by Kellie Parks, MG Trainee
OK, I confess. I am a worm cheerleader. When I see them whilst working in the garden, I encourage them, thank them, and bury them back in the dark. Worms are free labor in the garden working with microorganism to make nutrient rich humus.
Many gardeners are backyard composters in the summer months, turning years of kitchen waste into a valuable, organic, soil amendment. However, in our northern climate, microbe activity comes to a screeching halt when the thermometer drops. And so too does composting. On the other hand, we still generate kitchen waste and many simply toss it into the trash during the winter months. What if, we in the North could compost kitchen waste all year long?
Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, can be accomplished inside in any season. The basic ingredients are simple: a container, bedding, water, worms, and kitchen scraps.
- The container can be a plastic or wooden bin. An old dresser drawer can be a great site or dimension. Keep indoors or in a heated garage in winter months.
- Bedding is a recyclable itself; shredded newspapers. Beware of too much office or junk mail as some of the inks can be toxic to worms.
- Moisture content is similar to your outdoor compost pile, like a well wrung-out washcloth.
- Worms should be red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, and can be sourced on-line, at a bait shop, or from a vermicomposting friend. Volume of worms will depend upon your kitchen waste. Figure approximately one pound of worms for each half pound of food scraps per day.
Worms do best on a diet of fruit and vegetable peels and trimmings, crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags. Avoid onion, garlic, citrus, cruciferous, dairy, fats, oils, and meats.
Castings can be dried or steeped into tea and used on indoor and outdoor plants or mixed into potting soil. While nutritious, castings are mild and will not burn or over- fertilize.
Be sure to keep the red wigglers contained as they can become aggressive in the soil.
For additional information, see Mary Appelhof’s book, “Worms Eat My Garbage”, and the MSUE article: http//msue.anr.msu.edu/news/worm_composting_or_vermicomposting.