Sunday, 29 September 2013

Gardening to Distraction: Composting with worms

The Rolla Daily News
Gardening to Distraction: Composting with worms

There are a number of ways to compost. The easiest way, by far, is with worms. Vermacomposting is basically building a safe place where red wriggler worms can live and collect their poop.

Worms are part of nature's recycling, turning most edibles into nutrient-rich byproducts that, mixed in with soil, add minerals and nutrients that feed soil micro-organisms.

Soil is an amazing ecosystem, although it's not surprising we don't quite appreciate it in mid-Missouri since we have so little of it.

Enter red wriggler worms, the kind you find under piles of dead leaves or dried grass. Red wrigglers can consume about half their weight in food every day.

When composting with worms, it's best to start with one pound of worms for around $20, not including shipping. To figure out how many worms you need, you need twice the weight of your worms in kitchen scraps a week.

Composting with worms has several advantages. If I have a plant that is starting to look sick, I gather a few tablespoons of vermacompost and mix it in the potted soil.  Within days, the plant perks up and, in most cases, loses whatever was ailing it.

Vermacompost is also handy to add to raised beds that need an extra boost to finish out the growing season.

There are a couple of ways you can easily keep worms.

Most experts talk about starting inexpensively with a couple of plastic containers that fit inside of one another. Add holes in the bottom of one, as well as the sides and lid, and put that container inside the other one.

The magic comes after you add water-soaked torn newspaper for bedding and kitchen scraps in the corners. Add a handful of red wrigglers, place in a cool, dark spot and wait for the worms to eat through the scraps. That works well unless you feed them watermelon rinds. Then the main container ends up sitting in a lot of water. Use the water, diluted, to feed potted plants.

The other challenge is making sure you keep worms fed. If the worms run out of food - yep, they'll start crawling out of the container.

There's a third consideration in how big to go with your worm bin - smaller is better. I ended up with a container that, once full of paper and scraps, I could barely lift.

To keep my worms healthy, I splurged on a several-tiered "worm farm" with holes in the bottom of stacked trays. Worms can easily move among the trays and, more importantly, I can easily lift the trays to harvest composted materials.

I also discovered that if I mimic the worms natural environment and give them leaves and cardboard as cover, they tend to stay put.

he stacked container fits nicely in the furnace room corner so worms can spend winter inside and I can keep composting through cold weather.

If you're interested in learning how to vermacompost, or any other forms of composting, come by the Saturday, Sept. 14, Rolla Farmers Market off Highway 63 North from 9-11 a.m. I'll be there with other experienced gardeners demonstrating the various kinds of composting as well as recycling with rain barrels.

Did I mention red wrigglers also make great fishing bait?

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a changing climate at http://www.
 Copyright 2013


  1. Nice article. I am gonna start it soon. Kinda scared but it seem so simple. Still don't get how the stuff is separated. I am an organic gardener so I gotta start doing this.

    1. for separating, i made a simple tool out of screen framed in wood, this way you can adjust the size. then poor the contents of your worm farm through the screen a little at a time. the compost will fall through to what ever container you have placed under the screen and the worms and larger pieces will stay on top so you can put them back into your farm container.
      Go for it!

  2. Great article, I learned several new things. Thanks.
    You said you keep the worms in the furnace much air circulation do you have in there? could I keep mine in a closet for the winter and have enough air circulation?