Worms Manufacture “Black Gold”

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, September 26, 2004

by Lynn Rawe

If you have worms in your house, a Gary Larson cartoon (Far Side fame) might come to mind. Hopefully, if you have worms in your house, they’re in a container. Why in the world would someone have worms in their home? Well…Worms can eat your garbage!

Worms are one of nature’s greatest composters. Vermiculture or vermicomposting is the process of growing worms to produce compost, or, the gardeners “black gold.” This is an exciting and educational way to teach children about nature, insects, recycling, composting and gardening, all at the same time.

Redworms or Red Wigglers are the type of worms most often used in vermiculture. Worms are hermaphrodites, possessing both male and female reproductive systems, but two worms must mate for reproduction to take place. One worm can produce over a dozen babies every 14-21 days.

Worms need their own house with special bedding. A plastic translucent container with a lid will work fine. Larger bins can be built using plywood or untreated lumber. The size should be approximately 12 inches high, 2 feet long and 3 feet wide. Worms need air so drill 1/8″ holes in the lid of the plastic container. Space air holes about 1 to 2 inches apart.

Before getting the worms, you should prepare a bed. Use shredded black and white newspaper. Do not use color sheets due to the possible chemicals that might be toxic to the worms. A paper shredder works well, or you can tear the paper along the center fold and tear strips into 1 inch pieces. Wet the paper thoroughly and squeeze out extra water. Do this about 2 days before adding the worms to the bin. Worms do not have teeth so they need grit to digest their food. You can add a small amount of sand, soil or steer manure to the bin to assist them with their first food intake. Gently spread the worms over the bedding. Bedding should be replenished every couple of months.

Caring for worms is easy. One pound of worms is needed for decomposing one-half pound of food scraps per week. A family of four usually starts with two pounds of worms. Worms dispose of vegetable food scraps such as potato peels, orange peels, old bread, corn shucks, tea and coffee grounds. Avoid meat or bones because they can attract pets and rodents.

You can feed your worms daily or weekly. Let your schedule be the guide. If you are gone for several weeks, find someone to feed them while you are away. Just pull the bedding back and place the scraps an inch or so under the surface. Place the garbage in different locations in the bin so as to avoid disturbing the most recent decomposing matter.

Do not expose your worm bin to extreme temperatures. They love a cool, damp, dark environment with temperatures from 40o F to 80o F. The pH of the bin is important. The worms can die if the pH drops below 4.5. A neutral pH of 7.0 is preferred but can safely increase up to 8.0. The pH can be checked with litmus paper. Use dolomite limestone to buffer the pH if it drops too low.

Harvest the worms about every 45 days to prevent over population. Harvest the larger ones for your lawn and return the smaller ones to the bin. This can be done by placing a board on the ground and dumping both the worms and compost onto the board into a pyramid shape. The worms will crawl out from the bottom, and they can be placed back into the bin if you wish or left with compost to fertilize your houseplants, container plants or to populate your lawn and garden area. This can be repeated and the compost can be scooped off the top with the worms left behind to continue their garbage eating. The nutrient value of the castings will depend upon what organic materials the worms are fed.

The kitchen is a convenient place for a bin, but most people grimace at having worms in their kitchen. The garage is a good place but is usually too hot in the summer. Housing them under the bar is a fine place too, but be sure the worms don’t get into the Mescal bottle!

Kids love vermiculture, so let them experiment. Worms don’t cost much. The cost will range from about $16 to $25 a pound. Usually the more you purchase, the cheaper they are. Have fun and recycle your scraps for the return of gardeners “black gold”.

For sources of worms, check the Internet or call Texas Cooperative Extension for names and numbers of suppliers in Texas at 210-467-6575.

This article was written by Lynn Rawe, County Agent-Horticulture, with Texas Cooperative Extensionin Bexar County.

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