MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 18, 2013

Change scraps into fertilizer, soil conditioner

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Worm composting is an easy way for home gardeners to transform food scraps into an organic fertilizer and soil conditioner.

There are several ways to set up a small system using a single or several inexpensive plastic bins. The single bin project can be a family activity done with children. More complex projects require more tools and supervision.

Since red worms (red wrigglers) live in the top 6-inches of soil, a shallow container like a kitty litter box makes a good starter setup. The lid is essential and has to either fit loosely or have holes in it so air will circulate. A simple bin for under a tree outdoors could be made of a trash can with holes drilled in top, bottom and sides.

The worm hotel built by Jon Stoodley is made of several plastic tubs with holes cut out of the centers.

“I prefer the stacked-bins because as we add more food and paper at the top, the castings fall to the bottom, keeping the worm activity and the castings separated,” said Stoodley. “With this method, the castings in the bottom bin dry out and can be easily scooped out to be directly added to the garden.”

Stoodley built the worm hotel using treated two-by-four lumber for the base, solid plastic bins, 3/8-inch threaded rod, nuts and large fender washers.

Here’s how Stoodley made the bin in the photo.

Make a footing with two-by-fours.

Drill four holes in the foot and attach one bin and secure it with the rods, washers, and nuts.

Cut the center out of the rest of the bins so castings will flow to the bottom. Add bins, turning them 180 degrees from the one below, attaching with nuts and washers as you build up.

“By turning the bins 180 degrees each time, you are giving yourself access to the castings from the sides,” Stoodley said.

There are photos on my blog www.allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com with the step-by-step instructions for building Stoodley’s worm hotel.

To make the worm’s bed, put damp cardboard and newspaper strips on the bottom of a single pan worm bin and on a few levels in a worm hotel. Add a small amount of kitchen scraps cut into pieces and buried in the paper.

Red wiggler worms are available from bait shops and garden centers. Also, we share worms with anyone local who is setting up a new bin. Contact me at mollyday1@gmail.com if you want some.

Put the worms on the paper and turn a light on the surface so the worms burrow down into their new bedding. They eat the most when temperatures range from 55 to 77 F but they live in cold and hot climates by burrowing down and staying close to each other in a dormant state.

Twice a week add more damp paper strips and food waste. Putting in too much will pack the bedding and eliminate air from the bin. Each pound of worms eats a half-pound of food per day.

Harvest the compost by changing the bedding every four to six months. Push the contents of the bin to one side and put torn strips of moist newspaper on the empty side. Add food to that side and stop putting food on the old side. The worms will move over and you can take out the finished castings.

The bins can be dumped out. Shine a light on the surface of the contents and the worms will burrow so you can safely remove the top layer.

“The worms are so efficient at eating every little bit of food and paper on all levels that it is unbelievable,” Stoodley said.