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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday at Estle Schipp Farm: I got worms on purpose!

Is vermicomposting or worm farming part of your hobby farm yet?  I hope so, but if it is not, I’ll let you in on a wonderful way to spin your food scraps into black gold – Rumpelstiltskin not required! 

  If you remember your fairy tales, you know that Rumpelstiltskin could spin straw into gold.  You have the power to do almost the same thing in a worm bin at your own home but the outcome will be a beautifully rich, black compost to support your gardening efforts.  Nutrient rich soil provides a healthy medium to grow food with the highest levels of nutrition for you, your family and friends and to donate to your local food pantry.   

In my opinion, the best resource for information on starting a worm bin at your own homestead is the book:  Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.  It is a complete resource for how to set up your bins, which worms to purchase, proper feeding and harvesting the vermicompost and worm castings to use in your garden.  I highly recommend it.  

There are several options outlined in the book for types of bins so you can decide which works best for you.  My choice is the Worm Factory 360 from UncleJim’s Worm Farm.  I chose this because it is easy to stack bins one atop another and it has a spigot to allow the excess moisture to drain away. 

I started with one pound of red wigglers and they are thriving.  I have harvested two bins of the vermicompost and castings so far and top dressed my perennial beds this year.  Castings are worm poop.  Vermicompost is the mixture of castings, bedding and other organic matter in stages of breaking down.   Worm castings and vermicompost won’t burn tender seedlings or transplants like traditional chemical fertilizers can.  In fact, sometimes seeds even sprout right in the worm bin.  LOL (Here is a hint:  if you want your avocado pits to grow, put them in your bin instead of in a cup of water - they sprout perfectly in that environment.)

Here are some answers to questions you may have: 

Why should I become a worm farmer?
·         You want to compost your kitchen food wastes
·         You have a garden and want to add nutrition to support healthy plants
·         You cannot have a traditional compost bin where you live

How many worms should I start with?
·         Generally, one pound is a good starting point
·         Worms will multiply quickly but will self-limit reproduction according to environmental factors (you will not be over-run with worms!)

What do I feed worms?
·         Fruit or vegetable trimmings or waste (citrus in only limited quantities, please)
·         Coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea bags
·         Plate scrapings including grains
·         Egg shells

What should I not feed worms?
·         I do not feed meat or bones since I want to be sure to avoid odors
·         No pet waste
·         Nothing that is non-biodegradable (like wire twist ties or rubber bands)

How often should I feed my worms?
·         1 pound of worms may eat up to a half pound of kitchen waste per day
·         I generally feed twice a week but sometimes more often– I keep a compost pail in the kitchen to collect the scraps and when it needs emptied, they get fed

Can you over feed the worms?
·         Yes, overloading the bin can cause odors
·         If, for example, you have an extra-large amount of kitchen waste – like during harvest or canning season—you can start a temporary bin in a separate container with a couple handfuls of worms from your main bin

How much time does caring for the 
worms take?
·         Daily care is not necessary
·         Feed about twice weekly
·         Offer a new bin with fresh bedding about every 2 months

What do I do with the vermicompost 
and castings?
·         Put some in your soil mix to start seedlings
·         Transplants also benefit from the addition to your soil mix
·         Top dress your houseplants and flower or garden beds
·         The liquid that drains from the worm bin is also a great fertilizer

I look forward to hearing from you if you already are a worm farmer or want to become one.  Please email me if you have any questions. 

 For my MaryJanesFarm Sisters, you can earn a beginner merit badge in Garden Gate:  Gaining Ground by starting your own worm farm – I have named mine Rumpelstiltskin’s Ranch of Black GoldJ    

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss starting your 2015 garden by the Winter Sown method. 

Peace be with you,

Star Schipp    

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