How to Compost With Worms

Check out these tips for creating your own army of little gardeners.

Red Earthworms in Compost

Red Earthworms in Compost

Wiggle your way to healthier plants with worms, the hardest working gardeners around. These tireless eaters transform organic trash into a soil rich in nutrients. Worm farmer Al Cardoza of Rainbow Worm Farm shares how he works with worms to create vermicompost:

The process begins with a pile of dairy cow manure that is distributed into 32 rows called ricks. Dairy cow manure works best because the cows are fed ultra-nutritious greens and soy, a diet perfect for the voracious appetites of hard-working worms. "The cow is a very poor digester," Cardoza says. "It digests only 15 percent of its intake."

And what the cows don't digest, the worms will. The worms start at the bottom of the manure pile, eating and excreting half their weight every day. It takes the worms a year to feast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to eat their way through an entire row of manure. During this time, the ricks are watered twice a day to keep the material moist. If the manure isn't moist, the worms won't eat. The worms live in the top six inches of the ricks once they have eaten their way through the pile.

"When the rick is flat, and the worms are fat, it's time to collect some garden magic," says master gardener Paul James. The worms are carefully removed from the ricks, and the castings are scooped up and processed with a filler to keep the compost from caking together in wet conditions.

Worm castings are high in beneficial plant nutrients. Although vermicompost looks and smells like dirt, it can do amazing things for a garden. "Worm castings won't burn your plants like manure, and it will help ward off bugs," Paul says. "You can use it on anything - bedding plants, houseplants and all the flowering plants."

Making Your Own Vermicompost

Even if you don't own lots of land, you can still start your own vermicomposting system with a home composting kit. The kit includes a large plastic composting bin and red-wiggler worms. Fill the bin with manure, and place the worms on the edges of the manure pile. Remember to never bury the worms into the manure.

Sprinkle organic matter over the manure, or make your worms a delicious smoothie by blending up your organic kitchen scraps. Pour the organic mixture over the manure and add any leaves or grass cuttings, as well. Mist the inside of the bin thoroughly every day. Once the worms have worked their magic, carefully remove the worms and harvest the castings. Replace the bin with more manure, return the worms to the manure and start the process all over again. Keep in mind that besides eating and excreting, your worms will multiply.

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