Vermicomposting: Vermis Aren’t Vermin

June 12, 2010

Get ready with the big “ewwwww!” I’m going to talk about worm composting.  Worm composting is an excellent way to recycle your household organic waste, cut down on the garbage going to landfills, and inexpensively create a fantastic garden fertilizer. Good eco-karma points — and it’s easy.

Worm compost is made in a container filled with moistened “bedding” and red worms. You add your food waste, and the worms and microorganisms will convert the entire contents into rich compost. Here’s what you need to get started:


A Worm Bin: There are websites that sell ready-made worm bins via mail order. My worm bins are simply opaque Rubbermaid® plastic tubs with lids, with holes drilled in the sides for drainage and ventilation.

The “rule of thumb” is to create 2 square feet of surface area per person per week, which is about 1 lb of scraps per week.  Create a “bed” for the worms with moistened 1” black and white newspaper strips. Keep the bin in a shady, protected spot, so the worms don’t get too hot in the summer or freeze in the winter.

Worms: You need to use red worms or “red wrigglers.” Standard garden worms don’t work, so leave them digging away in your garden. I purchase my red worms locally in Santa Cruz, and there are local suppliers around the Bay Area, as well as mail order suppliers. Contrarily, the red worms will not do well outside of their bin, so there is no danger of introducing a non-native species to your garden.

Worm Food: Feed your worms fruits, vegetables, bread, grains, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, eggshells, you name it. Unlike some compost heaps, there is little odor. Just don’t put meat or dairy-based items in your worm bin as it can start to smell bad and attract scavengers.  And don’t add grass or other yard clippings, as the compost can get too hot and cook your worms. Put a layer of shredded paper over each food addition.

Harvesting Your Compost: In as soon as 3 months, you can start using your compost. At first, I dumped my bin out onto paper and then put the worms and newer scraps back into the bin, saving the dark worm castings for the garden.  After I outpaced the worms, I started a second bin and now alternate between the two, letting the worms complete their thing in the first bin, while I start the process again with a new set of worms in a second bin.

For use in the garden, many people steep a worm casting “tea,” and water with it. I just spread a 1/2” layer of the compost at the base of my plants and water it in.   For additional information on worm composting and resources, check the California government site at and/or your own county’s Waste Management website.

Water-Wise Landscapes

May 22, 2010

Even though it seemed they would never end, the rains have subsided for the year. We are entering our typical dry summer months. Now’s a great time to assess your garden and consider making some modifications that will save water — and save you on your water bill.

Number one on the list to making your garden water wise is “lose the lawn.” Lawns are great if you have kids and pets, but grass is water gulper. You should make your little spot of green as small as it can be to still meet your needs. Certainly consider replacing most or all of your front lawn with curb-appeal planting beds; very few families play in their front yards. And if you haven’t already, take a look at replacing your thirsty bluegrass with some of the newer types of grasses that require less water.

The second step in creating your water wise landscape is installing a drip sprinkler system. Except for in a lawn or other ground cover area, your sprinklers serve you better if they drip rather than spray. Overhead spray uses a lot of extra water and is inefficient in planting beds, where some plants get too much and others too little water. Fortunately, there are kits for converting overhead sprinklers to drip, so you don’t have to pull everything up and start over.

The third step is landscaping with water-conserving plants. More and more beautiful “drought-tolerant” plant materials are in the nurseries every year. You don’t have to plant cactus! The East Bay Municipal Utility District has put out a gorgeous color book, Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates, with hundreds of water-wise plant descriptions, pictures and landscape ideas. You can order the book online (or find local bookstores who carry it) at the East Bay “MUD” site:

Finally, don’t forget to top off your water-conserving efforts with a 2-3” layer of mulch. It will not only curtail water evaporation but also keep the weeds at bay, fertilize your garden and improve your soil’s texture over time.