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Cathy's Crawly Composters - Vermicomposting

Cathy's Crawly Composters

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Acreage Life

Spring 2007


Vermicomposting is farming on a very small scale.
It can make a big impact on your environment.

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.

First, you 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 promised, enviable.

 

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Bradford, Ontario
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