Worm Farming in Schools Increases Composting Efforts

May 5, 2020 | General RCAP News

By: Rachel Silver, SERCAP Technical Assistance Provider

Yes, you read that headline correctly.

Worm farming is a sustainable business with huge growth potential. Worms convert food waste into nutrient-rich worm castings, one of the world’s best plant foods and soil conditioners, which can be sold to nurseries, gardening friends, eco shops, and farmers. Worm castings can be used to produce worm tea, which can be sold as a liquid organic fertilizer and natural pesticide. Worms consistently reproduce, and a properly managed worm herd will always multiply and replenish its numbers after worms have been sold. Worm farming is truly a sustainable business and can be used to quickly generate some extra income (worm tea and worm compost are highly sought after by plant nurseries etc.), while also reducing organic materials destined for the landfill and turning human green waste into useful by-products.

 

A worm condo is the ultimate worm farm for indoor or outdoor use. The worm condo is a system of trays with "food" (compost) that stack on top of each other to allow travel between trays, enabling the worms to travel between food sources. It has been designed with mounds on collector trays and a fly-proof lid to encourage worms to continuously move up through the trays in search of fresh organic waste.

Recognizing the potential for worm condos to increase composting efforts while providing extra income, SERCAP (the Southeast RCAP) Technical Assistance Provider Rachel Silver set up worm condos at three different schools early in the school year. Composting at schools can help students understand concepts such as decomposition and energy cycles while reducing the amount of organic material going to landfills or incinerators. Silver's technical assistance to school composting efforts is supported by a U.S. Department of Agriculture Solid Waste Management grant, which has a stated goal of diverting material from landfills in rural communities.  The schools hosting new condos include Madison Creative Arts Academy (K-5) and Pinetta Elementary (K-5), both of which are in Madison County, Florida, and Wildwood Middle/High School (6-12), located in Sumter County.  All three schools wanted to continue the projects as COVID-19 necessitated school closures. The students became very invested in their worm friends!

On March 13, 2020, Silver brought a worm condo home to learn how to keep it successfully during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Silver would like to help restore the systems in place at the schools mentioned above once schools resume in-person classes.  Following is a brief description of the steps taken to set up a successful worm condo following the tutorial videos from Our Vital Earth, Inc., a small Florida business, with some lessons learned.

Each tray is fed five pounds of food for every one pound of worms. In a well-established system, two pounds of worms (specifically red wigglers) will recycle one pound of organic matter in 24 hours. Worms can consume their weight daily – they eat half bedding (carbon) and half food scraps (nitrogen).  Most worms will eat most organic waste, including fruit/veggie scraps, bread, coffee grounds/filters, tea bags, grains, plant trimmings, paper, leaves, etc.

Silver collected five pounds of scrap fruits and vegetables from the kitchen, put the scraps in the center of the worm tray as instructed and covered it with newspaper.  One tray takes about three months to break down. Silver then waited two weeks before adding the second tray, eager for the worms to start traveling between the trays.

Once a week Silver gives the worms a “bath” (one quart of water per tray) and opens the spigot on the base tray. The water washes off the worms’ waste products and the end product is worm tea (very popular among nurseries for plant health and growth).  This worm tea can be sold as-is and then is diluted to maximize its use.

Wildwood Middle/High School was most keen about selling this by-product. They wanted to determine how much profit could be made from one worm condo. The students were discussing setting up a co-op in the 2020-2021 school year, and each group would have their own worm condo and would compete to see who could create the most worm tea and profit the most from its sale. Hopefully, this will still be implemented post-COVID-19.

In the meantime, Silver will continue to fine-tune the learning process and maintain the worm condo as recommended. Our Vital Earth Inc. tutorial videos are helpful and the owner, Bernie Moro, has been quick to respond to questions. Once schools return to session, Silver will be ready and knowledgeable to help re-establish the systems.