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December 24, 2014

Make This Everybody poops: Worm tower — economical, agricultural and not as icky as it sounds

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Posted: Sunday, May 11, 2014 6:55 pm | Updated: 9:01 pm, Tue May 20, 2014.

If you meet my kids and start talking to them, chances are the conversation will eventually turn to poop. Don’t be put off, because luckily those conversations aren’t (usually) centered around human waste — just that of animals. And it’s all around our yard.

OK, that sounds pretty gross too. But I’m talking about manure compost — stuff that’s often referred to by gardeners as “black gold.” We have cow manure compost mixed into all our garden soil and a box of horse manure compost growing mushrooms in the cabinet under the kitchen sink.

“Plants love eating poop,” is something the daughter often says while we’re gardening (or driving in the car, or shopping, or at the park). And yes they do. Adding compost — be it animal or vegetable — to your garden provides nutrients and moisture, and helps with drainage and fertility. You can think of compost manure as a high-powered vitamin, an overall boost to a plant’s wellbeing.

And one of the best poops for a plant is worm poop — makes sense, doesn’t it? You can buy bags of worm poop (referred to as “worm castings” or “vermicompost” by most people over the age of 4) to use as a fertilizer, but guess what? With a little help from mother nature — and Lowe’s — you can easily collect your own castings right in your garden by building a worm tower.

Worms love to eat fresh produce — they are often seen in compost piles, helping turn the green matter into black gold. But I’ve tried (and written about) my fair share of composting techniques, and failed at each one. Keeping up with a compost pile is work and I need something that will pretty much take care of itself. Enter vermicomposting and worm towers.

Think of a worm tower as an all-you-can-eat buffet for those red wigglers. You dump in your kitchen scraps, the worms eat it up. I built four towers out of a 5-foot piece of 4-inch PVC, that I got for $8.50 at Lowe’s.

I used my reciprocating saw to cut the PVC into 15-inch pieces because most of my beds are at least a foot deep. Then I used a ¾-inch spade blade to drill holes throughout 9 inches of the pipe, leaving 6 inches fully intact. I planted my first tower in the strawberry bed — we harvested three so far this year, with many more coming — because my copy of “The Complete Composting Guide” said vermicompost was very beneficial in helping reduce disease and the number of nematode parasites that can do major damage to the roots of strawberry plants.

Once planted with the soil firmed securely around the holey end, I added some of our kitchen scraps — banana peel and the ends of some carrots, celery and onion.

If you don’t have any worms around, you can buy some bait worms and dump them in on top of the scraps, and add a little dirt on top to keep them nice and moist. I just sent the kids to the backyard to dig worms up from a bed we haven’t planted yet and dumped them into the tower.

I topped off the tower with a small planter turned upside down. That will help keep away critters that might try and get to the produce, and protects the worms from too much water when it rains.

Check the tower every couple days and fill with more kitchen scraps as needed. In about six months, you can pull out the tower and harvest the worm castings, which you can mix into new soil or sprinkle on the top of soil garden as a fertilizer. As an added bonus, in the months it takes to build up a harvestable supply of castings, nutrients are leaking out of the tower and into the strawberry bed, keeping it well fertilized in the process.

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