Preparing for Spring…harmony in the garden with vermiculture! (worm tea anyone?)

Just what I need! Another interest. I have been weighing my concerns about available time with the benefits of vermiculture–worm composting–for a very long time.

I’d originally played with the idea while still a preschool teacher. I offered books on earthworms, a large plastic tub filled with creepy-crawlies and moist dirt. The more eager of the children would plunge their fingers in and explore the earth, extracting the longest specimens they could find and then after delicately holding them for a while place them on solid discs for more detailed inspection through large, plastic preschool-handy magnifying glasses. The worms were a classroom hit.

So it was a good fit when my daughter invited me to attend a worm composting class being held at San Pedro Co-Op Nursery School, a delightful family-friendly school owned and operated by parents for their children.

One of the nicest things I’ve observed about the co-op is that the families support one another in a variety of ways, remaining a tight-knit group even after the children move on to primary school. Saturday’s class was my opportunity to learn from one of the mom’s, Lara Hughey, a graduate from the University of California Master Gardener Program, a research-based  program  offered through the University of California’s division of Agriculture & Natural Resources.

Lara Hughey

I wish I had known about this program years ago! It would have been right where my interests intersect–gardening and teaching.


Graduates of this program have completed over 50 hours of UC training in topics including botany, composting, integrated pest management, sustainable landscape practices, and many other areas supporting the ecology of a healthy and sustainable garden.

table with materials

Master Gardeners are  prepared to share their knowledge and expertise with the public through classes, workshops, demonstration gardens, websites–whatever the imagination can conceive.

Lara generously donated her morning to the preschool. And I wasn’t the only one to walk away with the resolve to get my worm bin ready.

Food waste is the biggest component of solid waste in landfills. Statistics are compounded on the basis of food simply left uneaten and then discarded, but all levels of food consumption need consideration, including fruit and vegetable parings and scraps that could be put to better use.

Kitchen Scraps

So what about vermicomposting?

Vermicompost uses worms in addition to microbes and beneficial bacteria to turn organic waste into  a very efficient, nutrient-rich fertilizer. I purchased a nice box of it from the organic certified farmers with our weekly produce box–for $8.00 a box.  Time to make my own!

Drilling the holes

Lara showed us the simplest of set-ups. After drilling a plastic tub with small aeration holes, a mixture of dry and wet materials was placed in the bottom of the bin. Avoid using glossy newspaper, and don’t use dirt. Dirt imported from our own gardens might introduce unfriendly microbes to the new environment.

The bedding is the living medium for the worms, and also part of their food source, so it needs to remain moist and well aerated.  Lara recommends getting started with approximately 50% coconut coir, and 50% other materials.

Preparing the medium

Quantities of kitchen waste depend on the size of the worm population. One pound of young worms feeds on about 1/2 a pound of kitchens scraps each day. When more established they can eat closer to their entire body weight, but the trick is to watch and see that they’ve eaten their previous meal before increasing their dietary requirements.

A healthily maintained worm-bin will not ordinarily attract pests and should not have an odor. Refrain from including meat and dairy products, and wash and crumble items like egg shells and all large pieces of vegetation. They are worms after all–it takes time to break down all the materials, so smaller pieces will do better.

But what’s the pay-off?

A living ecosystem

The end-result of the composting effort is in collecting microbe-rich worm castings (poop) available as fertilizer for the garden.

I determined this is well worth my time. We are large-scale produce consumers and I love the idea of not wasting even an apple core. I will probably get started with the smaller box, but I’d love to invest in this larger three-tiered system. More worms, greater output!

Three tiered system

I have an idea! My birthday is the first day of Spring…wouldn’t this make a great gift? Hint-hint!

And the preschool children love to learn and explore their large outdoor worm bins. Lara teaches the children, too, about caring for the garden–and the worms!

Lara sharing with the children

Child with worm

And I must say that as a former preschool teacher now grandmother, I love seeing that Sophia and Karina have developed such an interest in the ecosystem of the garden. They understand a healthy garden and enjoy interacting with the living organisms. This spring they can help Nan create even greater harmony for our plants and vegetables with some soil improvement.

