Oscar the Grouch got it right: worms are fabulous. And like Oscar the Grouch, composting with worms – also known as Vermiculture – is great for kids. Most kids love the slimy, the silly, and of course what kid could pass up the opportunity to talk about (and participate in the creation of) worm poop, also known as worm castings.
Vermi, Latin for worm, are some of the most efficient organisms that will process organic food waste into nutrient-rich soil. Not only do kids love worms and getting their hands dirty, they will love the idea of worms helping their garden grow big and strong.
Of course commercial vermiculture compost systems are readily available but it is just as easy to build a suitable bin with your kids. The simplest bin is simply to use a plastic storage tub, approximately 12 gallons in size or one that measures approximately 21×1 5×12 inches. The bin should have a lid and be opaque or lined with foil as most worms (especially red worms) have no eyes and will shy away from light. More than 1,000 worms can live comfortably in this environment without overcrowding or other negative population effects.
The worms need proper airflow in order to compost properly. If you notice an odor problem that means that not enough oxygen is reaching the worms. Drill holes into the bottom and the side of the bin to ensure proper airflow.
The location of the vermiculture bin is also important. The bin should not be in direct sunlight but should be kept in a shady cool area during the summer and a sunny patio in the winter; the bin may also be kept in the kitchen for both convenience and temperature control.
Eventually, the worms will start to produce “worm tea.” This is a nutrient rich liquid that your garden or houseplants will love. The tea should be treated as a delicacy and an intensive fertilizer. It can be gathered at the base of the vermiculure bin by using a tray to capture the liquid.
Back to the worms. Red worms, or Eisenia foetida, are the perfect candidates for vermiculture. Their primary goal in life is to eat decomposing organic matter—as much as their own weight each day! Red worms are not picky eaters during feeding time; they enjoy much of the same vegetables and fruits as you and the kids do. The especially e4njoy fruit peels, coffee grounds, coffee filters, newspaper, grains, vegetable scraps, and anything else organic. Worms are not pirates so be sure not to overload them with a high citrus diet as this will cause them more harm by introducing high concentrations of D-limonere into the system.
Compost can be harvested by simply reaching into the vermiculture bin (for small amounts) or by dumping the entire contents of the bin onto a tarp and scooping up everything but the worms. Of course, this part of the compost harvest is the most fun for kids as they not only get to play in the dirt but they get to ensure that their precious worms are safe and will help produce more compost.