Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Vermiculture – the art of worm composting

A few years ago I hiked up to the Len Foote Hike Inn where they practice vermiculture. You see, the only way to this inn is to hike 5 miles up a mountain and since they are so far in the woods, they can’t just set out the trash like we do. Instead they recycle their organic waste back into the soil using worms. I thought this was such a great idea that I wanted to share it with my students.

First I read the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, which gives instructions on setting up a worm composting system. Then I talked my parents into helping me build some wooden worm bins which, like good parents, they did even though they thought I was crazy. I also had to talk my husband into getting $100 worth of worms to go in the bins. I didn’t want to get my class to do this before I was sure I could do it and it worked. This was so easy to set up and do that I can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. Once I saw this would be a great project for my students, I presented them with the project.

At first, my students were a little apprehensive about dealing with worms but I assured them (and their parents) that they would wear rubber gloves. Some of the students didn’t want to touch the worms until some of the other students went first and really got into the lessons. By the end of the year, all of my students were comfortable handling the worms and their poop. Another concern was the smell of a compost bin in the classroom. If there is the proper aeration, there will be absolutely no smell. Nobody ever knew about our bin unless we specifically pointed it out to them. Instead of building wooden bins though, we used plastic tubs that were on sale at WalMart. This was on a much smaller scale than the one I had at home but it was perfect for my class. In fact, the book Worms Eat My Garbage was so great, I used it as my science textbook in my class ( level: grade 5 to adult). There is also another book by Mary Appelhof that I used with my lessons called Worms Eat Our Garbage: Classroom Activities for a Better Environment (level: grade 4-8). My students were so excited that they were bringing in scraps of food after lunch for our compost bin.

By the time spring began, we had enough compost to spread around the school in the flower pots and flower beds. We had thought about bagging the compost and selling it as a fundraiser but our system was not big enough to sustain a business.

My students enjoyed this year long project and it was extremely successful. I suggest that if you want to start one for next year, you need to begin thinking about it now. Here are some websites that may be good resources:
Wormwoman.com (Mary Appelhof’s website)
Earthworm Digest
How to Compost.org talks about worm composting

1 comment:

Karen @ Wiggly Wigglers said...

Hi Pat,

Your enthusiasm for worm composting in infectious - no wonder your students enjoyed being involved. Keep up the good work.

ps Mary Appelhof's book "Worms eat my garbage" is superb isn't it - packed with loads of information