Wiggle your way into composting

 Commentary by Rachel Anne Spencer
Times-News correspondent

For several years now, my family and I have been vermicomposting our kitchen scraps. Worms naturally love to eat decaying material and turn it into a magnificent soil amendment for our yard, gardens and even indoor plants. Red Wiggler worms, a type of earthworm often used for fishing, are the best variety of worm for this task.

Assembly of this inexpensive bin is easy. All you need is a drill, glue, 18-gallon dark plastic bin with a lid (worms hate the light), a recycled cafeteria tray, and plastic soda bottle caps or small wood blocks Drill multiple small holes in the lid, sides and bottom of the bin. Then, glue four plastic soda bottle caps on the bottom of the bin as feet, or skip the caps and balance the bin up on wooden blocks. This allows air flow all around the bin, and allows for any liquids to drain from the bin onto the cafeteria tray placed underneath. Also, it is important to store your bin somewhere that maintains a temperature of 55 to 84 degrees F.

Finding a good spot for your bin is essential. Worms like it dark and quiet. A properly maintained bin doesn’t stink, so keeping one in your home shouldn’t be a problem. Some people even have worm bins in their kitchens. Keeping your worms moist, but not wet, is important because they breathe through their skin. If they are too wet, they drown.

For a good startup bin environment, my family uses old Times-News newspapers, shredded, soaked in water, then squeezed until damp. We fluff this bedding up and add some finely crushed egg shells and a bit of soil from the yard. Worms use the grit from dirt and eggshells to help them grind and digest their food … they have gizzards just like chickens. We fill our bin about six inches deep with this material and then it’s ready for worms.

We purchased our worms from Harris Worm Farms, in Mebane. Owner John Harris has been an excellent resource for our family, since we started vermicomposting. You can reach John Harris at (336) 209-8948 or access Harris Worm Farms at www.harriswormfarm.com.

After assembling your worm bins and adding your worms, you’ll need to feed them. Worms can recycle all sorts of things including cardboard and paper products, food, and organic materials.

To keep your bins from smelling bad, don’t feed them meat, dairy products or pet waste. Also, limit the amount of acidic food scraps like citrus and onion. Too much acid can kill your worms. You should also avoid using glossy, slick and colored paper and cardboard products. Besides the paper and eggshells already mentioned, worms love tea bags, coffee grounds (with the filter), all sorts of fruit and vegetable scraps, shredded cardboard and even bread.

After a few months of vermicomposting it’s time to “harvest” the fertilizer. One way to harvest is to not feed your worms for a week. Then, dump the bin contents onto a plastic tarp/sheet in the daylight(not burning hot sun). Since worms hate the light they will burrow to the bottom of the pile, and you can scrape off the top until you get down to mainly worms. All of this material can be saved in unsealed containers for use as you need sprinkled in your yard, gardens, potted plants or for sale. The worms can go back in the bin with new startup material.

Vermicomposting can potentially reduce landfill waste by 70 percent. Vermicompost material mixed with soil helps plants grow 20 percent larger and can increase root mass by 150 percent.

This makes plants healthier, stronger and more disease resistant without using harmful chemical treatments or fertilizers.

  Rachel Anne Spencer is a home-schooled junior and a Teens & Twenties writer. To offer ideas for this column, email teens20@thetimesnews.com.



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