Hubby Patrick is revving up for a banner garden year. His cover crop is in, and now he’s got a hankering for worms. “They say they’re good for composting,” he informed me. I hit the phones for info.
“Two pounds of red worms will eat one pound of garbage every 24 hours, assuming it is the right garbage that you are feeding them,” said Daniel Rojas, owner of Red Worm Fertilizing Products in Escondido (619-339-1963). “A family of four will produce anywhere from five to ten pounds of kitchen waste a day that can be composted. You can compost not just kitchen waste but also shredded paper, cardboard — just about anything except metal, glass, or plastic. There’s a great book by Mary Appelhof called Worms Eat My Garbage, which is a standard in the industry for people wanting to do this at home.”
Rojas says you can purchase a worm bin or you can make your own from a rectangular plastic bin (rectangular for more surface area) with holes on the bottom for drainage. “You cover the bin with wet paper or a wet towel. Worms stay where it is moist and where there is organic matter for them to eat. Put the food in there and cover it with the worm bedding, which is what you have to keep moist.” To check the moisture level, “grab the bedding with your hand and squeeze it a little bit. If one or two drops of water come out, that is perfect. If it is too wet, just leave the bin open and it will dry out. The worms stay on the surface. They don’t like to dig down. These worms are upper feeders.”
What about Patrick’s compost pile?
“Be careful with the mulch,” warned Rojas. “Any pile of organic matter tends to heat up. That is part of the cooking process of decomposition. Worms don’t like the high temperatures. If you put them in a mulch pile and it’s hot in there, they will just take off, so make sure it is not hot.”
Rojas sells his worms for $15 a pound. “There are approximately 500 to 800 worms in a pound. You get adults, immature worms, eggs, all together.”
“Worms go through the compost and make it real fine and fill it full of worm castings, which is worm manure,” offered Sharon of Sharon’s Worm World, based in Ramona (760-419-6524). “You can use all kinds of worms, but red worms do the best. They make the compost go quicker. It might take eight months to get a compost pile ready to put in your garden. If you add worms to it, it can be ready in 45 to 60 days. Worms will eat any dying organic matter. Stay away from too much citrus — it makes your worm bin too acidic. And you don’t want to add any meat, dairy, or oil, which clogs up their systems. Also stay away from toxic plants like oleander, and oily plants like pine or eucalyptus....
“Worm castings are very good for eliminating whitefly,” continued Sharon. “Something in the worm casting itself changes the flavor of the plant, and some pests don’t care for that flavor. It helps eliminate aphids, too....
“The worms should double in population every 60 to 90 days,” added Sharon. “We sell the worms, the bedding — which is composted horse manure — and the worm castings altogether as one product for a dollar a pound. We guarantee that there are 20 worms per pound, all ages, all sizes, including worm capsules, which are little worm eggs inside of which are four to ten baby worms.”
“I have had my worm bin continuously for almost 19 years now,” explained Maria Hartwell, who lives in Clairemont (858-279-7072). “My worms are very healthy, nice, juicy worms. I sell them in a three-gallon bucket, in the medium in which they have been living and growing, and it works out to be about $14 a pound.
“In the almost 19 years that I have been doing it, I have seen an increase in the interest level. I think vermiculture is the way of the future. My husband and I barely have a small bag of garbage every week. Everything goes either to the worms, into the recycling bin, or we give it away. We generate almost no garbage at all.”
Another worm-buying option: The Worms’ Way (760-789-5441), located in Ramona, sells worms for $20 a pound.