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Worms at Work

Worms don't just make the ideal fish bait, they are also voracious consumers of dead organic material, which they transform into humus, a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer and soil conditioner. The practice of worm composting, called vermicomposting, is catching on across the world…once people get over the "yuck factor."

Home gardeners have used vermicomposting to create healthy, chemical-free soil and the trend is now moving from the backyard garden to the corporate world. Californians - ever at the forefront of environmentally-conscious and progressive techniques - have used this information and applied it to the workplace with impressive results. Most notably, San Francisco recycled more than they threw away last year but Los Angeles and Sacramento are treading new ground with their vermicomposting practices.

At the Department of Public Works building in Los Angeles, workers have installed plastic bins filled with worms and decomposing, organic matter. The worms chew up all kinds of food scraps, like apple cores and old sandwiches and the employees are then given the opportunity to take the newly composted material home to fertilize their gardens and house plants.

At the Cal EPA complex in Sacramento, worm composting has become an accepted and revered practice - they even have a waiting list for the worm bins. The employees also compete to see who can create the most productive worm bin. Hundreds of thousands of worms process some five tons of food scraps per year for the complex.

Andrew Hurst, who oversees the program at Cal EPA explains "Worms don't like ranch dressing,'' and says they also dislike bologna sandwiches and avoid fatty foods, meat and dairy products, as well as carbohydrates, eating bread only in moderation. However, coffee grounds and rotting fruit and vegetables go over well.

California's Integrated Waste Management board is seriously pushing for worm composting as organic materials make up approximately two-thirds of the state's waste stream. That adds up to tons of material that is dumped annually in landfills where it emits harmful greenhouse gases.

If you're interested in vermicomposting, be sure to buy your worms from a supplier to ensure you get the right kind. It turns out the earthworms you might find in your garden aren't hearty enough to survive life in a compost bin. Instead, experts recommend a type called eisenia fetida, or red wigglers. These worms do not make burrows like most worms; instead they consume material at the top. Amazingly, they can eat half their body weight in food a day and one pound of red worms eats about one half pound of food a day! Red wigglers eat all organic material, including cotton clothing. To start a bin, experts recommend creating bedding out of shredded, damp cardboard and newspaper, adding a handful of sand for grit necessary for the worms' digestion, and poking air holes in the bin for ventilation.

You can harvest your humus after approximately three to five months and use it to make your roses brighter and vegetables taste better!

Here is a photographic description of how to compost using worms.

    Fun worm facts:

  • Wormlike creatures have inhabited the earth for more than 500,000 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and continue to thrive all over the globe. They have been very helpful in preserving historical material thanks to their habit of burying matter from the top of the soil. They have notoriously buried old coins and ruins.
  • The Oregon Worm can grow up to three feet long and emits an odor of lilies when handled. It burrows about five feet into the ground and has not been officially sited since the 1980s.
  • In Australia, farmers can hear gurgling sounds from underground as the Giant Gippsland tunnels through. This giant worm can stretch up to 10 feet long!
  • New Zealand is home to the North Auckland Worm which emits a light so bright at night that you could read by it.
  • Ice Worms inhabit colder climates, thriving at temperatures near freezing. They are able to move through solid ice with ease and if heated, they turn into goo. NASA spent $200,000 last year to study this worm's tolerance for cold. They could help scientists in their search for life on cold planets and could improve organ transportation techniques during transplants.


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