Worms! (Part 1)

Posted on by linnea

After a SoilFoodweb course I took with Elaine Ingham back in the fall, I decided that worm composting was the best option for processing our household’s food waste. A comparatively easy way to make high quality compost, the worms do most of the work for you. Instead of having to carefully chart compost pile temperatures and regularly turn a steaming pile of organic matter, you just bury small pockets of food beneath moist bedding and let the worms take over. A friend and I both set up worm composting systems about a month ago, I’ll document our experiences in a future post. My primary source of information for setting up my worm composting system has beenWorms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof. Worm Woman is a wonderful web resource for books, bins and vermicomposting information that Mary created and her company still maintains. While I believe that worm composting is a great option for most urban dwellers, it is definitely a system that needs fine tuning to be fully functional. But let’s start at the beginning, today I want to talk aout how these little wrigglers take a rotten apple core and turn it into beautiful compost!Composting worms come to the surface to snatch food, which they pull into their mouths using a small, sensitive organ called the prostomium. The worms don’t have any teeth, and the food must be small and soft enough to get sucked right in. Certain foods may sit in your bin for a while until other creatures have gone to work on the material to make it suitable for worm ingestion. The food travels down into the gizzard, which contains small particles of grit. The muscular contractions of this organ grind the grit against the food material breaking it down into even smaller pieces. The gizzard also mixes the food with digestive secretions before passing the material onto the intestine for absorption. In the intestine, digestive enzyme secreting bacteria process the material further, breaking it down into soluble nutrients which are absorbed into the worm’s bloodstream. Undigested material passes out of the worm through the anus and voila you have yourself some worm castings! The casting are comprised of bits of broken down plant matter and most importantly, representatives of the beneficial bacteria, fungi and protozoa which reside in the worm’s gut. Very powerful little creatures. I’ll discuss my experience with the worms in the coming weeks, share what has worked what hasn’t. Even when the bins have gone wrong, I can say I’m totally delighted with the project. It’s been fascinating.

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