Friendly Red Wigglers Amend School Garden Soil

Written by: Kim Oldham, FoodCorps Service Member with UCCE Central Sierra 

I have asked children on many occasions what they want to do in the garden and almost every time it leads to the same thing – they want to dig in the dirt. I question my maturity daily because if you were to ask me that same question you would get the same response. One of my best memories with the kids is their first encounter with a Black Soldier Fly Larvae. You can just imagine the screams of disgust as they called me over. I calmly picked it up and had a discussion about it and then simply placed it in the little girls hand and said ”Here you go you can put it back in the compost so it can do its job.” Without hesitation she skipped off and put it back. At that moment besides the internal giggling I realized how much I influence my students.  Since my service I have tried to create as many ways to give these kids the opportunity to get dirty. So lets talk compost!Compost Piles: There are a million ways to maintain your compost. Pallets are a great resource and you can pick them up at almost any business. I like to make more than one section and once that section is full it needs to be closed. No more adding. In my years of volunteering in community and school gardens I rarely saw a successful compost pile. In a community setting I find you have to have a very clear goal – that means closed signs! You can also use a simple wire fence (field fencing is great) and create a section around 15 ft long connect the ends and your set! The great part about this method is you can take the fence off when you are ready to turn, set it up and turn the old pile in a new place. Really the options are limitless!

Vermicomposting: Oh, how I love it so! A pound of red wigglers and you are in for some excitement! You don’t want to add onions, citrus, oils, meat or dairy to your worms. You need to start with a base of leaves, shredded paper, etc. to ensure that you start off with a healthy handful of freshly created compost by your very own red wigglers – they are small but really great at what they do. If you want to get the students attention I call the worms “my super poopers” which is always a great segue into discussing castings. I teach primarily elementary school students, but seems to be a hit with all ages.

  • Vermicomposting Beds: Its as simple as building a raised bed or a pile of organic matter, add worms and let them go to work. These little guys eat a lot so you have to feed them often. They work fast and multiply faster! How do you separate worms from the castings you ask? Simple, place in a pile, put a direct light on the top and wait a minute. The worms will want to go away from the light to the bottom.

Worm Towers: You start with one tray and build up as you go. As the worms munch and deplete their food they move up through the bottom of the next level to the new food scraps. When the bottom tray is ready to harvest empty and rotate to the top and start the new tray.

Worm Tubes: This was a fun experiment that the Kids and I did this year and so far its been a huge success. To start, get a large 8 inch PVC pipe about 3 to 4 feet tall drill holes in the bottom half. That half, dig down as far as you can and set tube in hole. Place compost in tube and let them do the rest. Our goal was to allow the worms to compost and explore out into the bed to do what they do best. We save waste from landfills and fertilize the garden all in one.

Still not inspired to make your own compost bin? Check out Banana Slug String Band’s “Dirt Made My Lunch!” Happy munching!

About the Author: Kim Oldham comes to FoodCorps after volunteering at her sons’ elementary school in Valley Springs, CA. After years of cultivating her own backyard garden, Kim has transferred knowledge from her very own home to the school garden in which she serves in Calaveras County. You can find her leading outdoor lessons in the nearby garden or checking out her very own red wigglers.

unnamedThe University of California Cooperative Extension of the Central Sierra territory provides science-based information and educational programs to solve local issues in areas of agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, and youth development that improve the social, economic and environment quality for all residents.The University of California Cooperative Extension office of the Central Sierra currently has three programs, which operate with the help of volunteers. These programs are 4-H, Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers. To learn more, please visit their website

FoodCorpsStateLogo-CA copyFoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website 

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