You might know Kris Bordessa from her fabulous books for kids: Team Challenges, which is a book of cooperative trust-building games, Tools of the Ancient Greeks, and Great Colonial American Projects You Can Build Yourself, to name a few. Or you might recognize her as a travel resource for all things affordable in Hawaii. Kris (whom I’ve known for years in cyberspace but never met in person) has started a new project. Her new blog, Attainable Sustainable: Reviving the Lost Art of Self-Sufficiency, helps readers take the small steps towards doing more projects themselves and living more conscientious lives, fostering change without getting overwhelmed (Holly, are you reading this?!).
Kris has generously agreed to share her expertise with us at Mothering Outside the Lines. I’ve always liked the idea of starting a worm bin. Now Kris Bordessa shows us how.
Composting: Good for the Earth, Fun for the Family
By Kris Bordessa
Composting is a great way to create something wonderful – rich soil amendment – from something that would normally end up in our landfills. It can save families a substantial amount of money by reducing the amount of trash they need to dispose of and composting can even save water.
One fun and easy way for families to compost is with worms. Officially known as vermicomposting, this method involves feeding your food waste to red wigglers. They’ll munch their way through banana peels and apple cores and leave you with worm castings (a nice word for worm poop) that can be used for boosting your soil’s nutrition.
Composting with worms is easy and a great family project. While there are some really nice vermicomposting bins [http://amzn.to/hRxIFt] on the market, it’s easy enough to create a bin yourself – not to mention cheaper.
Two same-sized containers such as a Rubbermaid storage container or smaller shoebox sized storage container
A bucket full of water
Red wigglers: If you know someone who has a worm bin, hit them up for some worms to get yours started. If not, they are available on Amazon.com.
How to Make the Bin:
Use a drill with a ¼” bit to drill four to six drainage holes in the bottom of one of the containers. Drill several more holes around the sides of the container for good air circulation.
Set the drilled container inside the one without holes. This will catch any moisture that may leak from the worm bin. If you plan to keep your bin outside where water drainage isn’t a problem, you can skip this step.
Shred newspaper, dip it into the bucket of water, and drain off excess water. Put the newspaper into the top container to a depth of 3-4”.
Put your worms under the damp newspaper along with a small amount (say, two cups) of kitchen waste. (Note that you can’t just use common garden worms; you really do need red wigglers.)
Cover the worm bin with the lid and let the worms get to work!
How to Maintain the Bin:
Check your worms every couple of days at the start. If you see that they’ve eaten most of the scraps, tuck more under the newspaper.
Maintain a moisture level similar to that of a damp sponge. Use a spray bottle to keep the newspaper moist.
Don’t give the worms lots of citrus; the high acid content makes citrus a poor choice for vermicomposting. Also, avoid meat – it will stink.
As your worms make themselves at home, you’ll get a better idea of how much they’ll eat. Feed them every two weeks (give or take) by tucking scraps under the damp newspaper. When the newspaper starts to disappear (the worms will eat that, too!), simply shred more and add it to the top of the bin.
Harvest Worm Castings (that is, the worm poop that becomes rich brown soil):
When you start to see what looks like a thick layer of dirt at the bottom of the bin, you can think about harvesting some castings for your garden. With this do-it-yourself bin, it’s not automatic like it might be with a pre-made bin, but it’s still pretty easy (and kids will love to help!). Simply turn the contents of the worm bin out onto several sheets of newspaper in the sunshine. The worms will try to get away from the light and dig deeper into the pile. Carefully scrape off the top layer of rich brown castings, then give the worms a chance to dig deeper. Continue until you’re mostly left with uneaten scraps and worms. Lift the whole mess – newspaper and all – back into the worm bin, add fresh scraps and newspaper, and the worms will get right back to work.
My worm bin has been active for about a year now, and I’m doing some experimenting. For instance, I soaked an entire phone book in water and used it in place of newspaper on the surface. The worms seem to love the space between the pages, but it’s not breaking down as fast as I thought it would. Our worm bin can’t possibly keep up with my family’s kitchen scraps, but they are multiplying so quickly that I’ve wondered about making an even larger bin. Meanwhile, I’ve added a handful of worms to our passive composting bins to help speed along the process.
Ready for the photos (they’re sort of gross)?!