by Chris Tidman
(Kanata, Ontario, Canada)

How about some information on plant nutrition? The world is actually depleting the sources of chemical fertilizer. Nitrogen in commercial fertilizer comes from natural gas, and potassium is dug out of the ground from potash deposits that are finite.

For sustainability, it is preferable to use organic sustainable fertilizers, which are primarily recycled food wastes. Organic fertilizers are not water soluble so they stay in the soil better and do not leech out like the water soluble non-organic products.

This introduces "composting," which extrapolates into "composting done by worms." Worms have the ability to convert rock into usable plant fertilizer. In fact, everything that passes through the worm is excellent nutrient for all plants. It cannot damage the plant in any way, unlike chemicals that can burn the vegetation. Toxins kill worms so health of worms is a good indication of the health of the soil.

Because the worm is producing fertilizer from the rocks that it eats, a worm produces 5 to 11 times more NPK nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium than what is in the food you are feeding it. If you are keeping worms in a composting bin, you need to add some granite dust from a kitchen counter top manufacturer or some garden dirt if nothing else.

The trick is to blend the kitchen waste or mince it so that the worms can get it into their mouths. Production goes up and there are no unprocessed bits in the worm castings.

I think every school would benefit from having a worm bin so kids get used to playing with them. With worms in the garden the plants grow much better because the soil stays aerated and fertilized and the soil is continually cultivated.

I purchased a little worm farm that I am finding rather fiddly for small processed amounts and am working on an upscale design. Still learning and willing to work with anyone creating a course.

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Update on my worm project
by: chris tidman

Towards the end of the winter my worm population was exploding. In ideal conditions their population doubles every month. To accommodate the increase, I had divided them into 5 gallon plastic buckets with a vent in the lid and drain holes in the bottom under a layer of geo fabric to contain the worms. They did well until the drain areas plugged up with fungal growth and the worms drowned in their own liquid excrement.
This has forced me to manage them differently. I built some compost bins from 2x3s. The bins are 32 inches high and held in a barrel shape with two wire hoops which are covered with a canvas strips glued on with floor tile cement. Enough cement is plastered on to fill the spaces between the boards in the two strips around the barrel. Garden weeds are thrown into the barrel and the bucket of worms is placed in or on the compost pile. The fabric is left out so worms move through the drain holes and keep them clear. The worm tea drains into the compost pile.

Thank you!
by: Julie

Chris, thank you for sending this in. I often say that the most important curriculum for young people these days is learning how to build their own soil, grow their own food, collect and store their own rainwater, and generate their own energy — and I sense that the first one is the most important one.

You're right, vermicomposting (composting with worms) is an excellent way to teach kids about both soil health/nutrition and the circle of life (i.e., the cradle-to-cradle life cycle of food and worms as excellent decomposers).

I wonder if children would enjoy joining a lunchtime or after-school club called Soil Heroes (or something like that). They could collect lunch leftovers from all the classrooms to feed the worms in the worm bin. They could also collect leaves and grass and garden waste, etc. to build compost outside, as well.

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