Composting Worms close up. Photo by C,.Quish

Composting Worms close up. Photo by C,.Quish

The basics of keeping a worm farm are easy. Explaining why you would want to have one is a little harder to justify to people, particularly family members. Having been a worm farmer for over twenty years, my family finally just accepts and then ignores the fact there is a bin in the laundry room holding more than dirty laundry.

Reasons I keep worms:

  • Composting indoors in the winter and all year round. (No smell)
  • For the the rich castings they produce for plants.
  • They are a very low input pet.
  • Free fish bait.
  • No yard needed.

To get started, a container, bedding and food is needed. For one pound of worms, a plastic bin two feet by two feet and at least eight inches high will work. Any size will really do as the worms are not that picky. Choose  one with light blocking sides as clear ones let in light. Worms do not like light.

Worm Bin with tray to catch drips. Photo by C.Quish

Worm Bin with tray to catch drips. Photo by C.Quish

Bin top with air holes drilled. Photo C.Quish

Bin top with air holes drilled. Photo C.Quish

Drill air and drainage holes through the plastic top, sides and bottom. The vegetable scraps will be of high water content, releasing moisture as they decompose to the point that the worms can digest it. This liquid can and will drain out of the bottom. Place a catch tray of any type under the bin to protect floor and surfaces. This drained water can be diluted in a watering can to be used on plants as a fertilizer.

Newsprint for bedding, photo C.Quish

Newsprint for bedding, photo C.Quish

Fill the bin with shredded newspaper, no glossy sections, colored and black and white print is OK. The worms will live in and eat this paper. Moisten the paper with water so it is as wet as a wrung out sponge. Worms breathe through their skin which must be kept moist. Feed the worms by pulling back some of the newspaper to bury the food scraps. The worms will find it. One pound of worms will eat one pound of food wastes each day! The food will not disappear right away. It will need to decompose a bit first. All food scrapes can be used except meat, dairy, oils, bones or pet waste.

The type of worm to use is not native to the Northeast, nor can you dig up worms from the yard and expect them to live in this confined environment. Red Wigglers is the common name of the composting worm best suited to life in a bin. Their Latin name is Eisenia foetida. They are available at bait shops and online. Ask for them by the Latin name to be sure of their identity. The Worm Ladies of Charleston, Rhode Island is a reputable seller of the correct composting worms. www.wormladies.com

Not all worms are alike. Nightcrawlers prefer to live a solitary life, alone in long tube going several feet deep. They only come out at night to feed and mate, retreating back alone into its hole by daybreak. Several other worms live in our soils, but they feed at different levels and move to different areas to find food. These mobile worms will not like living in a confined space either.

Eisenia foetida close-up. Photo by C.Quish

Eisenia foetida close-up. Photo by C.Quish

Harvest the castings after most of the bedding food has been transformed into dark brown, crumbly material. Dump the bin on a tarp outside on a bright day. Worms do not like the light and will move downward into the dark. Scrape off the top inch or so of castings to watch the worms move further down. Pretty soon you  will have a pile of wormless castings  and a pile of worms. Put the ball of squiggling worms back into the bin with new strips of newspaper moistened with water and begin the process again. The harvested casting can be used in the garden around the plants and worked into the soil. Your plants will thank you for it.

-Carol Quish

Starting on October 8th, 24 adult students will begin their training to become UConn Master Composters at the New Haven Cooperative Extension Center in North Haven. So just what is a Master Composter you ask and why do we need them anyway?

From 2010 data (I could not get newer federal data because of the shutdown), it was estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that about 33 million tons of food waste was generated in the U.S which averages out to about 400 pounds/year/person. Meanwhile in Connecticut, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) figures that the average CT resident generates approximately 5 lbs of trash a day (1500 lbs/yr) with at least a quarter of it being compostable.

So by promoting composting, Master Composters are encouraging folks to reduce the amount of waste that goes into incinerators and landfills while at the same time promoting the use of these waste materials to create a usable, soil enrichment product, namely compost.

Pick up leaves along with grass clippings in fall to add to pile.

Pick up leaves along with grass clippings in fall to add to pile.

The program, as it now stands, consists of 4 evenings of lectures, Worm Day, and two field trips. We are fortunate to have some truly outstanding lecturers from academia and private industry as well as ardent, enthusiastic volunteers. This year our evening lecturers include Dr. George Elliott from the UConn Plant Science & Landscape Architecture Dept., Dr. Robert Rafka formerly from Pfizer, a URI Master Composter and now a school teacher, Dr. Geoffrey Kuter from Agresource in Amesbury, MA, Master Composters Gregory Moonie, Tracy Burrell and Stephanie Turner.

Tracy Burrell guides Master Composters with presentation tips.

Tracy Burrell guides Master Composters with presentation tips.

We held our first ‘Worm Day’ last year bringing together both the beneficial and destructive power of earthworms. Dr. Josef Gorres from the University of Vermont will again give a fascinating presentation on ‘Earthworms from Heaven and Hell’. Carol Quish from the UConn Home & Garden Education Center will walk us through how to create, maintain and harvest a worm bin and then anyone who preregistered and brings their own materials (we give them a list) can make their very own worm bin Both Master Composters and the program will supply the worms.

