Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2008
Regional Report

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These red wigglers are my daughter's pets and a boon to our kitchen compost.

Feeding My Worms

I have a new hobby. I just bought a worm composter for all our kitchen scraps. The family of worms can then produce that wonderful soil amendment -- worm castings.

The science of vermiculture (the root "vermi" comes from the Latin word "vermis," which means "worm") is a growing interest of home gardeners because it works so well in tandem with nature. Not to mention the fact that it handles all that food waste that can become so nasty when put in the bucket beneath the sink for later emptying on the compost pile.

The great thing about worm composting is that it requires very little work, is not expensive, and recycles much of the organic waste you create. You only need a bin to hold your worms, some bedding (newspapers work well), worms, and kitchen scraps. They will even eat egg cartons and junk mail -- my kind of composters!

What Size Worm Bin?
Although I'm new at this, let me share some of the tips I've found. First of all, the bins only need to be between 8 and 12 inches deep since worms feed on the surface. They are perfectly at home in a plastic bin that costs $5.00 from the hardware store. I decided to purchase specially made bins since I will be showing off my worms to students and children.

The bin needs a lid and small holes in the bottom for ventilation and drainage. The rule for deciding size is to allow 2 square feet of surface area per person or 1 square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. Since different people eat different amounts of vegetables and fruits, the second method is a bit more accurate.

Siting Your Bin
Worms are happiest and most efficient at room temperature and need shade to keep them from heating up too much. I'm going to keep my bin in a corner of the kitchen, but you can use the basement, garage, or back porch -- anywhere that doesn't get too hot or too cold.

Bedding Materials
Start with bedding materials as simple as shredded and moistened newspaper. Then it's simply a matter of adding worms and a couple of handfuls of soil for grit, and food scraps. The worms will eventually eat the soil, bedding, and food scraps and turn it into black worm castings.

Types of Worms
Most sources say that the best composters are red worms or red wigglers. They are different from standard earthworms, eating more rapidly, reproducing more rapidly, and happy in a confined area (how do we know when worms are happy?).

Using the Compost
This is the best part. The compost is an excellent soil amendment for houseplants and outdoor plants. It is filled with nutrients, and the physical act of passing through a worm's gut gives the compost enzymes that protect plants against disease. Who could ask for more than that?

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