Sophia with the worms

Karina watering the school garden

Thank you, Lara, for your wonderful workshop and inspiring me to take the step I’ve contemplated for years. Now ACTION!

But when we travel, in addition to finding pet-sitters for Darwin and Pinky, I wonder who will volunteer to keep the worms?

52 thoughts on “Preparing for Spring…harmony in the garden with vermiculture! (worm tea anyone?)

  1. I love worms. i am planning on giving a bin a trial run soon. We have the Master Gardener program here too, and it beckons me every year. Perhaps you can sign up and become an instructor and garden writer…

    • Oh I do hope you start worm composting, too, Alice. We can encourage each other along. That Master Gardener program sure is tempting! I hope to retire in the next couple of years, so who knows? Maybe the time will be right to start something new! 🙂

  2. Great article! I’m about two classes away from graduating from the Master Gardener program myself and learned about vermiculture in Palm Springs from some enthusiastic teachers! Wish I had begun one the day I first heard of it because my community garden plot could sure use some “worm tea” right about now. Thanks for nudging me!

    • How exciting for you to be so close to Master Gardener status! I wasn’t kidding when I said that had I known about this fabulous program before now I would have been very tempted to sign up! I looked at the some of the curriculum topics and was very impressed to discover the depth of the program. I am quite excited about my worms, and hope I won’t be at all neglectful! I am a little concerned about some of our wild temperature swings–I’ve brought the tortoise indoors, but not sure how I feel about worms! Ha! We can encourage each other in the composting effort. 🙂

  3. Loved this post Debra! The kids are enthralled with worms. They got to play in a worm garden a while back at a museum and both were so excited to get to hold worms. I don’t know that I have the time to maintain a worm composting system just yet, but I’m definitely going to remember this. My goal this year is to just keep my herbs alive! Lovely thoughts of spring today though. 🙂

    • I encourage you to do the worm composting, Kristy, but I totally understand what you’re saying about this perhaps not being the best time. When I say I’ve been thinking about this for along time, I mean a loooong time! Sometimes just one more thing is overwhelming. But you’ll probably do what I did, and think about it for some time and one day it will just be the right time. I think with all the energy you invest in cooking, the herb garden is a worthwhile effort! 🙂

    • I am so glad you were able to get the mushroom box, Andra. If MTM is misting it he’ll see mushrooms any time now. I remember that I waited and waited and then all of a sudden they begin to pop up. It was very rewarding. I ought to consider getting another box. I kind of forgot about it! LOL! I hope he really enjoys it. Such an interesting little project. 🙂

  4. It’s heartwarming that young children express interest in the garden–I hope they can change the challenging situation we live in for their sake. I hope you get your birthday wish–I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.

    • I agree with you that the children are learning so much more in school and hopefully in their homes about how to care for a garden, and my hope is that we can teach them about waste and conservation, also. I don’t know how it is that we can be so unconscious about waste, but the fact that we are talking about taking our trash by rail out to the deserts ought to raise a few red flags! I will get that composting going one way or another! 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by today!

  5. We composted everything compostable when we lived in Maryland and had room for a vegetable garden. Here, we don’t. But we encouraged the local CSA to start a communal compost bin for members who wanted to “share” their vegetable and fruit peels with Mother Earth. When we pick up our produce, we drop off our compost.

    Have fun setting up your worm habitat.

    • How practical and worthwhile to create a communal compost bin. I love that idea! What a wonderful example of thinking beyond the limitations, and bringing others together in a joint effort. Your solution sounds reasonably easy, but I can tell you I don’t think I would have thought of it! Very nice!

  6. What a great idea, Debra. Well done on starting something I’ve thought about for years, but have not yet got round to doing. We never put food into landfill and have a traditional compost bin in the corner of the garden, but the worms give better compost more quickly. A great lesson for your granddaughters. 🙂

    • Composting has been one of those areas where I’ve just been stuck, Perpetua. I have more ore less played around with it, not taken the steps to seriously commit. It’s now to the point where I can’t deny the need to do more, and I think worms is going to be the place to start. I am glad to share the importance with the girls, and once I get the worms well established maybe I can do better with our yard clippings!