Master Composter, Charlie Tefft helps participants create a worm bin.

Master Composter, Charlie Tefft helps participants create a worm bin.

Dr. Josef Gorres from UVM during his Worms from Heaven and Hell lecture

Dr. Josef Gorres from UVM during his Worms from Heaven and Hell lecture

A favorite part of this program is the one or two field trips that we go on. At the end of this month, the Master Composters will journey to New Canaan to visit Freund’s Farm, a working dairy with an anaerobic digester that supplies energy for part of the farm, a garden center, bakery and catering business, and producer of cow pots. Matt Freund gives us a great tour and much insight on entrepreneural dairy farming and his wife, Theresa provides us with a home grown, absolutely scrumptious lunch. Our second stop of the day is just down the road to Laurelbrook Farm owned by the Jacquiers. Bobby Jacquier or one of his sons gives us a tour of their state of the art manure composting facility. Their windrow turner in action is quite the sighte and on a cold day the turned piles steam from microbial activity. Exquisite fungal mycelium can often be seen when examining the windrows of compost.

Matt Freund (facing camera) gives Master Composters a tour of his dairy farm and cow pot operation

Matt Freund (facing camera) gives Master Composters a tour of his dairy farm and cow pot operation

A late fall, this year December, field trip brings the Master Composters to the Manchester Leaf Recycling Facility and under the tutelage of Ken Longo. Ken spends some time discussing how the leaf facility operates and then we get a tour of his composting operation and equipment.

Machine to pick up leaves in Manchester

Machine to pick up leaves in Manchester

Running this program (with the help of Greg Moonie) is one of my favorite activities. Everyone involved in the UConn Master Composter program is a dedicated professional. We all enjoy sharing our knowledge and want to inspire the students to learn as much about composting as they can so they can go out and spread the word. I am most grateful to these exceptional individuals (both the instructors and the students) for their ardor, enthusiasm and ability to inspire others to make composting a routine (but definitely not boring) part of their lives.

Compost rules!

dawn p

 

 

asian lady beetle

leaf footed bug

This fall has brought a few new residents to my home, and not the invited kind. I have been carefully removing Leaf Footed Bugs and Asian Lady Beetles from the interior of my home as well as my breezeway and garage. Both of these insects spend the winter in their adult stage in a dormant state. In the insect world, it is called diapause, equal to hibernation in animals. No eating or drinking, mating or reproduction happens. Their body functions slow way down.  Both insects are just using our homes for the secure, warm environment providing shelter during the winter. The do not do any damage to our homes, beyond the nuisance of their presence. Although the Asian Lady Beetle will defend itself by emitting a liquid from its leg joints if threatened. This liquid has an unpleasant odor to deter predators from eating them. The Leaf Footed Bug gives off an odor when crushed. All insects in this stink bug family, (Hempitera) lay claim to this offense quality.

Control measures are sealing up cracks and crevices to keep the insects from entering the home. One place they often enter is through attic and ridge vents. These should be covered with window screening. The insects enter the attic then work their way down to the living areas via wall voids, following pipes and wires. Minor infestations can be hand caught. Neither feeds on humans or will bite. They may pinch slightly if touched with the bare hand. Use a tissue or paper towel to pick them up and release outside. Vacuuming is another solution. Empty the vacuum to eliminate rotting and odors inside the vacuum bag.

Asian Lady Beetles feed on soft-bodied insects outside during the spring, summer and fall. Our native lady beetles overwinter in the adult stage also, but prefer to do so in leaf litter or  under rocky outcroppings and loose tree bark. The Leaf Footed Bugs have a piercing sucking mouth part used to feed on the plant juices of leaves. Neither insect will find anything to eat inside our homes unless you have aphids on houseplants or large leafy trees indoors. By November, the feeding phase has stopped for both insects.

I do have another type of creature in my house this fall, earthworms! I recently took the Master Composter class offered through UConn Garden Master program. It was informative and exciting. I know have made my own worm farm for composting indoors during the winter. Four weeks of kitchen scraps and no smell from the bin means the system is working well. Moistened strips of newspaper serve as the bedding. The type of worms best suited to worm bins are commonly called red wigglers. The Latin name is Eisenia foetida. This worm is not native to New England nor will it live over through our cold winters outside unless given added heat. Eisenia foetida specifically likes to live in the top two inches of soil, feeding voraciously on decomposing plant matter. It is not the normal worm found in our back yards. Eisenia foetida can be purchased online at various worm farming sites and sometimes at fishing bait stores. Be specific if purchasing worms for your own bin. Night crawlers (Lumbricus terrestris)  are not the same species, nor do have the same habits. Night crawlers prefer to create undisturbed burrows two feet deep, living a solitary existence, except to mate. Night crawlers will not live long in captivity.

-Carol

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Finished worm castings in a friends worm bin.