Stuff rots, right? Yes, eventually compost happens, but I've been wanting to learn more about the "right" way to do it. We've had a compost bin and lots of compost piles ever since we moved out here, but we haven't made a lot of compost. Stuff takes years to rot if you just let nature take its course. For the past few years, I've received a flyer about a vermicomposting seminar held in the winter, but the timing has never worked out. This year, I was excited when I realized that I had no excuse to not attend. Not only did I attend five hours of instruction on composting, but I made my own worm bin, and I brought home worms!
Composting Symposium: Vermiculture and Beyond was today in Springfield, IL. When I arrived, I was giddy with excitement. Really, it's kind of embarrassing to admit -- I mean, seriously, who'd be excited about worms? As it turned out, nearly 100 people from around Illinois were as excited as me (or almost as excited) about starting to vermicompost.
Over the past seven years, I've started raising all sorts of animals, but they've all been vertebrates, so this really is an adventure into a whole new world. Worms are not only invertebrates, but they're also hermaphrodites. As it turns out, they don't reproduce nearly as quickly as I'd expected. They lay a cocoon, which only holds two to seven baby worms.
My worm bin is made from a plastic bin that you buy at a discount store, and someone had drilled holes in it for air circulation. Then we taped landscaping fabric over the big holes, because the worms would crawl out if given the chance -- and then they'd die from dehydration because they wouldn't remember how to get back home. You need to have holes in the bin because worms need air circulation and although they need water, they can't have too much, so the bin should have drain holes on the bottom, which is why it sits on an upside-down lid. I also need to add some kind of legs, so the holes in the bottom can properly drain.
The worms were packed in wet newspaper with plenty of leaves to eat during transportation. Before picking them up, I filled my bin half full of shredded newspaper that I had to wet, which was more of a chore than it first appeared. We used spray bottles to wet the newspaper, and it took forever to get it wet enough. The package of worms was a little smaller than a football, which I placed in the middle of the wet newspaper for the two-hour ride home. After arriving home, I unwrapped the newspaper and let the little wigglers have some fresh air. I plunked them into the midst of their new home and gave them their first meal: coffee grounds, strawberry tops and onion scraps.
I only wish I'd started sooner, so that I could use the castings as I'm starting seeds this spring. A grad student from Ohio showed the results of his research that showed plants with 20% vermicompost grew faster and bigger than soil without vermicompost. Also, the plants have greater resistance to disease and insects. Even better news is that the vermicastings can go farther if you use them to make a compost tea, and it has the same benefits as using pure vermicastings. It's a win-win situation, and it's supposedly very low tech. One man said it was easier than having an ant farm, so we should be able to handle it.