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Worm composting has cut family's waste to next to nothing

Apr 1, 2012 - By Alexandra Cokar, Laramie Boomerang

LARAMIE (AP) -- Erika Babbitt-Rogers used to go to the city landfill a couple of times a year to get rid of her household waste. Then, a few years ago, she read an article in a farmer's magazine that inspired her to start a project that allowed her to recycle more waste.

The article described a family farm that used worms to compost almost everything, with the exception of some recyclables -- a process known as vermicomposting.

"I thought that was pretty interesting. Since my family lives on a ranch, we thought at least it would keep a lot more out of the dump and help with the garden," she said.

She researched vermicomposting and bought a pound of worms to start up her worm farm.

"And I thought I had it all figured out. I bought a pound of worms and within a month killed the first pound of worms because I hadn't done something right," she said.

"And then I bought every book I could find on it and did a lot of reading online. I bought another pound of worms, and it kind of went from there."

Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) involves the breakdown of organic wastes by worms and microorganisms, according to information from Red Worm Compositing's Web site, www.redwormcomposting. As the worms consume compostable items, they process them into vermicompost which can later be added to soils to make them more fertile.

Red Wigglers and European Nightcrawlers are the best worms to use in composting in this area. They thrive in temperatures between 60-70 degrees.

"I just intended to do it to get rid of wastes in my own house and then when people found out I was doing it, they would ask if they could buy worms or if I could come do a presentation and it just kind of bloomed from there," Babbitt-Rogers said.

After four years of vermicomposting, Babbitt-Rogers' household produces minimal waste.

"Anything that can't be recycled either through the worms or the recycling bins around town, that's about all that we would take to the city dump. And since we started using worms and really recycling things, I think we've been to the dump a couple of times in the last three years," Babbitt-Rogers said.

In the past three years, her worm farm has grown into a local business. Now Babbitt-Rogers sells worms to a local store for fishing bait and to locals who would like to improve the soils in their garden. High alkaline content in Laramie soils makes gardening difficult, so adding worm castings (which are essentially worm excrement) to Laramie soils is one way to make their alkaline PH level more neutral, Babbitt-Rogers said.

"A conference I was just at, they said that the soils in our area are PH between baking soda and sea water, which isn't really inductive to growing plants," Babbitt-Rogers said.

However, worm castings alone might not be the only way to improve Laramie soils, as many plants prefer to grow in acidic soil (characterized by PH level below 7), Babbitt-Rogers said.

"Trying to grow in straight castings doesn't really work. You need to mix it with other soil or your top soil because straight castings themselves, if they get dry, they will get really hard, they will be like concrete," she said.

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