  7. I have had a vermipost now for about a year. I started it because I have to teach a unit called ‘Waste in Our World’ to my students where we explore different ways of taking care of the environment. We examine the red wriggler worms with magnifying glasses and track how much produce they go through. The soil is soooo rich. I keep it in my garage during the winter season and will put it outside in a shady spot during the spring and summer season. I plan to convert some of the vermipost into compost tea when the weather warms up. You were worried about who would look after the vermipost when you were away. I have found they can be left alone for a few weeks. i just load it up with produce and strips of newspaper and they are fine. ~Thea

    • How great to hear that you have been vermiposting for some time now, Thea. I didn’t want to sound like I was exaggerating, so I didn’t emphasize how long I’d been “thinking” about this–decades! LOL! My nephew, now 23, did something similar while he was in elementary school and at one time gave me the worm bins! I think they finally cracked in the heat and were thrown away. I am glad to learn they don’t need too much babysitting! That will certainly help. I would presume that is a very interesting unit to teach your students. I don’t know how things are in Canada, but here in the Los Angeles area we have so much waste there is talk of exporting waste by train and taking it to the desert. I find that appalling! But maybe our young people will grow up to be more responsible! Thanks for sharing about your experience. I’ll know who to come to if I have questions! 🙂

  8. Vermiculture has been on my radar screen for some time as well, Debra. Good for you for looking to take it on. I know quite a few folks who do this with great benefits to their gardens as well as a good use of table scraps. The girls are going to love this.

    We have a Master Gardeners program here as well, through the University of Illinois Extension Services. Quite a few members of my garden club are also Master Gardeners. It is a wonderful program and they provide a great service to the community as well.

    • Penny, quite some time ago you mentioned someone in your garden club, or it might have been church, who wrote a book with an ecological focus, didn’t you? I didn’t write it down at the time, yet I’ve thought of it and wondered if it would be something I’d find interesting. Would you remind me of the connection–and title? And about that Master Gardeners program. Wouldn’t that be interesting? I’d love the curriculum, but I think my plate is full enough for now. Yours is too, I’m more than sure! 🙂 I keep waiting for more time to drop from the sky. LOL!

    • I am looking forward to receiving my worms and getting started, Charlie. I think having Sophia and Karina interested is at least part of my motivation, although I am hoping to really improve on all of my composting measures. Up until now I haven’t been very dedicated. I am aware of being a good example, though. It’s time! 🙂

  9. There is just so much more we can all do to reduce the waste that we create… this is good to hear that more people are beginning to follow these practices… worms are so important to the earth… as a green keeper or golf course superintendent I had to make decisions as to chemical applications and chemical fertilisers or to do things more naturally… I went the natural root… a little slower with results but when I got the soils almost perfect, there was no need to fertilise… good roots ensure good surfaces, and that is the top requirement of a golf course.. and for good roots one needs good soils… full of microbes and health creating insects…

    • How interesting to hear about your work as a green keeper, Rob. I am impressed that the decision to avoid chemical applications was left to your expertise and wisdom. Your abilities must have been very trusted! But it’s also encouraging to hear that without using chemical fertilizers you were able to achieve a good balance with nature. I don’t even begin to suggest that I’m very knowledgeable in this area, but I am learning. I can say that it all makes perfect sense to me, and I am very concerned about the over-chemicalization of our planet. It truly disturbs me. I’ll have some fun with my worms. When they begin to proliferate and “do their thing” maybe I’ll share a photo. 🙂

  10. I think it great that you’re going this route and it is such a good lesson for your 2 Granddaughters. They may never try vermicomposting but they’ll have an understanding of how things can work, naturally, None of us can do everything naturally but knowing what is possible allows us to incorporate as much as possible into our gardens — and lives.
    Great post, Debra!

  11. such a brilliant idea, we need it to catch on all around the world … we certainly have worm composting at our place and at the community garden … they are invaluable!

  12. Really interesting, Debra. We have a ‘cone’ in the garden which is for food waste. Worms are meant to do the honours, but I fear the cold and wet has done for them. I have been staring at the same leftovers half way doen the barrell for a rather long time. What we need is a long, warm Summer….

