Worm Composting is Frugal Gardening


Worm composting is a frugal way to create a rich soil amendment.

Just about every article on going green recommends composting kitchen and yard waste as a way to help save the planet. This is great advice because not only does composting reduce the greenhouse gas methane (that contributes to global warming) but it also provides an excellent source of nutrients for the garden, which reduces the need for synthetic chemical fertilizers.

Most discussions about composting start with the compost bin or pile that’s outside near the garden. Seldom do you hear about the compost bin located under a sunny window in the kitchen.

But that’s exactly where Todd Neff and his family have placed theirs. The Neffs have a worm bin that produces some of the richest compost you’ve ever seen.

Todd, a Denver writer, started the bin full of worms and muck after seeing  how intrigued his two-year-old daughter was with the worms moving through the bin.  “They became our pet worms,” he says.

A friend from Alaska showed him how easy and inexpensive it is to start a homemade worm bin.  So in May of 2008 he bought two 10-gallon plastic totes and two bricks at Wal-Mart. Then he took the following steps:

  1. Drilled 30 quarter-inch holes in the bottom of both totes.
  2. Drilled 1/16th inch holes around the top rims of both totes.
  3. Drilled 1/16th holes spaced around the lid of one of the containers. (No holes were drilled in the second lid.)
  4. Ripped newspaper into 1-inch or narrower strips.
  5. Soaked the newspaper in water and squeezed to the dampness of a wrung sponge.
  6. Placed lid without holes face-up on he ground and placed 2 bricks on it.
  7. Placed drilled tote on the bricks.
  8. Added 4 inches of newspaper “bedding” in the bottom and added a handful of garden dirt–sandy soil works fine.
  9. Added worms. (Worms can also be purchased where bait is sold.)

Todd says he then cut out bin-shaped smooth-cornered rectangles of cardboard and put it on top of it all, making sure it was moist using a spray bottle. The worms eat about 2-3 pounds of kitchen scraps a week. As he adds a pound at a time, he tears up/soaks more newspaper and spreads it about 1-inch thick over the new additions.

He feeds the worms every other day and occasionally skip a day. “They seem happy,” he says.

When the first tote is full, he starts the empty one in the same manner and puts it directly on top of the lidless bin using the ventilated lid on the new bin. The worms migrate through the holes leaving behind a rich compost. Worm composting is also referred to as vermiculture, vermicomposting, or worm farming.

“I take great pleasure at dinner parties pointing out that thousands of worms are wriggling away just a few feet from our guests,” he says.  “It also feels good not grinding all our green rests in the disposal.”

Todd estimates that the unwormed volume of kitchen waste he’s put into the tote would probably fill the bed of a pickup truck. Since starting his “pet” project, the worms have multiplied enough so he could seed a worm bin for a friend and one for his daughters’ Montessori school.

I’m considering adding a worm bin to my gardening efforts because I think it would be great fun to be a worm farmer.  How about you?


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