I have been worm composting (vermi-composting) for more than 12 years now and it brings me great joy.
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My goal is that this article will inspire you to try it, create an understanding that it is not difficult to do but that it requires patience and in some cases courage.
I have fun using worm castings (castings are worm poop) as the only fertilizer for my garden. You can create a valuable product out of garbage that would have gone to the landfill or been burned. In time, you will also have extra worms to share with your family and friends.
The rule of thumb for a worm bin is 2 square feet for each person in your household and the bin should be 10 to 16 inches deep. You can buy a bin, build one out of wood or use an old dresser drawer, shipping crate or barrel. I have used 18-gallon plastic storage containers for many years.
Place your bin in a place where it will not freeze or overheat. Worms enjoy temperatures between 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Start your bin with a pound of worms.
Some common problems with worm bins are overfeeding and getting too wet.
Typically worms can eat one-half their weight in food per day or one pound of food per square foot. This can vary depending on the time of year. Every one to three months add fresh bedding (shredded paper, moist sawdust, leaves or straw).
Keep the bedding moist as a wrung-out sponge. Wooden bins may require more water. I use plastic bins but found they often got too wet. If your bin is too wet, simply add 4 to 6 inches of bedding and stop feeding for two to three weeks.
It is very important to bury all food waste so you do not attract flies. Underground composting or any other composting method can be done to account for the overflow of organic matter in your household so worms are not overfed. Do not feed worms meat, dairy, or pet droppings.
Worm compost can take a few months to develop before you are able to harvest; it is ready when it is dark, crumbly and sweet-smelling. It is best used with a 20 percent blend of potting soil. Sprinkle a 1/4- to 1- inch layer around indoor and outdoor plants and the plants will love it.
Another benefit, especially since we are in a drought, is that compost increases the water holding capacity of soil. Used with mulch, gardeners can drastically reduce watering needs in their landscape.
When compost is passed through a worm’s gut, it picks up the beneficial bacteria increasing nitrogen availability, balancing pH and much more.
Worms can be used as an educational tool to teach kids and adults about the importance of recycling, gardening and science.
There is a tremendous amount of information out there for anyone who wants to start a compost or worm bin. More University of California (UC) researched-based information is available on the Web or by calling the UC Master Gardeners during office hours (see below).
Learn how worms can help your garden Saturday, Feb. 22 at the free Master Gardener class “Worms and Worm Bins.” The three-hour class begins at 9 a.m. in the El Dorado County Government Center Hearing Room, Building C, 2850 Fairlane Court in Placerville. Master Gardeners will teach how worms can rapidly break down kitchen waste to make worm compost, one of the best organic fertilizers possible. The types of worms needed, how to harvest the compost and how to set up a worm bin will also be covered.
Master Gardeners are available to answer home gardening questions Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m.-noon by calling 530-621-5512. Walk-ins are welcome at the office, 311 Fair Lane in Placerville.
For more information about the public education classes and activities go to the Master Gardener Website at ucanr.edu/sites/EDC_Master_Gardeners/. Sign up to receive the online notices and e-newsletter at ucanr.edu/mgenews/. You can also find Master Gardeners on Facebook.