One thing that I really want to grasp a hold of this winter is composting. It is the perfect time to start and learn. You can’t garden (well, you can, but most are taking a break) AND it is something that you can do to benefit the garden come spring.
Not only do I want to begin composting but I also want to involve the kids as well. This guest post by Chris is the perfect way to get inspired! Teaching the kids about earthworms is a major to do this winter! Below is the perfect activity for this. See what we can learn from earthworms!
Charles Darwin once wrote: “It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world.”
Now, what animal would you guess he was speaking of? Dogs? Apes? Dinosaurs?
Would you believe that he was talking about… earthworms? Yes, that’s right – slimy, squirmy, segmented worms! We all know Darwin was a smart guy… but what huge importance could he possibly have seen in those creepy crawlies?
Earthworms are like nature’s own recyclers. All day long they burrow underground, eating old plant and animal materials and magically turning them into healthy, nutrient-rich soil. Plants need good soil to grow, and animals – including people – need plants to eat. . Who would have guessed that those squiggly little guys were such a crucial part of the food chain?
Charles Darwin kept earthworm farms all over his house. That’s a little extreme… maybe just start with one! Studying these unique creatures with your child is a great science fair project and bonding experience between the natural world and you.
Worm farming is a gateway into composting and gardening – getting a look at exactly what is going on under the topsoil can foster a love for sustainable healthy living that can last a lifetime!
- A clear plastic container with a lid, like a:
- Pretzel/snack container
- Two liter soda bottle, etc.
- Note: if your container doesn’t have a lid, you can use plastic wrap.
- A mixture of bedding:
- shredded newspaper/cardboard
- dried leaves
- Worm food, like compostable:
- Fruit scraps – no onions or citrus
- Vegetable scraps
- Crushed egg shells
- Coffee grounds
1. Get the farm ready.
- Poke small holes in the top, bottom and sides of your container–your farm needs to aerate and drain excess moisture.
- Set the farm on some rocks and over a tray to collect the drainage.
- If you’re using a narrow container like a two liter bottle, cut some off the top so that you can easily fill and re-close it. You’ll be adding food routinely!
2. Make it comfy.
- A good place to keep your farm is in a warm, dark area such as under the kitchen sink. Earthworms don’t like sunlight… they live underground, after all! Wrap your container in black paper to keep it dark inside. Don’t put your farm outside in cold weather as worms will die if frozen.
- Wet your bedding mix and fill the container ¾ full. Put a layer of moist newspaper on top to keep the moisture in. Earthworms breathe through their skin and need moisture to do so.
3. Find some worms.
- Be gentle! Earthworms can re-grow their tails, but not their heads.
- Earthworms come out in impressive numbers after it rains. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why this is, but they have some ideas:
- They may be looking for mates.
- They may think the rain’s vibrations are a predator, like a mole, and are trying to escape.
- They may be taking the opportunity to quickly migrate while the surface is extra moist.
4. Keep your wormy friends happy!
- Earthworms don’t have teeth, so break up their food into small pieces. Bury the food in the bedding to prevent smell and fruit flies.
- Always keep the bedding at ¾ the volume of the container.
- Earthworms eat their weight in food every day! Can you imagine if you did that? Only add enough food that they can eat in a few days.
- Dark, crumbly worm castings – worm poo – will begin showing up at the bottom of your bin. With all that food they eat, what do you expect? Begin feeding on one side only. After a couple of weeks, the worms will shift to that side. Move all the bedding to that wormy side, and remove the castings. Add new moistened bedding to the empty side, and begin feeding there. Do this every couple of months.
Worm castings are phenomenal plant food! Use 1/3 castings to 2/3 soil, or make a very diluted mixture to water plant and flower seeds.
In this small worm farm, your child can see the serious power of an active compost pile. Now, take it to the next level by composting all your organic waste, every day!
- Fruit & veggie scraps
- Crushed egg shells
- Fresh grass clippings/plant trimmings
- Tea bags/leaves
- Dried leaves
- Wood shavings
- Nuts & shells
- Coffee grounds/filters
- Shredded paper boxes/cartons
- Cooled wood ashes
- Dryer lint
- Labeled “compostable” packaging
To prevent smell and toxicity to microbes,
- Pet poop
- Meat and bones
- Acidic scraps, including citrus
- Diseased plants
- Wet grass
- Coal/charcoal ashes
- Anything inorganic
Caring for a nutrient-rich raised bed garden with your child can also open the door to big life skill conversations about environmental sustainability, nutrition, self-sufficiency and money saving. Inspiring and fostering a love for nature and a curiosity for its silent inner workings is a beautiful gift… even if it starts out a bit slimy and squirmy!
Chris Long is a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. He has been helping customers since 2000 and and provides advice on variety of gardening topics ranging from raised bed gardens to lawn care to composting.
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