Got Worms?

Got Worms?

Crittenden County Community Gardens Growing up on a “conventional” row crop farm over in Lawerence County, pretty much everything and everyone was connected to farming. I barely remember raising cotton, mostly it was wheat, soybeans, milo/sorghum, and of course rice. I knew people that might have cattle, some experimented with sunflowers, or peanuts. But to my young mind, the oddest “farming” I was introduced to, was a family up in the hills that claimed to be “worm farmers.” So our family went to visit them and see this unique activity. First thought might be, “So, if they raise worms, where do they sell them?” In this country, we don’t knowingly eat worms for the most part, at least not on purpose, but we do use them as bait for fishing and those have to come from somewhere, Some may buy them to put into their garden directly or to start their own worm composting bins. The fancy word for worm composting being “Vermiculture.”

Tthe goal and process of composting is simply to take organic material, and convert it to a substance that can be called soil or more properly humus. It is more than just a physical media plants can grow in (that is done without soil at all, in water and called Aquaponics or Hydroponics. Humus is almost a lifeform itself containing millions of microscopic organisms as well as larger visible life such as grubs, insects and.. Worms. In fact, on many materials, worms are one of the primary decomposers and like all living things, expel the remnants of what they consume, called “castings,” possibly the second best soil amendment or “fertilizer” available (arguably bettered only by that of bats). They also void (urinate… OK… pee) and that liquid also can be collected and used as a fertilizer using the polite term of “worm tea.”

One of the primary concepts to understand for vermiculture success is to get the right kind of worms and exercise patience. The worms we dig from our gardens and fields, usually found a foot or deeper down, are not what we want for vermiculture, though they will work to a degree in a small closed system. We want the red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and redworms (Lumbricus rubellus) which pretty much stay in the top few inches of whatever they are in (mostly your food scraps and other organic material). Understanding that, the rest boils down to picking a basic design and depending where on the continuum you are regarding how much manual labor you are ready to put in versus spending more on a system that makes it easier on you. At the one extreme is just a container with a drain that you start by filling with some kind of “bedding” (Peat Moss, Coconut Coir, Shredded newspaper are examples), dampen it a bit, and put in the worms. If the worms are purchased.. Follow the directions given. In time you begin to add food scraps and other available organic material.. Slowly at first as the worms are able to break it down. With enough food, the population of worms increases, thus being able to handle more material. Reduce the “feedings” and the population drops accordingly The drain in the container is to ensure the bedding doesn’t get too wet (anaerobic and nasty), and the liquid that comes out is the “worm tea” mentioned above.

Depending on the size of the container, some feed on one side, the worms migrating to where the food is, and the castings can be harvested from the other side, picking out worms as you scoop out the castings. In other designs.. It’s a series of totes or bins, stacked over time, with fresh material in the top bin. Worms go up, and you harvest from the lower bin.

I opted for what may be the top end model, purchased via Amazon from Australia. It is a “flowthrough” design, looks a lot like one of those large trash bins on wheels. Scraps are put on top, and eventually when it is full enough, latches on the bottom are released, and 2-3 inches of castings are just removed with a tray. Any of these may be built from available materials for little or no money… or you can be lazy like me and just buy one.

Another concern is where to locate the bin. Placing it outside, in direct sun in our heat will most assuradly kill them due to the heat. In the winter, if left out and not protected well, they will freeze, thus I keep my bin in the garage, just outside the door. It is protected and very handy.

A small two-drawer filing cabinet sized bin, properly managed is a great option for even an apartment dweller who lives alone or doesn’t have a massive amount of food scraps as once up and going, the worms can pretty much keep up with the material without it smelling. If you can smell it.. You’re feeding too much. My “Hungry Bin” flow through design, claims to be able to handle 4-5 pounds of material… a day, with castings going for $15/bag or so at local stores. There are multiple designs at a wide variety of price points via Amazon, many hardware and “homesteading” sites and DIY plans galore on the web along with more opinions on how to build and maintain one than imaginable.

Great for kids, great for the environment. So… Get Worms?

David Corbett is the leader of the Crittenden County Community Gardens initiative. You can find out more about his efforts on Facebook. Follow the community garden on Twitter: @ CCCGarden.

By David Corbett