A GROWING CONCERN: Worm your way into vermiculture

SINCE I PROMISED, as a New Year’s resolution, to give all you gardeners more eco-friendly information in order to better both your yard and planet, here is an article from 13 years ago that perfectly fulfills that promise.

It is a very timely article on the green, sustainable, highly productive, recycling dependent and useful garden practices known as vermiculture.

Vermiculture is also known as vermicomposting. Both of these words share the root “vermi” meaning worm, and thus these wigglers are the essence of this fabulous garden technique.

This fact was made crystal clear to me because everywhere I assisted and planted, numerous worms would squirm about as the soil was disturbed in preparation for the new plant, herb, tree or vegetable.

Numerous studies and various researchers have confirmed and demonstrated that worm castings (vermicomposting) provide for greater aeration, porosity, more moisture holding capacity (field capacity), better drainage and improved soil structure over soils that are conventionally tilled or are composted normally.

In 1980, the first extensive research program into the subject was conducted by Clyde Edwards and Ian Burrows, examining worms and their castings and their effect on plant growth and as a plant medium. The conclusion was vermiculture provides for a superb and superior plant growth medium, especially when mixed with peat or other organic products in order to change the slightly alkaline worm compost to the ever-so-slightly acidic (pH 6.4 – 7.8) condition that many garden plants prefer.

Worm-composting box

Flowers bloomed earlier, production of edibles was significantly increased and tilth of the soil was greatly improved by using worm castings over regular compost. But the benefits don’t stop with greatly improved topsoil, but rather expand out to your home, community and planet as well. Using worms to decompose food waste, garden clippings and your lawn waste reduces garbage disposal costs, saves, stores and conserves water, decreases odor and pest control, and reduces carbon emissions and gas consumption by not having your material trucked off or your gas used in pickup and delivery of soil additives.

It will also greatly reduce or completely eliminate the fertilizer you need, and the nutrients from vermiculture run off less freely into our waterways than conventional fertilizers.

First, one must decide on the box, bin or trays to be used.

Wooden boxes are the best for a variety of reasons, most importantly because they will keep the worms cooler in summer, warmer in the winter and, wood being porous, will breathe, which is highly beneficial.

A wooden bin should be constructed using untreated, non-aromatic (no cedar, please) lumber.

The size of the bin also varies with the amount of food or waste your household and contributing neighbors have to donate each week to the hungry worms.

A very general rule to observe is 1-square-foot of bin surface area for each pound of organic garbage produced per week.

An average family unit of two people produces about 4 pounds of garden waste per week, so a bin with dimensions of 2-feet-by-2-feet-by-10-inches would be adequate.

The easiest method for beginners is the culture box method, and one will need several boxes stacked atop each other with a good 6-inches of space between them for proper ventilation.

Good drainage is a must and therefore numerous holes should be drilled in the bottom of each box. They should be around ¼-inch in diameter.

Preferably, you would stack four or five boxes for varying stages of decomposition, and to accommodate your worms from babies to breeders, and then the surplus population for seeding in and around your plants, beds and gardens.

Next week, we will wrap up this slithering topic by going through how to mix and prepare your worm-growing medium, how to add garbage waste and how to use the various boxes and maintenance.

But for now, one needs only to decide if they want to conserve the Peninsula, enhance their soils, grow better plants and have ample bait for fishing trips with your kids or grandkids.

And that will happen.

Please, stay well all!

________

Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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