Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
December, 2005
Regional Report

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Ask for some worms for Christmas and try worm composting!

Worms for Christmas!

I'm asking Santa to bring me worms for Christmas. Not just any worms; two pounds of Eisenia foetida, also called red wigglers or redworms, to be exact. No, I haven't completely lost my mind and I'm not going fishing in Florida for the month of January. I'm going to start worm composting. I've heard about this for a long time, and the idea of turning my kitchen garbage into free compost for houseplants, seedlings, and ultimately the garden is overwhelmingly appealing.

I have plenty of room in the basement, and one more trip out to the compost bin in hip-deep snow may just push me past my ideals of recycling all my kitchen garbage in winter. Vermiculture sounds like a great project for my kids, to teach them about the natural cycles of nature, as well as having quiet pets that don't scratch the furniture, knock over the water bowl, track mud into the kitchen, or require a walk.

Seriously, though, worm composting is becoming quite popular and is truly a great method of recycling kitchen waste into a rich soil conditioner. Successful worm composting is simply a matter of filling a container with moistened bedding and worms. You add daily kitchen scraps, monitor the moisture levels, and magically the worms convert the entire contents into rich compost. Sounds easy enough.

While searching for information, I found that there is an entire network of people who compost with worms, including chat rooms and a worm composting hotline on the Internet. Really. One book that seems to have all the answers is Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof.

So, I'm armed with information and it's time to get started. There are many sources for ready-made bins, and you can get all kinds of setups, including migration bins, continuous flow bins and plain old boxes. It's easy to spend $100 dollars or more on a bin system.
More to my liking, I also found lots of suggestions for recycling things like an old dresser drawer, trunk, or discarded barrel. Wood is more absorbent and a better insulator for the worms than plastic. It is heavy, though, and not easy to clean. It also rots.

Fashioning the Worm Bin
Although plastic containers may have a tendency to let the bedding get too wet, they are much lighter, generally cheaper, and can be made to function just fine with plenty of aeration and drainage holes. Best of all, there seem to be more possibilities for constructing your own, such as using old recycling bins or the big plastic bins you can buy at any discount store for a few dollars.

As for size, most resources suggest to determine how many pounds of kitchen garbage you generate every week. A square foot of bin surface will hold a pound of worms, which will eat about a pound of food every two days. I'm not up for weighing my scraps every time I peel potatoes, and the formula is somewhat confusing. So, I'm going to start by using two old recycling bins we bought several years ago for a dollar each.

The bins do not have to be deep, only about 6 to 8 inches, because the worms will be in the top 3 to 4 inches. My bins are a bit deep, so I'll just keep the bedding shallow and make sure I have plenty of ventilation. The bin needs 1/4- to 1/2-inch holes in the bottom for aeration and drainage, and it's a good idea to raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks and to place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid (great plant fertilizer!). Evidently worms need darkness, so I will use a piece of heavy burlap for the top to shade them, let air circulate, and keep the humidity up.

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