Raising Worms - In your Kitchen!
By Deanne Converse

Since growing to adulthood I have found that most women are either in the category of , “Worms! Ewww! (may even scream!)” or “Wow! Quick! Put it in the garden!” I for one, fall in the “put it in the garden” category. When I had heard a friend of mine had worms that she fed her garbage, I just had to ask, and was instantly hooked (I use this term sparingly around my worms!LOL!). I came home with a small container of worms, and have been doing this since. The Converse Worm Operation has since expanded considerably. Here the small scale in-home vermiculture operation anyone can do will be addressed.

Raising worms makes sense, it is economical and the result is a very valuable product, literally from your kitchen or garden waste! My suggestion to “Homestead Happenings” readers is to start with a small worm bin. A plastic bucket with a lid under your kitchen sink works great! My start was in one of those plastic buckets that cat litter comes in. You will need common redworms, surface dwelling worms (Einsenia fetida), which are those found in the duff layer in the forest. These can be found the better garden supply stores, or online. Since the expansion of our operations we also have been selling redworms , and will ship them across the USA. Night crawlers and other worms that burrow in the soil are not adaptable to your worm bin, since they need a soil environment to survive.

The worm bin needs to have air circulation holes poked in the sides. The lid on the bin will keep flies from making this their home as well. To start, you will want to collect some old leaves (avoid oak), and/or you can use shredded paper, and moisten it (to the point that if you squeeze a handful, drips come out, not a gush of water).This bedding should be at least 6 inches deep. Add the worms. Your redworms will eat the potato, carrot and apple peelings, old bread, shredded mail and newspaper, etc. that you feed them (No citrus please. No fatty foods or meat. This will cause the bin to smell). To feed your worms, dig a hole in the bin about 6 inches deep and plunk in the scraps you wish to feed them, and cover it up with bedding or the resulting “soil” in there. The next time you feed your worms (at least once a week), dig a hole in a different spot and place your kitchen or garden waste there. Redworms do not like to be disturbed, and will migrate to the spot you put the last “feeding”, which is why the feeding spots are alternated in the worm bin.

In a matter of a few weeks you will notice that the past feeding spots are replaced by dark looking soil. This is what is known as worm castings, a very valuable gardening medium! Redworms take organic matter and eat it. The resulting excrement (being a farm-wife, I am being polite here), is the worm castings, a very clean and highly nutritious medium for your house and outside plants! The worms take organic matter and turn it into something that plants can immediately use. No need for chemicals. No smell. You can plant directly into this medium.

Once your worm bin starts to look as though it has mostly worm castings in it, it is time to harvest the resulting “gold”. This means that you have to separate the worms from the castings. “EWWW!”, you think! Good news! You do not even have to touch the worms if you do not want to. The process is simple and not very messy. (And children like to help with this process!) Just dump your small kitchen bin out onto a large garbage sack which you flattened out on your kitchen floor. Shine a lamp onto the pile. Since worms do not like light, they will burrow down into the pile, and you can scrape off the top layer of castings. Wait a few minutes and do it again. Repeat this process, until you have only a small pile of “stuff” from your bin in which all the worms are hiding. Start your bin over as I had originally described, and replace your worms.

The harvested worm castings make excellent plant food, and planting medium. The worm castings are actually higher in plant available nutrients than any other manure, or traditional compost. This is the best gift to give a friend who is a gardening enthusiast (a bag of castings, a set of garden gloves and a packet of seeds or a plant start in a basket make a great gift set). You can even sell your worms, which will increase in population, to places that sell fishing bait. Best of all you can get rid of your kitchen and garden waste, and get a valued product in return. This is a great project for children. A homeschool mom can use this to lead into all sorts of experiments and fun studies!

Families may do this because it is the ”green” thing to do. For us it just makes sense. Our gardens grow fantastically. It is a scientific fact that plants grown in better soil also contain higher quality nutrients. The harvest from a garden planted with castings will be of the highest nutrient quality you can provide. As a homemaker, this is being a good steward of your resources. Feeding your compostable trash to the worms can lower the amount of trash you have to pay to have hauled away; a blessing for the family budget. You can feed redworms to your poultry as a wonderful source of protein, without worry about the chemicals or hormones in commercial feeds.…

Since actively involving vermiculture on our farm, I have conducted workshops for the Master Gardeners and for schools, teaching the process of worm composting. So many are getting on board with this. It seems this is not only a “green” thing, but also a budget help for families and businesses that is recently being noticed. If any of you have questions about this, I will happily answer them (deanne@thefamilyhomestead.com  ). While we are a source of worms, there are other places to get them too.

Here I have addressed the small scale under-the-kitchen-sink operation (or in a closet or garage). This can easily be done on a larger scale outdoors too.

About the Author
Deanne Converse lives in SW Washington with her husband Tim and sons Elijah and Simeon. She is a homeschool mom and a dear friend of mine! They have kitchen-sized Redworm Composting Kits available through Azure Standard (http://www.azurestandard.com  ) and also ship redworms directly from their farm. If you are interested in purchasing a kit or asking Deanne any questions you can email her at: deanne@thefamilyhomestead.com



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