WORMS — NATURE’S GARBAGE DISPOSAL

Earthworms have been converting organic waste into usable form for millions of years. They provide a simple, environmentally sound means to change organic waste into a nutrient-rich material that can be used on your plants or lawn. Though most of us are familiar with composting leaves and plant waste outdoors, a small composting bin stored under the kitchen sink can be a convenient way to dispose
of kitchen waste.

The Smith County Master Gardeners recommend a special brown-nosed, or red wiggler garbage-eating worm (Eisenia foetida) for this purpose. They are a practical way to reduce the volume of kitchen waste by up to 98%, One pound of worms (approximately 1000 worms) can consume one-half pound of
food per day, and they double in number every 90 days. They are odor free and will eat most fruit and vegetable waste (raw or cooked), coffee and tea grounds, egg shells, bread, etc., though citrus, dairy and meat products and onions should be avoided.

Worm composting can also be an excellent way to involve children in caring for the environment. Gardening magazines are an excellent source for suppliers of worms for composting.

Linda Scoggin, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


WORM COMPOSTING

Worm composting or vermiculture is a great benefit to the gardener. Earthworms aerate the soil, increase water absorption and add nutrients to the soil by their continuous ingesting and digesting. The deposits left by the worms, called castings, contain five to ten times the soluble plant nutrients as the original soil.

Worm composting can be done inside/outside in an area protected from high temperatures. The worms will die if exposed to temperatures of 100 degrees or more. A plastic or wooden container two feet square and one foot deep will accommodate one pound of worms. Provide drainage and aeration by drilling about a dozen 1/8″ holes in the bottom and sides of the container.

Soak shredded newspaper in water. Squeeze the excess water out and line the bottom of the worm container. Add a couple of handfuls of soil, sand, leaf mold or finished compost on top of the newspaper. This worm bedding should be kept moist.

Finally, add the worms. Feed the worms small amounts at a time, at first. The worms will eat any kitchen waste or table scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags or egg shells.

In three months, the worms will have about doubled their population and it will be time to harvest the compost.

Mary Ann Rogers, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


KEEPING WORMS COOL

If you’re among the growing number of gardeners who use worm boxes for composting, your worms are having to work extra hard to stay cool during the summer heat. You can help by making sure they have an available supply of moisture. Check every three or four days and add water with a mister, when necessary, to moisten the entire bed and bedding. A pump-up sprayer (dedicated to water, manure tea, or compost tea only) works well.

To minimize evaporation from both in-ground and above ground boxes, cover the bed with a sheet of plastic film. In closed, plastic above-ground boxes, the worm diet influences the moisture content of the bin. If your bedding dries out too quickly, add a sheet of film. Don’t seal the beds so tightly that the worms starve for air. The film can fit within one-eighth of an inch on the sides.

Adding extra bedding will provide insulation. You’ll find some worms working the bedding on the underside of the film where moisture collects.

Also be alert for fire ants. If ants are detected, pull back bedding and drench the fire ants with water spray. Repeat the next day and check the following day. Usually the ants are gone within 48 hours.

If you’re interested in learning more about worm composting, or “vermi-composting,” you can call the Smith County Extension Office¬† for a brochure.

Don Davis, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


SLITHERING COMPOST

Tired of throwing away perfectly good garbage? Want to add some fun and excitement to your life? Need compost for flowerbeds or garden plots? You may want to try composting with worms. No more wastefully feeding the garbage disposal for you. Recycle paper and kitchen waste for wonderful, useful compost. Convinced? Worm composting can be done indoors or outside. You can use almost any type of container. You can buy, build, or recycle a box. For example, you can use wooden or plastic containers, old tubs or barrels, a dresser drawer, play box, or a trunk.

When you have the container, you will need to provide damp bedding of shredded paper, food scraps, and perhaps other materials such as sand, straw, or leaves. Avoid cat and dog waste, as it might spread disease. Also, avoid animal products such as meat, fish and oil, as these can attract stray or wild animals to your compost. Next, you’ll need worms-but not just your usual squiggly garden variety. Brown-nose worms or red worms are the best and can be obtained from various sources. Check with your local Texas Cooperative Extension office.

Composting with worms can be fun for the entire family, easily accomplished, and productive. If you want to start worm composting, there are numerous resources available to provide detailed information for success. Refer to the Texas Cooperative Extension office, the Natural Resource Conservation Commission, or the Internet. The Aggie-horticulture website (http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu) provides knowledgeable and helpful information as well as links to other sites. Happy composting!

Ragna Neill, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


WORM TIDBITS

Earthworms play a critical role in building our soil both for the commercial farmer and the home gardener. An often overlooked potential benefit of the earthworm is its role in decomposing our kitchen garbage.

The common red worm (Eisenia foetida) is especially adept at handling all our wet garbage and giving us the best fertilizer for indoor and outside plants. Worm enthusiasts call this vermicomposting and it can be accomplished in a garage or covered area. Raising worms is started with moist biomass (shredded newspaper) installed in a plastic container. Several suppliers sell commercially made boxes or you can create your own. The critical points to keep in mind are temperature, moisture, ventilation and materials.

Worms need the right temperature 40 to 85F; moisture ~ 85% with good drainage; recycled organic material such as fruit, coffee and filter, tea bags, beans, breads, cereals, pasta, egg shells and vegetables, but no dairy, fish, meat or citrus products. More food needs to be added when the worms have eaten half of the materials already in the bin.

Ventilation is essential by providing filtered air so anaerobic digestion does not get started. The environment should have a pH of 5.5. Good moist bedding combined with organic matter and no light will do the trick. The matter needs 8 to 16 weeks to mature, adding food as needed. Then you are ready to collect your new soil or as sometimes called “black gold.”

The fun part is taking the mature matter and extracting the worms. Some will be used in the garden and some returned to the box for another course of digestion. They will have multiplied. All the bedding material which contains worm castings and eggs can be worked into your beds for the best fertilizer available.

Jay Dickson, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)