Photo by Jessica Walliser
If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution that will be easy to keep, I’d like to propose one that’s both slightly out of the ordinary and very rewarding. Make 2013 the year of the worm!
Raising composting worms is fun, fascinating and simple—and it’s a great project for kids and adults to do together. We have had our worm bin for 10 years now, and it’s something I think every gardener should have. The castings (code for “worm poop”) are nutrient-rich, friable and odor-free. They make a great addition to containers and in-ground plantings, and you can steep a piece of cheesecloth filled with them to make a power-packed liquid fertilizer known as “worm tea.”
To start your own worm composting bin, cut a dozen or so 1/4-inch holes in the bottom and the lid of a large plastic storage bin. Mine has a snap on lid, and holds between 8 and 10 gallons. Choose a container that’s opaque, as worms prefer darker conditions.
Begin by filling the bin halfway with lots of shredded newspaper, avoiding the shiny, colored inserts. Add a few handfuls of kitchen scraps and coffee grounds. Continue by adding another 2-inch-thick layer of shredded newspaper and then more kitchen scraps until the bin is filled to the top. Add a pound or so of red wriggler worms (you can purchase these mail order through companies like UncleJimsWormFarm.com or TheWormFarm.net), sprinkle the top with two to three cups of water—just enough to barely moisten the paper—and you’re ready to go.
Hint: Do not use worms from the garden as they don’t do well in confinement and won’t process the scraps as quickly. Plus, they are prone to “escaping,” and despite the joyous shrieks from your 5-year-old son, they are not a fun thing to find crawling around the garage. (Ask me, I know…) Place a large tray under the bin to catch any runoff out of the bin.
When deciding what kitchen scraps to feed your worms, follow the same basic rules of outdoor composting: no dairy, meat or oils, and keep in mind that thick citrus and banana peels will take a long time to be consumed. Feed your worms a new cup of kitchen scraps every few days, and store the bin at room temperature in a dark place, such as your basement, garage or a closed cupboard. Don’t allow the bin to freeze.
As long as you don’t add too much food scraps, there should be no odor. The nutrient-rich castings will be ready to harvest and use in a few short months. After harvesting the castings, rebuild the bin in the same fashion, carefully transferring as many worms as you can to their new digs.