Worm Composting Class At Sky Nursery

This past Saturday (February 5th) a free class on Worm Composting was offered at Sky by nursery employee Emily Wilkins. She has been Seattle Tilth certified as a Master Composter. The class covered the benefits of worm castings, how to use castings and worm compost tea in the garden, how to set up a new worm bin, how to keep your little wigglers happy, basic worm anatomy and additional resources.

Emily tearing up newspaper to make worm bedding 

First, just so all the terms are clear, vermicomposting = worm composting = the keeping and feeding of certain species of worms to convert organic waste into rich hummus. Vermicomposters harvest worm castings for use as a garden soil amendment and may harvest worms for use as fishing bait. Worm castings or vermicast are fancy, non-silly terms for worm poop.

Emily described worms as the “missing link” in organic gardening. She said they “unlocked” the nutrients from organic fertilizer and made it bio-available to plants. Emily claimed plants grown in vermicast were not attacked by insect pests or fungi and grew stronger.  Independent studies show her to be right: worm castings mixed heavily into the soil improve plant health, vigor and yield.

In addition Emily promoted worm “tea” made by soaking worm castings in water for several hours as an excellent foliar feed, transplant soak or fertigation for plants that need a boost.  She said that, when used as a foliar feed, the beneficial microbes in the worm tea colonized plant leaf surfaces and made them inhospitable to fungal spores and other decidedly non-beneficial microbes that might land on them.  I love anything that harnesses the power of beneficial microbes so you can bet I’m going to be spraying everything with worm tea this summer.

And the cost to you, the vermicomposer, for all this goodness?  Once you set up your worm bin, you have to feed your worms fruit and vegetable scraps that would otherwise get tossed (or perhaps go into your garden waste composter if you already roll like that) like banana peals, melon rings, carrot peelings, coffee grounds, old cooked rice, the heal of the bread your kids won’t eat…that kind of thing.  The worms aren’t too picky, though Emily said they don’t like a whole lot of citrus or allium (onion family stuff).

Okay! You’re sold. You’re ready to start your own vericompost bin, right? Good news, it’s super easy. We have been vermicomposting for several years now and worms are the easiest pet ever. They are more bulletproof than goldfish, can go months without any attention if you forget about them (ask me how I know this) and when their box gets all full of dirt – well, that’s the whole point of having them!

Here’s the basic recipe for a worm bin:

Worm Bin Ingredient List

You need an opaque plastic or wood container, bedding like shredded paper, leaves, or torn-up cardboard, water to moisten the bin until it is as moist as a wrung-out sponge, food scraps – vegan only, please! – and red wiggler composting worms. If you are looking for cheap and easy, follow these instructions for something very close to what we did. It doesn’t get cheaper or easier than this, and it works just great.

Our worms have always seemed perfectly happy in their downscale bin but if you want something a bit more elaborate and fancy-pants, you’ve got some options.  Here’s a few:

For more wormy goodness, the absolutely, positively, 100% agreed-upon definitive resource for vermicomposting is a book called “Worms Eat My Garbage” by Mary Appelhof. Everyone says this is the one book you need to be a successful worm wrangler. So, if you are looking for some additional info before you commit to worm-keeping, or if you want to optimize your bin, you should pick it up. In the spirit of full disclosure, I do not own this book.  I certainly feel like I should, but vermicompsting is so easy I’ve just never needed a resource beyond an internet page that showed how to build the bin initially. 
 One final tip I will share based on our experience is to keep your bin in the garage if you have one.  Worm bins do leak.  What it leaks – worm tea – is a super power elixir for plants, so you want to recapture as much of it as possible.  It’s also – let’s be frank – dilute worm poop, and won’t look super chic in a spreading stain on your new white wool carpet.  So choose your bin location thoughtfully.

Additional resources:

  • Journey to Forever’s excellent page on Vermicomposting will tell you all you really need to know to manage a successful worm bin in a concise but thorough manner.
  • A cool method of separating worms from their castings.
Do you vermicompost?  Any great tips or resources we should know about?  Let’s hear ‘em!
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Comments

  1. Here's a great tip for collecting the worm bin drippings – from a colleague of mine. She's got her worm bin, with some holes drilled in the bottom, positioned inside another bin but supported a couple inches off the bottom, just like a pot goes in a saucer. The outer bin has a spigot in it to drain off the worm bin drippings. The whole thing sits on a shelf so she's basically got worm tea on tap!

  2. We got lucky and found a fancy (dusty) worm bin through Freecycle and have had worms for about a year. The kids love it. Ours are in the house, though, since I read they needed to be warmer than the garage is in winter. If that's not true, I will definitely move them out–our bin has a tea collection tray, but twice hubby has opened the spigot to fill a cup and then walked away only to find it overflowing onto the floor later. Yuck!

  3. Hi Saskia, Bella loves our worm bin too! I think worms and kids are a great combo. We haven't had any problems keeping our worms in the unheated garage. I don't think, even through the cold snaps, it gets much lower than 40 or so, and the worms are surrounded by that nice decomposing matter to keep them toasty. I don't think I would keep them outside, but I think a Maritime Northwest garage is fine. They might slow down a bit in the cold, but I don't think they'd die off. Ours sure haven't. :)

  4. I'm planning on making a "flow through" worm bin system like the green one in the link. It seems like an easy way to harvest the worm casting. Have you seen or tried a system like this?
    http://vermicomposters.ning.com/photo/01-the-farm?context=user

Trackbacks

  1. […] Two of my three goblins are absolutely fascinated by worms, and the third is hot and cold toward them, so I think I’m going to try and find a store within biking distance that sells worms and set up a worm bin or two. We’ll definitely get it set up before cold weather to compost more effectively during the winter (instead of setting the scraps outside to freeze right away) but I’d like to experiment with the benefits of “worm tea”. […]

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