Earthworms AND Bookworms

In 1982, Mary Appelhof published “Worms Eat My Garbage”, a manual for vermicomposting.  It seems like every time I have been in a conversation with someone about worm composting, Appelhof’s book has come up.  I have glanced at the book a number of times, have admired it from afar on other people’s bookshelves and have been given photocopies of particular pages on occasion.  But now, thanks to the Halifax Library, I have the book right here on my nightstand.  The book has made for excellent bedtime reading for over a month now.  Alas, it is time for me to return the book to the library so that another curious composter can have a turn.  Before I drop off the book, I’d love to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

Top 5 things Mary Appelhof has taught me:

1. Worms need moisture.  Mary describes worms as “breathing” through their skin. For the exchange of air to happen, their skin must be moist. To ensure this, you should add water to the bedding (usually shredded paper) of your worm bin when you start and any time it feels a bit dry. We started a worm bin here at the EAC a couple months ago. We riped up come used paper, placed it in the worm bin and poured water over it.

2. The Sex Life of Worms.  Although an earthworm has both sexes, they mate. Why you might ask. Good question.

3. Magic.  Your worms will not only transform food scraps into castings but also the bin bedding. Mary warns that there will come a time when so much of the bedding in the bin becomes castings that the worm population will suffer. Mary says – assuming you don’t want to sacrifice your worm population – you must clean out your bin, harvest castings and start anew with fresh bedding every three months or so.

4. Harvesting.  Mary outlines a few methods for harvesting the worm castings. Here is one simple (no-tech) suggestion: Dump out your vermicompost bin on top of a plastic sheet. Shine a light over the area. The worms will move away from the light. Create a number of dirt piles. The worms will move into the centre of the closest pile. You can now harvest the castings beginning with the top and edges of these piles, forcing the worms deeper and deeper into each pile. Have new bedding ready to go and place it in your emply bin. Water the bedding and then add your worms.

5. Worm Sensory.  Worms don’t have eyes but are sensitive to light, particularly at their front end. (Which end is the front end?)

Mary’s book also includes a chapter entitled “What are some other critters in my worm bin?” This is an interesting read – especially for us bug lovers!

Yours in food, Keltie

3 thoughts on “Earthworms AND Bookworms

  1. I built a worm tower. Less sorting of worms from castings. When the food is eaten, they climb up to the next level through holes in the bottom of the tote. Been keeping worms for years now. Very quiet pets 🙂 Not much point in naming them though – can’t tell them apart.

  2. All I did was take 4 rubbermaid totes and drill holes in the bottom of 3 of them (about the size of a pencil around). You also want some smaller holes around the top of the bin for air circulation. The one without holes goes on the bottom always and catches the liquid which is fantastic for watering your plants with! Then you stack the totes inside each other. Put the food and bedding and worms in the 2nd bottom tote and once that one is pretty full work your way up. After a while, the worms in the lower levels will make their way up to the food and the lower ones are just casting.

    Basically something like this except I used 2 more bins stacked on top:

    It does take a long time for the worms to work their way up, but I used the bottom most bin a few weeks ago and I only had to pull out maybe a dozen worms. Before (using a one bin system) I would spend at least an hour separating the worms from compost by hand – even if you lay them out and let them hide from the light.

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