What if you had two thousand hungry little mouths to feed?
Now imagine that these hungry ones were so tiny that they could all live in a box small enough to fit in a closet, loved to eat kitchen scraps, and thrived on neglect...
What you have just envisioned is a worm composter.
While regular compost is a great source of organic matter that improves the quality of the soil structure and adds some nutrients, worm compost, also known as vermi-compost, is packed with over 150 nutrients, trace minerals, hormones, enzymes and bacteria beneficial to plant growth.
The best part is, it's free for the making. All you need is a small wood or plastic box. Add a few manure worms, some shredded paper, a handful of compost or garden soil, and your leftover food scraps. Mix them all up together, sprinkle a little water to moisten the paper, and let nature take its course. In a few days the worms will digest everything, including the paper, and leave behind a box full of rich, black worm castings.
In addition to providing great fertilizer for houseplants and the garden, a worm composter is an easy way to practice home waste reduction. If the bin is large enough, almost all household paper and cardboard can be shredded and fed to the worms, along with most kitchen scraps. This can lower trash hauling expenses, save valuable space at the local dump, and reduce methane emissions from landfills.
There are three basic types of earthworms, epigeic, anecic, and endogeic. Endogeic worms live near tree roots deep in the ground, between four and twelve feet down, feeding on soil minerals and bacteria. Anecic worms range from the surface down to about four feet, coming up at night, (hence the name "nightcrawler,") to feed on legumes, then plug the entrance to their burrows with debris, so they can stay cool and moist during the day. They also feed on minerals as they dig their tunnels through the soil. Only the epigeic, or surface dwelling worms, are suitable for life in a composter, because they feed on detritis and manure. Just two pounds of red wrigglers, the most popular worm for vermicomposting, can consume between one and two pounds of kitchen scraps each day!
This commercially produced worm composter to the left, is called the"Worm Factory." It utilizes a three-tiered system of trays which makes it easier to separate worms from the finished castings. Notice the spigot at the bottom used to drain off worm tea. Worm tea is the liqued created by excess water from the food scraps that percolates down through the castings into the bottom of this composter. This tea is packed with many of the same nutrients as worm castings, and is very beneficial to
houseplants when dilluted 5 to 1 with fresh water. (5 parts fresh
water to 1 part worm tea.) Cleaning out the refrigerator vegetable drawer yielded all these scraps when this photo was taken; a real treat for the red wrigglers (Eisenia foetida) and Belgian nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) inhabiting this worm bin!
Right, can be seen a lower tray of worm castings, with a few worms finishing off the last remains of any kitchen scraps and shredded newspaper. In just a few days, these castings will be ready for harvesting and will be added to potting mix for houseplants.
Consider the lowly earthworm. Tunneling silently through your lawn, worms create pore space so that air and water can enter the soil. Secretions in worm castings help improve soil structure and prevent erosion by forming aggregates, or conglomerations of sand, silt, clay and organic matter that bind tightly together, resisting runoff even under hard rain.
One acre of healthy, natural soil contains one to three million earthworms, constantly tilling the soil and providing free fertilizer, while soils treated with synthetic chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides has few worms.
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