by David Goldstein
Ventura County Public Works Agency

Backyard compost bins are great tools for turning yard clippings into valuable soil amendment, but a worm box is better for composting food scraps.

As part of Public Works Week celebrations that transformed the Government Center parking lot F into “interactive learning centers” highlighting Public Works projects, I taught worm composting to hundreds of school children and a few dozen adults.

To keep the interest of the children, I organized newspaper tearing competitions and worm races. Newspaper torn into strips (approximately 1 inch wide) and soaked in water make good bedding for worms, so half the kids tore paper horizontally and half vertically. They soon learned that newspapers tear well only in one direction, since paper fibers align vertically.

Competing for pencils made from recycled newspaper, student volunteers also selected worms for racing. Worms hate light because they must stay moist to breathe through their skin, so they dive under coffee grounds and shredded paper when placed on top of a worm box’s collected materials. The first worm completely covered won a pencil for its human partner. This teaches potential vermicomposters to keep worm boxes moist.

Besides bedding and food scraps, people wanting to start vermicomposting need the right kind of worms and container. Red wigglers and dung worms (Lumbricus rubellus and Eisenia fetida) feed at all levels of a container, can eat the equivalent of half their body weight each day, tolerate heat and cold, and survive without attention for weeks, provided the box they are in retains moisture and contains enough food and bedding.

Plastic boxes are good for retaining moisture and keeping worms on-site. Stackable systems, convenient for harvesting the “castings” (worm poop/fertilizer) retail for over $100 (minus a subsidy from Ventura or Oxnard). Alternatively, you can use a plastic storage box with drilled drainage holes. If you do not have a shaded spot where you can place the box over soil, you can place the box on top of an upside down, over-sized lid.

If this article inspires you to keep an eye on the environment by vermicomposting, contact me at 658-4312.

Worms available:
Armstrong Garden Center, Thousand Oaks, 497-9223
Green Thumb, Ventura, 642-8517
Peach Hill Soils and Landscape, Somis, (call before coming) 529-6164
Resource Conservation Partners (a non-profit), Ventura, 889-0529. (Camarillo, but Internet and wholesale only)