Worms make composting easy
By Reta Stickwood
My friend was so excited. She
told me she had to rush home because she
was expecting delivery of a package. Specifically,
a package of worms.
" l'm starting a worm farm," she explained.
"It's going to be fun, and it will help reduce
the garbage problem in this country. And I'll
have a garden to be envied."
That was my introduction to the fascinating
subject of vermicomposting. My curiosity
about worm farming led me down the
garden path, literally.
There are about 1,800 worm species
worldwide, but the vermiculture star is eisenia fetida, also known as the compost worm,
manure worm or red wiggler. This hard working
worm can be found almost everywhere
in the world. It lives close to the earth's surface,
making humus by composting organic
material in and on the soil.
Why is this creature so important! What
can it do for us? If every household in Canada
had a worm composter, landfill waste
would be reduced significantly. By feeding
these worms kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper
and cardboard, you can reduce curbside
garbage and gain a fertilizer (called castings)
beloved by plants. This substance,
eliminated by worms, is nutrient-rich, has a
time-release feature and will not burn your
plants. It is an excellent source of nitrogen.
Whether you have houseplants, a balcony
garden or acres of plantings, this organic byproduct
of the worm farm will be a boon.
need to decide where to keep your worm farm, and the desired size of
the operation. It can be as small as a bin under the kitchen sink, or
as large as you want outdoors. Livestock owners can make wonderful compost
from manure piles. Straw and shavings add bulk that helps aerate the
compost. Worm composting starter kits, costing $40 to $200, consist
of bins, bedding, earth, an instruction manual and worms. The kits vary
in size, shape and composition.
Worms will eat the peels of vegetables and
fruits (excluding citrus materials), coffee
grounds and filters, tea bags, plant cuttings,
leaves, grass and hair clippings, cooked pasta
and rice, crushed eggshells, paper egg cartons
and coffee trays. Do not feed worms
meat or bones, fish, dairy products or fatty
foods because these materials smell when
decomposing. (A well-managed worm farm
will smell pleasant.)
Shredded, non-glossy paper or cardboard
makes ideal bedding for indoor composters.
The worms love to eat it and it retains moisture.
This is very important, since a dry
worm is a dead worm. Too much wetness,
though, can drown worms. Drain excess water,
also known as "tea," from the composter.
This worm tea is such a potent fertilizer it is said to revive near-dead plants.
When the composted material resembles
black earth, it's time to harvest the castings.
One method is to put down a large tarp or
piece of plastic. Empty the bin onto it, making
several piles. Ensure the area is well lit. As
the worms bury themselves to avoid the
light, scrape the castings off the top until you
expose some worms. Move on to another
pile, and repeat the process until you have
harvested all the castings you can. Return
the worms to their newly bedded bin to begin
the process again.
A slower harvest method is to divide the
bin in half, and place food on one side. Leave
the worms to their own devices for at least a
month. The worms will move toward the
food source, enabling you to harvest the side
they have vacated. Place fresh bedding on
the harvested side, plus food. Wait another
month and harvest the other side.
A worm composter is a complete ecosystem.
Microorganisms break down the compost,
and the worms eat them along with the
vegetation. Some pests may also show up.
Fruit flies may appear, but they arrive on the
food, and are not attracted to the worms. To
discourage fruit flies, wash all your fruit and
vegetable material, especially bananas and
melons, chop it fine, and bury it deeply.
You should also watch for predators. Centipedes
will kill worms, and need to be eradicated.
They are territorial, so there will likely
be just one for you to hunt down. If you find
your farm overrun by brown mites, moisten
a slice of bread and place it on top of the bedding.
Leave it overnight, then discard. Repeat
until the infestation is under control. For
more information on dealing with pests in
the worm farm, go to www.jetcompost.com.
Beyond the benefits of the fertilizer, keeping
a worm farm can reduce stress on landfills
and the need for chemical fertilizers. And the
garden of my worm farmer friend is, as she
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