Cooperative Extension Service. "This, however, can be a problem when it's cold outside and you have to tromp through the snow to get to the pile."
An estimated eight to nine percent of the solid waste disposed of in landfills in the United States is food waste.
This expensive practice can cause environmental problems, including air pollution from methane production and acid-liquid drainage that can contaminate groundwater, Dickerson said.
Raising earthworms can be a fun project for both kids and adults as well as a useful environmental practice. "Compost is used as a conditioner for soil in your garden and provides nutrients for plants," Dickerson said.
Almost any 8-12-inch plastic, metal or wooden tub or box will get you started. Tubs that are too deep will cause worm bedding to compact, resulting in insufficient air for worms to breath. Anaerobic (no air) conditions will also cause the bedding to smell. Containers should be long enough and wide enough to move around without breaking your back.
Red wigglers work best and can be purchased from worm farmers or growers, who generally advertise in gardening magazines. Worms that arrive in the mail are generally packed in peat moss and will usually include adult and young worms.
"I like to use a one-to-one ratio of mature garden compost and peat moss as bedding," Dickerson said. "Peat moss can also be mixed with other bedding materials like shredled newspapers, aged livestock manure and leaf mold. The most desirable beddings are light and fluffy but also hold water. Moisture should be kept at about 50-75 percent water by weight."
When added to the bedding, worms will immediately crawl downward to escape the light. Food wastes can be buried in pockets in the bedding for the worms to feed on. Worms prefer a temperature of 50-70 degrees.
"I recommend raising worms in the garage," Dickerson said. "Placing the bins near the water heater provides just enough heat in the winter to keep them active. By summer, you'll be ready to recycle your compost in your garden and use the larger wigglers as bait for trout fishing."
Anyone interested in delving deeper into vermicomposting would do well to read Worm Digest, Box 544, Eugene OR 97440 ph. 503-485-0456 ($4.50 for four issues per year). It's published by the Edible City Resource Center, a nonprofit group involved in the promotion of sustainable organic agriculture.
This newsletter has a slight slant toward school children, but it's full of tips such as this:
Before building a worm bin, figure out how much food waste you discard in a day. One way to do this is to save up the waste for week, weigh it, and divide by seven.
Ideally, you should have two pounds of redworms for each pound of waste discarded daily.
Two pounds of redworms will be comfortable in a bin 2, x 3,.
So if you discard one pound of waste per day, you'll want two pounds of worms and a bin 2'x3'.
A widely recognized information source is "Worm Woman," Mary Appelhof, author of Worms Eat My Garbage. This book is available for $10.45 ppd. from Flowerfield Enterprises, 10332 Shaver Rd., Kalamazoo MI 49002.