May 20, 2008

Teach Kids About Composting — With Wiggly Worms!

Here's an idea: Start a project with the kids that will teach them something important about how the Earth sustains itself. Set up a container for vermicomposting. (Yes, this project involves worms. But keep reading.)

Vermicomposting turns kitchen waste into compost. You put worms in a container, provide the right environment, then toss your leftovers in with them. And the worms do their job, eating their way through the scraps and, as time goes by, turning all that waste into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Why vermicomposting? It reduces waste. It makes you more mindful of how much you throw away. It's a project the whole family can do together. And in a few months, you'll have compost for your garden.

Oh, try it. It's a little icky to think about, but your kids will never forget that you let them play with worms.

You can find a variety of how-to guides and videos online; just search for "vermicomposting." We borrowed these tips from a local eco-expert, Lori De La Cruz, who created a "Compost-ology" guide for the city of Euless, Texas. (You can find the "Compost-ology" guide _ and more information and tips for vermicomposting _ at


Worms: Regular earthworms don't do the trick; for this, you need red wiggler worms. You'll find them at garden and supply stores that focus on organic gardening, or you can order them online ( sells a pound of worms _ that's about 1,000 of them _ for $19, including shipping.)

A plastic container: One that's 16-by-20 inches is best. Make sure the lid is tight.

A drill: To drill holes in the container.

Old newspapers: To shred and fill the container.

Soil: To fill the container.

A cool, dark place: To store the container. A kitchen cabinet is perfect. (No, the worms will not get out.) Getting started

1. Drill a few holes in your container so air can get in. After all, the worms have to breathe. Use a small drill bit so the worms can't crawl right through them. Drill a row of holes _ spaced every couple of inches _ around the sides of the bin, about three inches from the top.

2. Place a couple of inches of soil along the bottom of the container.

3. Now tear up some old newspapers _ shred them into long, thin strips _ and place them in the bottom of the container. The paper needs to be moist, so spray or drip water on the pieces until every strip is damp. Fill up the container with damp newspaper until it's about two-thirds full.

4. Add the worms. Pour them in. A pound is perfect for a container this size.

5. Add a couple of inches of "dry" newspaper strips on top. Now what?

You're ready to put your worms to work. Put about a pound of food scraps into the container every five to seven days. (Start out with less the first couple of weeks, just to give your worms a chance to feel at home.) Each time you do this, you'll push aside the newspaper bedding to make a space, deposit the scraps, then cover them over again with paper. Add some dry paper as needed on the top.

What to compost? Worms eat such things as eggshells, banana peels, orange peels, coffee grounds (and filters), plate scrapings and leftovers. They "don't" eat meat, bones, dairy products or oils and sauces.

It'll take six to nine months for you to have a decent amount of compost. That's when you can dump out the container's contents and separate the worms from the compost. (Worms hate light, so they'll crawl to the middle of the piles.) When you've harvested the compost, start over with the worms, fresh paper and more food scraps.