7/31/10 Fun With Worms
Originally at: http://www.edhat.com/site/tidbit.cfm?nid=36395
By Mike Shinn
About five years ago, I saw a segment on Santa Barbara public access about worm composting. Before then I thought that it wasn't for me.
After watching the show, everything started coming into place. Ever since, I have developed a solid composting system and shared my worms with more families than I can count.
Vermicomposting is a big word that means you have a bin filled with dirt and worms. The hardest part is finding the worms themselves. Good news, though, if you know where to look in Santa Barbara, you can find them. My worms were purchased at Island Seed and Feed, but since buying them I've seen them at La Sumida and ACE. Legend has it that there is also a Worm Girl who will distribute free composting worms to those who know how to find her.
The worms that you're typically looking for are Red Worms. They need a moist environment, air to breathe, and food to eat. In some ways, our worms have been like a pet that I have to feed infrequently and not clean up after. If you're starting out, I recommend picking up a 15- gallon storage bin (under $5 anywhere will do). Drill some ¼" holes in the bottom, and elevate on top of a couple of bricks or rocks in order to allow for seepage (unless you plan to clean out your bin frequently).
Next, I like to give my worms a combination of about 1/3 potting soil, 1/3 "bad dirt" from the side of my yard and 1/3 compost. The compost amount is a cumulative amount over time. Some weeks my worms get more food than other weeks - it all depends on what I'm cooking.
Whenever I go to feed the worms, I invite my daughter. At first she was a bit shy, but now she is usually excited to feed the worms. She usually wants to hold one in each hand and examine the baby worms. Red worms are nice for those of us who aren't generally bug-friendly. Their babies look like smaller, white worms. Kids have no natural fear of bugs and worms - vermicomposting is a good way to get them comfortable with bugs, even if you aren't. I've taught my daughter how to dig a small hole with a hand shovel, empty our expired vegetable leftovers, and then cover it back over. You can feed them food pieces from discarded fruit, vegetables, bread and even leaves. Don't feed them dairy, oil, eggs, meat, fat, or pet waste. The worms may eventually eat these things, but they may not - plus you will generate a horrible smell and attract other pests. Best of all are the coffee grounds that we feed the worms every couple of weeks.
I keep a plastic bin at work for our used coffee grounds. This bin is filled once per day and usually comes home with me about twice a month. My daughter and I spread the grounds over the bin and mix them in with a hand rake. We've been surprised at the speed of our worms rising to the top of the bin to get a caffeine fix. If you don't work somewhere fortunate enough to have complimentary coffee, any barista in town would be happy to fill a bag for you with grounds for free.
Another benefit of vermicomposting with kids is that it leads to discussion about worm life and the food chain. You can explain how worms can re-grow parts of their bodies, how they eat the same things that we do, and how the dirt that they live in can help in your garden. link to more info Depending on what you throw into your bin, you may also find occasional surprise growth. Just this week, we found a volunteer tomato plant in our bin. If you don't have a garden to spread your mixed soil every few months, consider bagging your extra soil up and bringing it to your local garden share - everyone will be happy to give you free, fresh produce in exchange. Otherwise, spread it out amongst your existing plants or use with new sprouts and seeds to get amazing Billy Goodnick-style results.
Vermicomposting done right is an all-around win. It's a fun weekend project to start with the kids, it's educational, year-round in Santa Barbara, it's easy to maintain, and the benefits can seen through the rest of your garden.
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