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A quiet hobby for a pandemic
JOHN GIBBS is a resident of Gays Mills, Wisconsin. He is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin.

GAYS MILLS - Composting is a time-honored and commonly done ‘green’ practice. It’s the simplest thing: you just collect kitchen waste, lawn clippings, weeds, leaves, and other organic material, put them into some kind of bin outdoors, and allow them to decompose naturally. You can speed up the composting process by turning the compost pile once in a while with a pitchfork or simply leave it alone.  The resulting compost is a rich and weed-free material that greatly benefits house or garden plants.

An offshoot of plain old composting is vermiculture, which is composting using worms. If you’re looking for a nice, quiet, and down-to-earth hobby, you might want to try a worm farm. It’s one way to keep up a garden-related  activity year round. Among other advantages, a worm farm is a great activity to do during a pandemic.

I’ve had a worm farm, or worm bin, a few times in the past. Sometime before freeze up in the fall, you get a few red worms. I usually find mine beneath the outdoor compost structure I’m using right now, a store-bought bottomless plastic unit. The collected worms go into the basement in a box, bin or tub of some kind with some dampened shredded newspaper, peat moss, and some soil. I put general kitchen waste in periodically for the worms. They seem to particularly like squash skins, watermelon and cantaloupe rinds.

This spring, I bit the bullet and bought a pound of red composting worms. The seller said there were 1,000 worms in the package that came in the mail. I opted not to count them. The packaging explained that the worms had been  allowed to become dried down somewhat, that they would ship better that way. I was a bit surprised at how small the worms were, but they did bounce back quickly and grew to a normal size when they were placed in a plastic bin of damp peat moss and given a source of food.

Composting worms are surface feeders, unlike common earthworms that burrow down into the soil. The most common worm used in composting is the red wiggler.

A worm bin can be made of plastic, wood, metal, or Styrofoam. Plastic is preferred and needs to have drain holes for accumulated liquid and some screened holes for ventilation. I keep a lid on the bin as the worms avoid light.

Composting worms can thrive on just about any kitchen scraps, even (I just learned) citrus peels in small amounts. Fruit and vegetable trimmings, peelings, ends, eggshells, coffee grounds and coffee filters, grains, bread, tea bags, it all looks good to a composting worm.

If regular compost is good for plants, worm castings, the stuff that’s been through the worms, is great. You can actually buy worm castings as a plant food and soil amendment. The worms seem to multiply the value of the nutrients they deal with and make them easily available to plants.

So, it looks like we’ll be dealing with Covid-19 for a while yet. Maybe a worm farm is an activity you might like to try in the meantime.