Friday, March 26, 2010

Worms and Gardening, Part 1

I've decided to make this a 2 part series because it just seems like a whole lot of info just for one post.  We start this series with learning about vermiculture and the benefits that these wigglers bring to our gardens.  We end the two part series by learning how to make our own worm bin, and how to use the bin.  So let's start.

Vermiculture, also known as vermicomposting or worm composting, is (as you may have predicted) composting using worms.  It has proven to be a fast and effective way of breaking down organic matter and making highly potent, nutrient rich fertilizer that will keep your garden and plants healthy and producing.  For this to happen, you'll need worms, and the organic matter that the worms will eat.  Once those two are combined, you'll start producing good rich compost that can be used as a soil conditioner, or to make worm tea, a good fertilizer for any plant.

The Worms

These little guys are obviously the true stars of the process.  You can use many different kinds of worms for vermiculture, but the best ones to use are called red wigglers.  These are smaller than their earthworm "cousins" and can eat more than their body weight everyday.  These worms are generally found at fish tackle and bait stores, next to the night crawlers.  They are also quite hardy, as they are easy to take care of, can be left alone for days at a time, eats our garbage, doesn't produce offensive odors, and lastly produces the natural fertilizer that does wonders for our gardens and plants.

What the worms eat

Worms are not picky eaters. The general rule is to avoid dairy, meats and anything greasy.  Just about any other type of food should be okay.  That being said, worms can still have favorites.  For instance, mine loves spinach stems and doesn't seem to like onions or banana peels.  I know this because when I feed them these items, the spinach decomposes really fast, and the other two really slow. It'll take some time, but you'll soon recognize what the worms like more and don't like.

While this is, in no means, an exhaustive list of things you can feed your worms this is at least a good guideline.

egg shells (cleaned, and crumbled)
coffee grounds and coffee filter
tea bags
carrot peels
stale bread (no butter)
apple cores and peels
bok choy
spinach stems
any types of lettuce
brussel sprouts
carrot peels
papers and junk mail
grass clippings
fallen fall leaves

It is, however, possible to overfeed your worms. So, if you want to save food and give them to the worms a little at a time, what I usually do is keep a zip lock in the freezer which I generally fill with veggie trimmings.  When it come to feeding your worms (that is, they're almost done with the food you last gave them), storing the food in the freezer gives you a couple of advantages.

 First off, frozen veggies tend to decompose much better than fresh.  Also, it adds some water content into the bin. While you don't want a drenched bin, you also don't want a bin that's too dry. To help with the moisture control also keep a spray bottle around to help keep the strips moist.

The Benefits
Some of the benefits of worm composting are:
1. nutrient rich compost which in turn gives you healthy gardens and  plants.
2. small amount of work, gives us large amounts of results
3. decreases the amount of food that we waste all the while turning it into something healthy.
4. decreases the amount of paper that goes into our landfills
5. securely destroys documents to the point of no return
6.  Save gas, you don't have to go to the store to buy compost, not to mention, the amount you would save by growing your own veggies.

Using the compost
Worm compost can benefit your plants in two forms. As a worm tea that you can use to water your plants, and as a soil conditioner. 

Making Worm Tea
I've seen several different recipes of making effective worm tea.  The first and most simplest is to take the liquid that gathers on the bottom of the worm bin (or drains out), and adding water to it to dilute it.  This is the way I have done it in the past.  With more research, I found that many recipes call for actually brewing it like a tea (putting compost in a nylon sock and soaking in water), as well as adding molasses and aerating with a air pump for a day.  It sounds interesting and adding the molasses is supposed to increase the amounts of beneficial microbes.

Here's a recipe I found for making the tea (from

- 2 cups of composted worm castings in a nylon sock.
- 2 tbsp of molasses
- water that has been left to stand overnight, which declorinates it, or rain water.
- aquarium pump and airstone

Fill a bucket with the declorinated water, and add the molasses.
Place the nylon in the bucket.
Run the aquarium pump and airstone in the bucket to aerate the water. 
Let it run like this for 24 hours.
Use the worm tea within 48 hours of making it.

Soil Conditioner
Using it as a soil conditioner is also quite useful.  What you do is just mix the compost in with some soil.  I use a 1:5 ration.  1 part compost to 5 part soil. You really want to be careful how much of the worm compost you use. At full strength, this compost is so potent that it will more than likely kill the plant.

So, I leave you with this for now.  Stay tune for Worms and Gardening, Part 2: Making your own cheap worm bin.


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