Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Oh, worm poop!

Here's a new experiment that I'm kind of excited about - vermi-compost.  What's that?  It's using earth worms to compost your kitchen waste (with a few exceptions)into "black gold" for your garden.  We'd done this before, fixed up a tub, started it with wet newspapers and a sprinkling of dirt and a pound of red wigglers.  Then we would dump in our kitchen scraps and let the little wigglers have a picnic.  We did this through the winter, keeping the tub in our back room by the garage door.  We added our leftover lettuce, egg shells, uneaten green beans, potato peelings, and even tea bags each week.  When spring arrived and the weather got warmer, we decided it was easier to just make a trip out to the compost pile to dump our scraps.  So Shawn took the vermi-bin out to the compost and dumped it out.  He said he couldn't believe how many more worms were in that bin!!!!  So the red wigglers happily joined the compost pile and munched their way through it and probably made their way into the garden soil.
We all know how beneficial earth worms are for our soil.  They help aerate it by burrowing through the soil, which also allows water to travel through the soil.  "Earthworms dramatically alter soil structure, water movement, nutrient dynamics, and plant growth. They are not essential to all healthy soil systems, but their presence is usually an indicator of a healthy system. Earthworms perform several beneficial functions."  This quote is from the USDA page on soil biology.  Read more at http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/earthworms.html  if you are interested in how worms are useful in our gardens.
As a composter, worms eat and excrete what their bodies don't need - just like we do.  You add your vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags, fruit peels, etc.  The worms break it down and and as it passes through them, it is broken down and made into compost.  For those of you that regularly keep compost piles, you know that once it's broken down, you can add this to your garden to add nutrients to your soil.
When we were in Illinois last month for a garden show, we met a couple that had a booth there and they were selling worm castings - yes, worm poop!  They sold it by the bag to spread onto the soil and they also sold it in small bags - tea bags!  Worm poop was sealed into tea bags and you can put the tea bags in water and make a compost tea.  This compost tea can be used to water your plants, just like a liquid fertilizer.  You can also put it into a spray bottle and use it as a foliar feed.
Large and small tea bags of worm castings.
The company's name is Roxy's Worms World and you can find them at http://www.roxyswormsworld.com/  They have a lot of information about worms and using worms to compost and using castings as fertilizer.  You can also order worm poop from them.  But if you're in my neighborhood, stop by to see me.  I made a deal with them and brought home lots of their compost tea bags and now have them for sale in my shop.  I'll also take some with me to garden shows, which start this weekend, by the way.
The actual worm castings from a large tea bag.
The small bags will do a quart and the large bags will do a 5-gallon bucket of liquid fertilizer.  The company claims that the compost tea bags will help your plants grow about twice as large in half of the time as regular fertilizer!  That sounds amazing, doesn't it?  But the USDA supports this claim.  Their page on "Earthworm Tea Good for Plants" states that "Vermicompost....not only dramatically increases plant growth and yield, but also suppresses diseases, parasitic nematodes, and arthropod pests.  Vermicompost maintains high levels of microbial activity, which produces such valuable plant compounds as growth hormones, plant growth regulators, and soluble nutrients."  It also goes on to say that "The vermicompost tea increased plant growth and yields dramatically -- by up to 50 percent."  You can read more at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/newsroom/impact/2009/sbir/08101_earthworm_tea.html
Small tea bag in a quart of water.
So I'm brewing up a quart of worm poop tea and I'm going to use it to water my new seedlings.  I'm a little late getting things started this year, so hopefully the compost tea will help speed up my plants!!!  We also brought home some worms and now have a bin in the basement where we regularlly feed them our scraps.  We can feed them just about anything that I would normally throw out.  Some items they said you should keep off the worms' menu are citrus skins, onion skins, dairy products, meat and fats.  But can include coffee filters, newsprint, paper towel and toilet rolls, corrugated cardboard, clothes dryer fluff and even vacuum cleaner bags.  They do state that these rather dry items should be soaked before adding to the bin.  So at this point, I don't know if we will build up the worms and start to gather our own poop to put into tea bags, or if we'll just use the poo to add to our own garden.  At the very least, it's given us a new topic of conversation, I'm not using the garbage disposal very much, and we're increasing our worm population that we can add to the garden if we don't choose to continue with the vermicomposting.
If you're interested in more information about worm castings as fertilizer, or if you'd like to buy some worm poop, just stop by to see me!!!  Or if you've had any experience with worms and their poop, please leave me a comment!  I've changed the settings and you no longer have to be registered to leave a comment.

4 comments:

  1. Great post, Joyce! If we could all take the time to let Mother Nature work her magic, the earth would be in a lot better shape Do you know if there is a ratio of paper to food products that is recommended?

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  2. I don't know about a ratio, Lisa. But I would just say keep it as organic as possible. Newsprint, cardboard and other papers are fine, but just don't go too heavy on color prints (unless they say soy ink) and avoid slick prints. But worms really like to eat cardboard. I've even layered cardboard down in a spot that I wanted to start a new herb bed. It smothers the grass and other weeds and attracts the earthworms. (someone told me they love the glue in corrugated cardboard.....how do they know?)

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  3. Hi, Joyce, from Carnation, Washington!
    As I was peeling taters for potato soup, and peeling all of the green off, I wondered if those green peelings would be OK to feed to my worms.
    What do you think?
    Thanks for your informative website.
    Pam B.

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    1. Sure, it will be okay to put the green peelings in with the worms. Many things that play havoc with our systems have no effect on worms.
      Thanks for your interest. I hope to have some new posts soon.

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