Monday, July 16, 2012

Vermiculture: Indoor Composting and Organic Soil Improvement

Maybe you’ve never heard the term vermiculture, if so don’t feel bad, many experienced gardeners are unfamiliar with this organic practice. I think vermiculture is fascinating; simply put it’s the process of composting kitchen waste with earthworms. We’re not talking about common night crawlers, but special varieties of worms such as red worms, and red wigglers.

Okay, I’ll admit to owning an ant farm when I was a kid, but this is so much more practical. Vermiculture, or vermicomposting as its also known is more like beekeeping; yes I’ve given that a try too. But just imagine for a second, you feed the worms your leftover garbage and kitchen scraps. The worms then quickly eat all those leftovers, sparing you the hassles of taking out the garbage.

And here’s the best part, while the composting worms are disposing of your garbage, they’re also producing a terrific organic fertilizer and soil conditioner called earthworm castings. Well, okay… the term earthworm casting is just a nice name for earthworm excrement. I don’t know who thought up the name earthworm castings, but I guess it makes sense if you think it through.

You may have seen worm castings for sale at your local garden center and didn’t realize what you were dealing with, but now you know. Don’t worry, earthworm castings are clean, odorless, and sterile… trust me on this one. You don’t need gloves or a shovel to handle them, and they are wonderful for improving your soil quality and for promoting the growth and health of all your plants.

So you can purchase bags of earthworm castings to use around the garden or if you’re a little more adventurous you can set up an “earthworm farm” and produce your own. The farm is actually just a worm bin that can be set up indoors or outdoors depending on the climate.

Vermicomposting isn’t complicated, but the worms are living creatures, and have certain requirements. For example they don’t tolerate extremely hot living conditions, and they also won’t survive freezing. The worms are pretty healthy eaters, so while eggshells are fine, don’t try slipping any meat, fats, or greasy foods into their diet.

If this sounds a little like having a pet, well it is. Not terribly demanding, but they do require a little of your attention to make sure that things run smoothly. In exchange they’ll be hard at work performing their community service to save the environment and to help you grow a better garden.

Kids love vermicomposting and some schools even include vermiculture as part of the curriculum. For those of you wishing that they had grown up with a worm bin instead of that ant farm, it’s not too late to try one out. You can find plans for building homemade bins or you can purchase fancy multi-level bins over the Internet. And unlike those ant farms, you can have these bins delivered complete with the composting worms.

If you’re up for the challenge and interested in recycling your family’s kitchen waste into a valuable fertilizer and soil conditioner, try your hand at vermiculture. During long winters, it may even help to pass the time until you can get back out into the garden.

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Part 1 - The Secret Garden Audiobook by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Chs 01-10)

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