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As the worm turns 

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If plain old composting isn't cutting it for you, try using worms. Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce the amount of garbage that goes into the landfill and to improve your soil. Each day, worms can eat their weight in garbage (OK, it's just a few ounces, so you need a lot of the critters). The worm waste can then be used as an organic fertilizer in gardens. Vermicomposting also saves water because the trash isn't going down the garbage disposal. And as an added bonus, if you fish, once your worms multiply--and sated with food and lulled by darkness, they will--you can use them as bait.

Vermiculture can be done on a large or small scale, making it useful for homes, schools, hospitals and government buildings. It takes little effort, time and money.

Start with a shallow container or non-treated wooden box (chemicals used in wood treatments can kill the worms before their first meal or romantic encounter). If you plan to place the worms in a hot garage or outdoors, a wooden box is better because it allows more ventilation. (This form of composting doesn't stink, so it's OK to keep it in the house.) For the worms' well-being, they should be kept in an area where the temperature ranges from 55 degrees to 77 degrees.

The box should be shallow, though, because redworms are surface feeders. As to the size of the container, for each pound of scraps produced each week, the box should be 1 square foot bigger (1 pound of scraps equals 2 square feet). Drill half-inch holes on the bottom to allow for ventilation and drainage, then drill the same size holes on the sides to give the bin plenty of oxygen. It's a good idea to place a plastic tray under the bin to collect excess moisture.

Add bedding to the bottom of the box. Shredded black and white newspaper, brown paper bags, peat moss, shredded leaves and composted animal manure are good options. Add a few handfuls of soil and some crushed eggshells for roughage and calcium. The amount of bedding needed depends on the size of your box; add 4 to 6 pounds for a 2-foot-by-2-foot box. As worms eat their bedding, more will should be added.

Keep the bedding moist. A rule of thumb is 3 pints of water for every pound of bedding.

Finally, buy your worms. Use only redworms (or wriggler worms) and keep them well fed with kitchen and garden scraps. They love vegetables, fruits, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, paper coffee filters and shredded garden waste. Cut the waste into small pieces so the worms can easily break down the food. Bury the food in the bedding about once a week. And be cautious not to add more than the worms can eat or the box will stink.

Harvest your vermiculture by separating the worms and their bedding from the castings, as their manure is called, and use it in your garden.

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