Regulars and Shorts

The Worm Pit

By Jim French

Grow your own fertilizer!

Healthy soil equals nutrient-dense food and healthy people. We all can improve our soil health by using red wiggler composting worms to make beautiful compost.

There are lots of indoor and outdoor home options for red wiggler worms: plastic or metal condos with drawers, large raised beds, bins, trash cans, even wheel barrows! I chose to dig a hole in the ground.

Here’s the backstory.

About five years ago a friend showed up at my house with a five-gallon bucket containing red wiggler worms, some of their castings (poop!) and the unprocessed organic matter that the worms were munching on at the time.

Red wigglers, aka Eisenia foetida love to eat and process all kinds of organic matter. Their poop, or worm castings, are some of the best garden compost that money doesn’t have to buy. As James Loomis wrote in the July CATALYST, “The really good compost has humus plus a plethora of beneficial microorganisms: beneficial bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes.”

I settled our red wiggler friends into their new home under the deck surrounding our giant English walnut tree. The deck provided the perfect roof. I dug a hole five feet long, four feet wide and 18 inches deep. (I stopped at 18 inches because of the tree roots, but you could certainly go deeper.) Scavenged plywood enclosed the worms’ abode on three sides; nice and cozy. Into a corner of this space went the contents of the bucket. My new red wigglers were home!

While I began with a luxury of worms, one pound of worms should be enough to get you started.

Composting worms appreciate a balanced diet. Fresh manure from vegetable-eating animals is their favorite. (Be certain that said animals have not been fed pesticide-laden chow.) The worms also like paper, coffee grounds, egg shells, veggie/ fruit scraps and just about anything that can be grown. Minimize animal products, onions, citrus and dairy.

Red wigglers love it if you cut up their food for them. I actually compost their food first in compost tumblers before it is served up. That way, there is minimal fresh food in the pit to attract varmints and other undesirables.

What else? Oh, they like their home moist and shaded. In the warm months, I water the pit with drip irrigation twice a week and cover it with egg cartons and cardboard to keep the light out and the moisture in. Come winter, I stuff trash bags with dried leaves and pile them on top for insulation. If the worms get chilly, they just go deeper into the pit and warm up. My worms are heading into their fourth winter.

Finally, the worm pit allows for side-to-side worm composting. Just fill up half of the pit and let the wigglers chow down. When that side is mostly finished compost, start filling the other side. Most of the worms will slither to the fresh food on the right. They are so smart. When the worms have left beautifully finished worm castings, use those castings to make compost tea or compost extract (see “Garden Like a Boss,” August 2017 CATALYST) or go wild and spread it around the garden. Your soil, plants and stomach will love you for it!

Jim French and his worms live and garden in Salt Lake City.

Where to buy Eisenia foetida red worms locally: Patrick Perry, 1421 W. Pacific Ave. (440 S.) #D, 385.202.4446. $40/lb. See his amazing vermicompost-fed tomato plants, too!


This article was originally published on September 1, 2017.