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More Than Wiggle to a Worm

Jane Tunks, a novice gardener, is using The Chronicle's rooftop garden as her classroom, with Fred Bové and Kevin Bayuk from the San Francisco Permaculture Guild as her teachers. Here is another of her lessons. Read other stories in the series at sfgate.com/columns/chroniclegarden/archive

Worms can be a gardener's best friends - that's just the latest nugget of wisdom from permaculture experts Fred Bové and Kevin Bayuk.

About a week after they told me this, Bayuk dropped by The Chronicle's rooftop garden with a small cardboard box labeled "worms" and a lesson in vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting or "worm composting" turns out to be a very convenient way for the landless gardener to create a rich soil amendment. A worm bin takes up very little space and can fit on a fire escape or under the kitchen sink.

But instead of shelling out more than $100 for a manufactured worm bin, you can make your own for less than $30 (see "Make your own worm bin," L2).

Worms break down food scraps into a nutrient-rich compost that restore life to depleted soil, especially the worn-out dirt of the containers on The Chronicle's rooftop. Healthy soil is the most important component of any garden, and after six years, the dirt in our containers was looking pretty bad. The soil in container gardens can be quickly depleted, as watering causes nutrients to be leached from the soil.

But these are no ordinary worms. Unlike earthworms, which burrow in garden soil, red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are happiest crawling through kitchen leftovers. Red wigglers eat their own weight in food every day and their bacteria-rich castings (or poop) are full of nutrients that benefit garden soil.

The best source of red wigglers is someone else's vermicomposting bin - the worms reproduce quickly and soon will be hard at work composting your kitchen scraps. If you don't have a friend or acquaintance who can share their worms, you can buy red wigglers at some garden stores or online at bayworms.org and www.sonomavalleyworms.com.

The Chronicle's worms feast on the scraps from the Food & Wine test kitchen, as well as leftovers from my kitchen at home.

With a diet that includes Yirgacheffe coffee grounds, Flavor King pluots and Brandywine tomatoes, these just might be the most well-fed worms in San Francisco.


Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/08/30/HOJV199OT5.DTL#ixzz0PyGV5AOR

Make your own worm bin

You can build a worm bin in less than an hour by following these steps. You'll need two 20-gallon plastic storage bins with lids, a permanent marker, a Sunday edition of The Chronicle, a drill with 1/4-inch and 1/8-inch bits, red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida), kitchen scraps and two 1-gallon plastic pots. When your worm bin is complete, store it in a cool, shaded spot either indoors or outdoors.

1. With a permanent marker, draw 10-15 evenly spaced dots on the lid of one storage bin.

2. Drill through the dots using the 1/4-inch drill bit.

3. On the sides of the same bin, about 1 inch from the top, draw one row of dots 2 inches apart.

4. Drill through the dots using the 1/8-inch drill bit.

5. On the bottom of the same storage bin, draw 10-15 evenly spaced dots.

6. Drill through the dots using the 1/4-inch drill bit.

7. Tear newspaper lengthwise in 2-inch-wide strips and put in the storage bin until it's about two-thirds full.

8. With a garden hose, spray water on the shredded newspaper until it's just wet and turn until it's evenly coated with water. Once wet, the newspaper should fill the bin about halfway. Add more wet newspaper as needed.

9. Place red wigglers on top of the wet newspaper, along with kitchen scraps - we gave them overly ripe heirloom tomatoes from The Chronicle's test kitchen. (Do not give the worms any citrus, spicy food, or dairy or animal products.)

10. Tuck the worms into their new home by placing more wet newspaper on top of them and their food.

11. Place two empty 1-gallon plastic pots at the bottom of the second storage bin (they will act as risers), and put the bin with the worms and the airholes on top of it.

12. Put the lid of the second storage bin underneath both bins; it will act as a sort of coaster, to catch any excess moisture from the bin.

13. To feed worms, lift up top layer of newspaper and add more food, then nestle newspaper back in its place. Put food on one side of the bin at a time.

14. To harvest vermicompost, put new food on the other side of the bin. The worms will move toward the new food, leaving their castings behind. Pull up the top layer of the newspaper, remove the castings. Replace the top layer of the newspaper and use the castings in your garden as needed.

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