Teaching kids about the world of composting can be a challenge, especially if one lives in an apartment or in an environment where a compost bin or pile is not acceptable. The project below is one that can teach kids basic principles of composting while creating a nutrient-rich soil that can be used indoors or out.
To begin the process, get the supplies together for the project. This includes two 10-gallon plastic bins with tight fitting lids, and a clean litter box. You will also need one of the following awl, knitting needle, ice pick, drill, or soldering iron. Nesting material is another item you will need and can be made by using one of the items or any combination of peat moss, aged manure, sawdust, dried grass clippings, hay, shredded cardboard, black and white print only newspaper, and/or leaves. If using leaves make sure they are not acidic such as those from the oak tree.
Start this worm composting or vermiculture project by preparing the bins. The bins have to be altered so that the worms can get oxygen. To do this, heat an awl, ice pick, or knitting needle and push through the bottom of each bin. The bottom of each bin needs to have eight holes equally spaced that are 1/8- to ¼-inch in diameter.
Once the holes in the bottom have been made, the next step is to add holes to the sides and top. The long side of each bin needs to have three holes placed near the top while each side needs two holes. For each top of the bin, make eight equally spaced holes.
After all the holes have been made, now is the time to prepare the bedding material for the worms. If you are only going to use newspaper, first tear the paper into strips. Once the newspaper is torn into strips, place in another container and fill with water. Let the newspaper and water mixture set overnight or longer. After the newspaper has soaked, drain the water off and separate the layers while placing them in the prepared bins. Continue this process until 6-inches of bedding material has been reached.
If using other types of bedding material, such as peat moss, shredded cardboard or hay, simply mist the material until thoroughly damp but not dripping wet. Layer the bedding material using the same process as the newspaper.
Since these bins will leak moisture from the bottom, they will need to be placed inside a clean litter box. The moisture collect inside the litter box can also be used as compost tea, which is an excellent form of fertilizer.
Once the bedding material has been added to the bins, it is time to add the worms. Red worms Eisenia foetida or what is commonly known as red wiggler, brandling or manure worms or Lambricus rubellus are the best worms for worm composting or vermiculture. These worms can be found naturally in an existing compost pile or manure pile. Do not use garden worms. They will not survive in the bin.
Another means of getting these worms is through the mail. There does exist many companies that sell worms for this purpose. Regardless of how one gets the worms, you will need two pounds of worms per bin. Once the worms arrive, place in the bins and cover with a thin layer of garden soil or compost.
Once the worms are in each bin, now it is time to start feeding them. Start feeding your worms one cup of kitchen scraps everyday. To speed up the worm composting process, cut the scraps into 1-inch pieces or run through a food processor.
Placing the scraps inside each bin can occur in two different ways. The first way is just sprinkling the scraps on top of the soil. The other way is to dig a shallow hole in the bed and placing the scraps in the hole. Cover the hole up with the soil. Mark the area with a pencil so that you do not refill the hole.
Continue this process throughout the year. It only takes 60 days for kitchen scraps to turn into compost but factors such as temperature, moisture level, and size of kitchen scraps affect this time period.
When you are ready to harvest some worm casings or worm fertilizer, simply begin the process by feeding the worms again. Place kitchen scraps and new bedding at one end of the bin and let it set for one week. During this time period, the worms will move toward the new food and bedding. After this time period, remove the worm fertilizer from the end without the food and new bedding. Apply the worm casings to indoor plants, outdoor containers and the garden as a form of fertilizer.
Helpful hints when it comes to vermiculture.
Use only dark colored bins. Worms shun away from the light and dark plastic will block the light.
Place the bins in a room that is kept between 50F and 70F.
Keep material in bin moist but not soggy.
Do not use glossy paper as bedding material.
Feed your worms a variety of kitchen scraps, such as apple cores, lettuce leaves, and carrot tops.
Do not use dairy, meat or fish in the bins.
Creating a worm bin or vermiculture is a fun, family-friendly activity that will generate giggles and laughs from all those involved for years. It will also benefit your plants indoors and out with a great source of organic fertilizer. Most of all, this project will allow your children to get their hands dirty all the way up to the elbows inside the wonders of nature.