2 December 2009
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
They also eat my junk mail and apple cores. These worms (Eisenia foetida) are tireless. Some anglers use them as bait, but red wigglers also feed on aboveground, rotting organic material. Their castings create the compost, which gardeners prize as an effective long-lasting fertilizer.
Vermicomposting is also a valuable gardening complement to conventional outdoor composting. In milder climates where temperatures range from 50 to 80 degrees F, vermicomposting works well outside. Commercial vermicomposting functions in all climates in temperature-controlled, ventilated buildings.
Every day an average American family will generate enough vegetable food scraps and other suitable materials for one bin (no meat, fish, dairy, or pet feces). The worm bin will require an area about 2'x2'x2'. A homemade worm composter, using an 18"x12"x10" dark-colored, covered plastic bin costs about $8, while a three-tray worm system runs $90.
Worms are available online by the pound, or anywhere that sells bait as long as you can be certain the worms are Eisenia foetida. You can also get worms from someone who has a healthy system. The worms reproduce rapidly, so that removing a handful will have no negative affect on your friends composter.
If youre interested in the low-cost approach, your bin will need quarter-inch holes drilled an inch from the bottom about eight inches apart, eight inches up the side. Create random holes in the cover. Worms need air. The worms will not escape from their dark damp environment.
Spread an inch of moistened shredded paper (worms dont eat the shiny kind) in the bottom of the bin. Insert worms, then feed them whenever you have more shredded paper for them to munch, chopped veggie pieces, cotton scraps, pet hair, or vacuum cleaner dust. Completely cover with 4 sheets of moistened folded newspaper; this will eliminate fruit flies. Harvest the castings when you see 2 inches across the bottom. Return the worms to their bed but throw away undigested bits or place the castings on a coarse screen and let the worms drop through.
Any brown liquid residue at the bottom of the bin should be recycled through the compost as it may contain acids harmful to plants. Add dry shredded paper to absorb excess liquid from your juicy waste.
Worm compost bins do not reach the high temperatures of outdoor piles. If such temperatures were to occur the worms would die; so any disease causing microbes, which find their way into the indoor compost, cannot be reliably killed.
For this reason I recommend that you know the source of the material you feed your worms. If you are reluctant to add eggshells, then soak the shells in boiling water to cover, for 10 minutes (discard the water) before pulverizing them for the bin, or exclude eggshells entirely. In an outdoor compost pile where you can be assured the pile reaches 130 degrees F or more for two weeks, salmonella perish.
Mix the worm compost in the soil no more than 10% by volume and watch those plants grow!
Tip of the Week
You can't buy mulch heavy enough to remain on landscape fabric covering a steep slope. The mulch will slide quickly in a downpour and slowly over time. So get rid of the fabric and use bulkier or thicker mulch, which after a year will improve soil structure when mixed in.