Diana Kyle has a question for Ruskin area gardeners: Why spend $6 a bag for top soil at your local big box store when you can make your own – with worms?
The Tampa-based naturalist, Nature’s Classroom teacher and part-time park ranger recently met with about a dozen curious residents at the SouthShore Regional Library to share her secrets on composting with the wiggly creatures.
“For years I treid to do composting the traditional way at home and was a dismal failure,” she said. “And while there are lots of ways to compost and lots of ways to grow worms, by far my way is the easiest. It’s great for seniors or the lazy gardener, anyone who wants the same result with less effort.”
Kyle said worms are fabulous compost-makers.
“In the ground, they normally eat roots, decomposing wood and dead bugs,” she said. “They take things that die and turn them into soil.”
Here’s how her system works:
Buy a barrel with a screw-on cap and drill holes vertically every three inches apart on all four sides so the prospective tenants – aka red wigglers – can breathe.
“Can they get out?” one guest asked.
“Yes,” Kyle answered. “But they won’t want to leave their nice, warm bed if you feed and water them.” The food she referred to are leftover veggies and fruits and shredded newspaper strips – plenty of them.
“They love watermelon,” Kyle said. “I read if you feed them watermelon they make babies faster.
“They also love bananas, coffee grounds and eggshells. If you want to use your worms for fishing, feed them lots of ground-up eggshells. It thickens their skins so they’ll stay on the hook longer.”
You can also feed them yard trimmings if you like, but no dairy or meats.
And the barrel needs to stay in the shade.
“If you leave them in the sun, you’ll end up with fried worms,” Kyle said. “To escape the heat, they’ll move farther and farther down into the barrel, where the water sits, and they’ll drown.”
Then periodically you need to roll the barrel on the ground to mix up the compost, which is much easier than other methods currently used, she said.
In three to six months, depending on how finely ground-up your food scraps are, the reward for your efforts is “black gold,” a dark, rich soil that conatins all the micronutrients plants need to grow.
“I once planted a jalepeno pepper plant that was supposed to be a small bush,” Kyle said. “I used my compost and it grew to eight feet. My father didn’t believe me and drove all the way from Tarpon Springs to check it out.”
Kyle swears by her methods.
“I have been gardening for 40 years and learned to compost the old-fashioned way,” she said. “It’s too much work. I’d never do that again.”
Marilyn Landry of Freedom Plaza found Kyle’s talk “very informative.
“She wasn’t too technical so I could easily understand (the process),” said Landry, who has a compost spot behind the Plaza’s golf cart parking area. “I’m interested in organic gardening so it was very helpful to me.”
For additional information on composting with worms, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red wigglers are available at area bait shops or from Katherine’s Carpets & Worms, 5804 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa.