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Home & Garden: Worm bins & composting

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Compost bin
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

WANT TO COMPOST?

Vermicomposting is an easy hobby to get into and a great way to get rid of kitchen waste, other than putting it down the garbage disposal.

For more information, contact James Bates of Montrose Worm Farm at 970-209-4043. You can also find him on the Web at http://www.montroseworms.com.

Last week I drove to Delta to pick up a couple pounds of Eisenia hortensis. You might know these creatures as the European night crawler.

I met James Bates of the Montrose Worm Farm, who supplied me with worms for my vermicomposting class at the Western Colorado Community College this past weekend. I would have purchased one pound of Eisenia foetida, known as red wigglers, in addition to Eisenia hortensis, but due to the weather conditions foetida are in very short supply throughout the nation.

Red wigglers and the European night crawlers are both used for compost. They are both communal animals. Unlike our common night crawler, they live in groups.



Lumbricus terrestris is the night crawler common to our lawns and gardens. Lumbricus is a solitary being, living in tunnels and coming out at night from its burrow to feed. With part of its body still in its tunnel, it feels around and pulls leaves and stems into its tunnel, often creating a pile of debris sticking up out of the ground.

Unlike Lumbricus, the European night crawler lives in colonies especially in the lower reaches of the compost bin where moisture is relatively high.



During my vermicomposting class, Cynthia got to work drilling holes in the top three inches of the bin for ventilation, while Matthew and Victor shredded newsprint and cardboard for use as bedding. The bedding was soaked in water to ensure it wasn’t too dry for the worms. Dawn and Stephanie shredded leaves and tore apart the banana Victor provided for worm food. They also spread coffee grounds and coffee filters throughout the mix. The coffee grounds will serve as the grit worms need in their gizzards to breakdown and pulverized the food they feed on. My neighbor, John, provided a couple tubs. One serves as the worm bin, and the other will be used to collect the drippings of liquid produced as the worms feed.

Many gardeners collect these drippings in another tub placed under the worm bin. The upper bin containing the worms, bedding, and food material will have holes drilled in the bottom to allow the liquid to drain out and accumulate in the bottom bin. Some worm bins are designed with a spigot to drain off this liquid. Worm castings can also be used to make compost tea. Worm castings are added to a bucket of water and the liquid drained off to water gardens.

Worms can consume up to their weight in food every day after they become adapted in your worm bin. Initially they should only be fed half their weight. I will be feeding about a half pound of food a day per pound of worms. Kitchen waste will be collected and added to the bin every three to five days, until they become familiar with their new situation.

When I arrived home from class, I put the worm bin in the heated portion of my garage. The temperature is approximately 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and this temperature will ensure the worms feed and produce more worms. Eisenia foetida are more sensitive to cold than Eisenia hortensis, so care needs to be taken to ensure the temperature remains between 55-65 degrees. Hortensis can tolerate temperatures down to 45 degrees, but foetida is more tender.

After adding the moist bedding (we squeezed out the excess moisture), worms were buried in the bedding, and the food consisting of dead wet leaves, coffee grounds and filters, and Victor’s dead banana was added. A layer of damp cardboard was placed on top to hold in the moisture and create a dark environment. Worms do not like light.

In a few days I will be checking the worms to see how they are doing. They should already be breaking down the leaves, banana, coffee filters, and the bedding. I will add more food by digging a hole in the bedding, placing the food in the hole, covering it up with bedding, and placing the cardboard back on top. The tubs did not come with lids — but if they had, I would not need the cardboard layer. Night crawlers like to feed on cardboard, so they will eventually consumes the cardboard and I will have to stop by Little Caesars for another pizza and its cardboard box.

GJ Free Press Columnist Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.


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