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  14. It’s great that your grandkids are excited about the project – they will learn so much and have fun doing it! A worm bin is a “hands-on” introduction to science and ecology. I think red worms are amazing creatures – give them the food scraps and bits of produce people don’t eat and they transform these wastes into the nutrients needed to keep our soil healthy and productive.
    Travel shouldn’t be a problem unless you are gone for an extended period of time. Worms will be happy for several weeks with little more care than houseplants would require. Harvest the castings prior to your leaving, and give the worms plenty of fresh bedding like moistened corrugated cardboard. If you have someone stop in to water houseplants, have them check that the bedding stays moist at the same time.

  15. Advance Happy Birthday! -HA! 😀
    I never left anything on my plate. Seriously, i got so affected by those images of people who are scraping surfaces to get fed and drilling the bottom to get water. I, seriously, from thn on, never get more than what I can chew. I force myself to eat what’s on my plate because of the thought of people not having it.
    By the way, don’t you dare steal the job from Lara. Ahihihi. Joke. 😀

    • I’ll have to let you know how my worm farming comes along, Meg. Thanks for the compliment on the new header…which I’ve already changed! Hahaha! I had trouble with the new format and it just didn’t work well with my blog needs. I’m still playing around. 🙂

    • It’s amazing how many different ways there are to make compost, I’m learning! Thanks for the link to Small House Big Garden, Claire, as I love the idea that there are so many people who enjoy continuing education in all aspects of gardening. How important! The best thing about vermiculture is that from what I can see it requires very little management. I do not need another interest requiring too much time. I’m having trouble just keeping up with the weeds. Since we don’t have any snow, everything keeps growing. We don’t get a rest. LOL!

  16. oh bravo for writing a post on such an important topic Debra. I feel so guilty throwing my vegetable peelings in the trash and
    Mr F wanted us to get into worm composting but we live in a condo and I nayed it because I didn’t know where we’d put the bin.

    • We’ll talk about this, Rosie! Lara emphasized that these are so clean and with no odor, suggesting that they will actually nest very well under the sink. I think that would take a little time to get used to, but in theory I can see how there would be no real impact on cleanliness. I’m already to go, just waiting to pick up my worms! We’ll see… 🙂

  17. Kateshrewsday (who is my daughter), has stolen my comment about the green bins we have over here, Debra.
    Ours uses fungus to eat the contents, producing just water as a product. So we don’t get compost out of the process.
    Here in UK, spring has already started. We have just had snowdrops, now giving way to primroses and daffodils, and the bitter weather has subsided – at least for the time being.
    My vegetable plot – very small – contains plenty of worms as I dig it over. I am to plant onions if I can, in the next day.
    Thanks for your visits Debra.

    • The green bins as you describe them are an interesting concept, John. I’ve never seen anything quite like them, I don’t think. I have so often tried to grow bulbs like daffodils, and then we’ll have a blast of unanticipated heat and they wilt in one day. Perhaps if I had a bit more shade I’d be more adventurous! There’s just something in many of us that drives a need to grow vegetables and plant flowers, working around weather and finding the necessary space. My bins are waiting for the worms to arrive! 🙂

      I’m so delighted to make the connection that you are Kate’s father, and grandfather to those really wonderful young people! I now can better understand where all the talent and creativity I read from Shrewsday Manor was perhaps first encouraged. Thank you for stopping by and saying hello, John!

  18. Fascinating. My daughter is always looking for new teaching ideas for her children, and is interesting in starting a vegetable garden so the kids can not only grow plants, but enjoy the fruits of their labor. Thank you for liking and commenting on my blog.

    • I’m still waiting for my worms to arrive, but I’m all ready for them! I have done enough research to believe this really should be quite simply and not too much responsibility. I should post a progress report after a few months. I’m glad I could share a little thought about worms in the garden and you never know, your daughter may be interested. I thought about if for years before taking the leap. LOL!

  19. Pingback: Vermicomposting Compost using worms

  20. Pingback: You know how hot it is by the way you worry about your worms. | breathelighter

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