LAKE CITY, S.C. — Of the many things that Moore Farms Botanical Garden does well, educating the public is at the top of the list.

Among other topics, I’ve enjoyed learning about growing native species and landscaping using food plants. Imagine, corn as a row crop in the front yard!

Recently, I learned the value of vermi-composting, and the proper care, or lack of it, of red wigglers. Red wigglers are known, by those who know such things, as the best worms for composting in an indoor worm bin.

At the end of Laura Del Vecchio’s class, each participant came home from Moore Farms with two buckets and a starter composting kit of worms. Red wigglers digest fresh and raw kitchen waste, turning it into nutrient-enhanced castings.

Black gold. Top-of-the-line fertilizer.

Del Vecchio, originally from Italy, is a horticulturist and came to Moore Farms as its vegetable garden manager by way of New York City and its Compost Project. For Del Vecchio, the goal is zero food waste.

If you’re going to have a top-notch garden, and who doesn’t want that, you’ll need fertilizer. Why not create your own?

Note: The wigglers require a moist and dark environment with plenty of organic matter. Their best working temperature range is 60 to 75 degrees Farenheit. Where to best control the temperature for your new workers? Indoors. Probably your kitchen or laundry room, thoughts that dismayed many participants in this recent vermin-composting class.

It’s essential the worms live somewhere where access to apple cores and banana peelings (after they’ve been in the freezer for 24 hours and then returned to room temperature) is easy. By the way, exposing the worms to extreme cold or hot temperatures kills them.

Del Vecchio told the class participants the best way to learn to compost with the worms is to do it. She demonstrated a two-bucket composting system. Composting with worms is easy, she said.

“You just need to meet a series of conditions to be successful,” she said.

First you need the right worm, and that’s the wigglers. Second is keeping the worms at the right temperature. Serving the worms the right food is another condition. That means no citrus. And for fruit and vegetables with outside peelings and rinds that could have mites, freezing the scraps for 24-hours will kill those unneeded critters. However, before feeding that previously frozen scrap to the worms, it must be returned to room temperature. Remember, nothing too hot or too cold. Food has to be just right.

“Why can the apple core be placed in the container?” Del Vecchio asked. “Because the outside covering has been eaten.”

The worms only work in damp, dark climates as well. So the container must be covered with a lid, and any food placed in the container must be covered with dampened paper. Nearly any shredded paper will do, just not the glossy advertisements, she said.

Ingredients for creating proper black gold are a plastic container, bedding (shredded paper), water, worms and food waste.

Do not feed your worms anything cooked, and no meat, cheese, bread or items that will ferment, Del Vecchio said.

“Fresh and raw only,” she said.

And tea leaves and coffee grinds are OK for the worms, too.

The inner bucket will have three tiny holes drilled into its bottom and above the handle on each side for ventilation. Black gold “tea” produced by the worms will drop into the bottom bucket. As the worms eat through and digest the food items, and paper, they will be reproducing and making castings (black gold).

The worms in the container compost system established in mid-September should have compost to use around Christmas, Del Vecchio said.

Why go to all this trouble? Del Vecchio said in addition to composting re-using waste and creating fertilizer, using the fertilizer returns nutrients to the soil, there is less overall garbage and it’s easy and fun.

Leave the leaves and grass clippings outside for the outside compost heap, Del Vecchio said. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your worms, she added.

“As long as they (the worms) are happy,” she said, “you’ll have no escapees. …”

The goal, Del Vecchio said, is to make recycling and composting a mindset, a habit and a lifestyle.

Two participants in the course earlier this fall were 4-H youth development agents. One, Faith Truesdale of Johnsonville, said she is looking forward to re-creating the starter vermin-composting kits with 4-H participants.

For information about classes at the Garden, or to speak to Del Vecchio, visit moorefarmsbg.org, email her at ldelvecchio@moorefarmsbg.org, or call 843-210-7582.

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