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Composting with little effort using worms

December 6, 2013 - 6:28pm

We try to reduce the waste heading to our landfills. Gardeners work to improve their soil. Composting with worms can help achieve both goals.

The right worms properly placed and maintained will thrive and multiply while transforming waste into a dark, microbial-rich compost. Mix this into your garden soil or use it to make a nutrient-packed foliar spray.

Small worm bins, suitable for household use, can be found online or at area nurseries and gardening supply stores. Usually they are plastic and will last a long time. Make your own by stacking several bins with holes in the bottoms making it possible for worms to leave castings in the lower bins as they work their way up the layers in search of food. Plans for building wooden bins abound online. They can be built to fit your space and your needs. Be sure to use nontoxic paint or preservative on the wood to extend its life.

Once you have a bin, you’ll need to fill it with an initial medium for your wigglers. Perhaps the most readily available material is shredded newspaper. Tearing the paper vertically works best. Fluff the strips up and fill the bin with as much paper as you can.

Several area worm suppliers sell California red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, or India blues, Perionyx excavatus. Both are garbage eating worms suited to making compost. Neither is native, so they should be kept in bins rather than put in your garden. Regular earthworms are not the best choice for bin living and may consume your waste slowly or attempt to leave the bin.

Find worm suppliers online or call the UH helpline between 9 a.m. and noon Thursdays at 322-4892 for contact information for area worm farmers.

When your bin is properly situated in a cool, shady spot, dampen the bedding and add the worms. The bedding should be about the dampness of a wrung out sponge. In about 24 hours, check on your worms and start feeding. You’ll probably find them close together in the bedding. Add about 1 cup of kitchen waste for their dinner. In a few days, add more. Once they seem comfortable and are eating your offerings, start adding larger quantities of food.

In about a month, your bin will start draining excess liquid into the bottom layer. This fluid can be used immediately, diluted 50:50 with water and applied to the soil or used as a foliar spray. Keep the drain hole open to control bin moisture. If it gets too wet the worms may want to escape. Adding more shredded paper can absorb excess moisture and dry out wet bedding.

After three to six months of successful vermicomposting, remove some of the worm compost by adding your waste to a different section of the bin so the worms move away from some of their castings. You can also remove some of the compost containing worms and move them away from the casings. Make a pyramid on a tarp in full sun and the worms will move to the bottom allowing you to scrape the top layers of soil off for your use.

Becoming a worm farmer makes you a recycler and a plant fertility provider all with little effort.

Tropical gardening helpline

Ray asks: I was wondering what the latest reports on coffee berry borer damage were for coffee farmers in Kona.

Answer: A survey was circulated this summer to area coffee farmers. Seventy-nine responded and the results were reported in November. A full report of this survey is available at

Highlights from the survey indicate that the single most important factor in reducing CBB infestations is cleaning trees of 100 percent of cherries by the end of the harvest season. Costa Rican and El Salvadoran studies reported at the ASIC 2012 conference found that removing all cherry from all trees after harvest and before pruning and destroying those cherries is the most important practice a farmer can do to prevent infestation on the next crop. Other effective measures to reduce CBB populations include harvesting frequently and pulping all of the cherries picked. Floaters should also be pulped as they often contain at least one undamaged bean. Proper treatment of mill waste by heating, freezing or covered composting is also helpful.

Seventy-five percent of the farmers surveyed reported Beauveria sprays to be good or very good control methods. College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources research found using 8 ounces per acre was as effective as using any greater amount.

Farmers have also found products containing pyrethrins — Evergreen, proponyl — to be effective, followed by Surround kaolin clay spray, Admire Pro and garlic barrier. More than 90 percent of farms surveyed use a spreader containing silicon such as Silwet, Widespread or Ecosprea.

Two-thirds of farmers surveyed spray every three to four weeks. About 8 percent spray based on the 30 Tree Sampling method. For information on this methodology go to This method involves the use of traps for the purpose of monitoring the borer population. In 2013, commercial broca traps followed by the homemade or locally available Kona soda bottle traps with flaps were considered the most effective. Information on these traps is available online.

Email plant questions to for answers by Certified Master Gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.

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