Most children love playing with wiggly worms. Vermicomposting (a.k.a using worms to break down food waste) is a sure way to get your kid into gardening.
If worms count, my family and I have hundreds of pets. Several months ago we decided to take our composting to the next level. We visited a worm farm (yes, they absolutely exist!) and came home with buckets full o’ worms.
My son, who regularly digs for and plays with worms, was in heaven. He handles the worms with love and care and is always excited to “feed” them. We have taught him about the importance of preventing food waste and how vermicomposting gives back to our environment.
Even if you don’t love worms (yet), there are many benefits to vermicomposting.
First, creating worm compost is a wonderful way to send less food waste to our landfills, where it will decompose and produce methane gas contributing to global warming. Second, it is low maintenance and can be done without a lot of space. Third, worm compost is incredibly nutrient-rich and will help your garden thrive!
Did I mention your children will also LOVE it and be eager to help out?
What You Will Need:
- Red Wiggler Worms: This worm has an amazing digestive system. It is able to turn your food waste into a nutrient-rich mixture known as worm castings (or worm poop!) that is higher in nitrogen than conventionally-produced compost.
- A Worm Bin: Depending on the amount of worms you have and where you will be keeping your worm bin, there are many different considerations to make as far as size and material. Check here for more information. We use two stacked 14-gallon plastic tote bins and keep them inside a spare bathroom in the winter and on our porch in the warmer months. Keep in mind your bins should be opaque (worms don’t love the sunshine) and they should promote proper drainage. We drilled holes into the bottom of the bins our worms live in, and the liquid (or leachate) drips into the bin that it is stacked inside.
- Bedding: Proper bedding keeps your worms happy. They will stay damp (but not too soggy) and well fed. Materials that can be used as bedding are shredded newspaper (NOT glossy papers), small pieces of corrugated cardboard, straw, or shredded leaves. We frequently use peat moss, and we keep a thin layer of garden tarp or shredded cardboard on top.
- Grit: Like chickens, worms have a gizzard and need a little extra assistance to digest their food. You can add a source of grit to your vermicomposting bin every few months. Good ideas include crushed oyster shell or garden soil.
- Worm Food: Months before we knew we were getting worms for composting, we began saving appropriate food scraps in our freezer. Ideas for feeding your worms include most fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags (with any staples removed), moistened, plain cereal and bread products, and dryer lint with natural fibers (such as cotton). Some foods are harmful to worms. Avoid offering them meat, poultry and fish, oily foods (this restricts their breathing), dairy products, heavily processed foods, citrus fruit, radishes, and onions.
Find a reputable vermiculturist.
When looking for worms to purchase, ask around or search online for a reputable supplier. Make sure you are getting the appropriate worms for composting (Eisenia Fetida — red wigglers), and don’t be afraid to ask how they have been raised and what they have been fed.
Make your worms feel right at home.
Introduce worms to their new home slowly. Let them get used to their bedding for a day or two before you feed them anything. Add some food that has already started decomposing at first to aid digestion. Check on your worms regularly to see how much they are eating.
Keep the worms happy.
As you are checking on your worms, take note of foods they accept and those they seem to dislike. Make sure that their home is not too damp. If it is, add more shredded newspaper. You may also wish to “fluff” their bed each week to ensure they can breathe and their home is not too compact. All of these suggestions are wonderful opportunities to get your children involved with keeping an eye on their wiggly pets!
We have found it helpful to place food on one side of our bin so the worms will travel to that side for food. In a few days, once they have moved, you can harvest worm castings from the other side of your bin. Note: It takes approximately 3-6 months of feeding your worms before you have castings available to harvest.
Include the Kiddos.
Composting with worms has been a lot of fun in our household. Your children will look forward to helping, perhaps so much so, that you may have to educate them on handling worms properly. Remind them that worms do not like the sun, and that if they are away from their home too long, they will dry up (my son likes to take a few out for “worm races” on occasion).
Encourage your kids to wash their hands well after handling worms. In addition, teaching children how worms breathe (through their skin) and eat their food (with a crop and a gizzard) are great educational opportunities.