Enrichment for Humans: Worms and Waste
Did you know that almost half of the trash that we throw away could be composted? Composting is turning organic matter (like vegetable scraps, egg shells, and yard waste) into soil. Organic matter breaks down naturally with the help of decomposers like worms. By composting your food scraps instead of throwing them in the trash, you can help reduce waste and end up with some nice healthy soil! In this activity, we’ll learn how to start our own compost, with the help of some wiggly friends.
Worms and other decomposers turn organic material back into soil. Decomposers are the recyclers of the natural world! They decompose things like leaves, wood, fruit, and dead things by eating them and excreting (pooping) out “castings,” which turn into soil. These castings are full of the nutrients that came from the things the worms ate. The more nutrients the soil has, the more things can grow there. Many people use worms in their compost at home to speed up the decomposition process. Composting with worms is called “vermicomposting.” But you don’t need worms to compost! Bacteria are very good at breaking down organic material as well, so you can start a compost pile and leave it alone, and it will break down over time.
- Plastic bin with holes poked in the bottom
- Newspaper or brown paper grocery bags
- Dead leaves
- Food scraps (veggies, fruits, and egg shells are ok. No meat, dairy, or oils!)
- Start by poking holes in the bottom of your compost bin. Your bin doesn’t have to be big, as long as it can hold a few worms! You can use a shoe bin, a plastic soda bottle, or a plastic takeout container.
- On the bottom of the bin, layer some torn up pieces of newspaper or brown paper. This kind of material is called “brown material”. That means it’s dry and full of fiber. Leaves, egg shells, wood chips, and cardboard are other kinds of “brown.”
- Add some fruit and veggie scraps on top of the paper. Try not to put in anything with meat, oil, or dairy. Things like bread, pasta, and coffee grounds are okay. This kind of material is your “green” material, which means it is wet and mushy and full of nitrogen. You need a good mix of green and brown for a healthy compost.
- Time to find some worms! The best times to find worms are in the morning and after it rains. Look under logs or rocks, or dig in soft soil to find you wiggly friends. Add them to your compost bin whenever you find one.
- Set your compost bin somewhere where it can get airflow. These bins can get pretty stinky, so we recommend setting it outside where it’s not too sunny. Keep adding your brown and green material and turning the compost periodically. The worms will eat the material and produce castings (worm poop!). Eventually, your compost will turn into soil that can be used in potted plants or in the garden.