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For the Love of Worms:

Q & A with John Anderson,
the “Colorado Worm Man” and Vermicomposting Expert

BY JESSICA DEAN

Hello plant and worm lovers! Welcome to Part II of Indoor Vermicomposting. (You can read Part I here that explains how to easily set up your own homemade worm bin in CFTT’s October newsletter). Sometimes the cold winter months seem like a difficult time to anticipate a future harvest from the garden. As we move closer to the Spring season, the expanded list of purchases needed to grow your own veggies can become daunting. One costly purchase for many home gardeners is buying special nitrogen-rich soil blends year after year. To some people and farming lovers, this may seem like a ridiculous purchase with wasteful packaging. If you have pondered if there is a more sustainable way, the answer is “yes!”

 

For this article, I turned to a long time “worm lover,” John Anderson (aka the “Colorado Worm Man), for answers to common questions. He is a vermicomposting expert and a great source of knowledge on the topic. According to Anderson, most land comes equipped with the substrate needed to make our own blend of soils. Even if you live in a small apartment with just concrete beneath your feet, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, you can upcycle your old indoor plant soil into nitrogen-rich “like new” soil. “It’s all about maintaining a healthy ecosystem for your worms, in the environment that you choose to build for them,” noted our worm aficionado.

 

Q: Thank you for sharing some tips with us, John! With more than 27 years under your belt in the business of vermicomposting, what is the biggest challenge with maintaining a worm bin indoors during the cold winter?

 

A: I have found that most complaints are about fruit or fungus flies which are usually a result of over feeding and not putting a cloth or bedding cover directly on the top of the active worm bed.It helps to freeze the feedstocks, especially citrus rinds, before feeding into the bins.

 

Q: There seems to be so much written about leaving your worms alone so they can do their thing. Why do we not want to disturb the worms too much?

 

A: It's like totally impolite as with most beings with mouths. Worms prefer a dark quiet (minimal vibration) habitat to feed and mate in. But, checking on them briefly or adding food once or twice a day it doesn't seem to have much of a detrimental effect on them.

 

Q: When it comes to the business of using poop for soil, farmers usually use horse manure after it has a long time to break down, so it’s not too HOT for the plants to grow in. Inquiring minds are wondering why worm "poop" is not considered too HOT for your immediate use in soil like horse poop is?

 

A: The "hotness" (nitrogen) has been transformed into the bodies of bacteria and fungi.Therefore, giving worm “poop” a stableness that won’t "burn" plants (just make sure your soil ratios are correct before introducing to plants at important life stages). Whereas the feces of most mammals contain high amount of free nitrogen that can, and does, “burn” plants as it decomposes into various constituents such as ammonia and nitric oxide.

 

Q: Is there a way to grow veggies directly in an indoor/outdoor worm compost container?

 

A: Yes! Some people often can accomplish this in raised beds with highly organic matter in the soil and mulch. I’ve also witnessed other folks combining this method with their potted plants, in the house with mulch.

 

Q: Is there an easy way to upcycle old furniture or appliances into the perfect indoor/outdoor worm bin?

 

A: You bet. We are only limited by our imagination which is unlimited. You also need some design and construction skills. I've seen old (ancient) hi-fi stereo TV consoles turned into an indoor worm bin as well as end-tables and footstools. However, my favorite designs are from old freezers and refrigerators. This form of upcycling appliances into useful worm bins is my favorite!

 

We hope this helps you as you prepare for a fruitful season of gardening in a more sustainable way. Click here to see a Channel Denver 7 News clip on John Anderson, the Colorado WormMan.

 

Worm Loving Pro-Tip: To check to see if your worms are alive, shine a light in on the box. If they move away from the light, yep, they’re alive.

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