Sustainability is the buzzword of the times and nothing says taking care of the aina like raising your own worms. Every schoolkid now knows, worms (if you don’t mind me mixing a metaphor or two) are the coolest thing since sliced bread.

If you’re into raising vegetables at home, you’ve gotta get serious about raising worms too. You’ll need those precious worm castings. Worm scat improves soil structure, increases drought resistance, and provides microbes that are beneficial to soil health.

You’ll not find a bigger proponent of this than Velma Akinaka, a retired teacher and currently a volunteer at the Nu’uanu Congregational Church where she’s become the definitive expert on raising worms. This skill set conforms perfectly with Her church’s Ulu Wai Ministry which administers to the less fortunate in the community as well as caring for God’s creation which means tending to the health of land. They even have a Worm Composting Ministry.

Velma said her church has established a close relationship with Bellingham, Washington based Nature’s Footprint, a company that manufactures worm composting products. The founder of the firm, Ralph Rhoads, comes to Hawaii several times a year to preach the “gospel of the worm”.

Ralph’s company provides the Wormcycler to schools, municipalities, churches and other non profits at a discount so that they can be resold for fund raising efforts. It’s a win/win for everyone.

Velma is a big fan of their Wormcycler, which makes raising worms easy. It’s essentially a bin with three trays and a spigot. It comes with an excellent instruction guide,  as well as material you need such as bedding. I am currently using it and my worms are getting fatter and sassier every day.

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Happy worms devouring what’s left of a Papaya.

All you do is add worms and household waste—think fruit or veggies such as papaya which you mix with shredded newspaper or cardboard. The worms do the rest by processing and recycling the waste into compost full of nutrients.

After the first tray is full, you stack another on top. Each tray has a grid bottom, so worms migrate upward as new food is added. Before you know it, you’ve got a thriving, wriggling community of hungry friends who are creating the world’s best fertilizing.

Feeding the little beasties is easy but there are some rules to follow: They eat just about everything (even your junk mail) but you should eschew throwing in dairy or meat products, citrus and papaya seeds which don’t agree with their diet. The amount of food consumed by the worms depends on how many worms you have.

Velma suggests it’s helpful to chop the worm food up or nuke it in the microwave to break down the cell walls. The worms will get started when the food starts to decompose so it’s in your interest to get it to that state quicker. As waste is broken down, moisture filters through the system, taking nutrient‐rich particles with it.

This is not rocket science to set up. In addition to the printed materials the Nature’s Footprint website is excellent. This video, which is about a similar product as the Wormcycler, is helpful.

I think their product is thoughtfully designed and was impressed with extent that management is working so closely with grass roots orgs to make the kinds of changes we’ll need to get closer to sustainability.

Here are some invaluable tips that Velma has passed onto me:

Your manual is a great guide so reread it from time to time.  It is important to follow its instructions until you get comfortable with your worm routines before trying new vermicomposting strategies.

  • Start your wormcycler with only 1 working tray and be patient.
  • The amount of food that is consumed by the worms is dependent on how many worms you have… the more worms you have, the faster your food is turned into castings.  Your worm population will double in about every 3 months.
  • Each worm will eat half its weight every day so do not overfeed them….unless…what I do is put the food and worms already in the tray to one side of the tray (vs. putting the new food on top of the old food.)   Then put the new food next to the old food with the worms in it.  That way when the food heats up due to the decaying / composting process, the worms have a cooler side to go to if it gets too warm so it’s okay to put more than one day’s worth of food.
  • The worms will only eat food that has started to decompose. Breaking down the cell wall of the food helps to speed decomposition e.g. cut the food into smaller pieces, microwave or freeze the food, put it in a blender (need drain liquid). Don’t put papaya seeds(heard they make the worms sterile) or sproutable seeds like bitter melon, cantaloupe seeds in your bin. Seeds may sprout!
  • Food that smell sweet (papaya, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe etc.) tend to attract fruit flies. Microwaving the food or putting in less at a time as well as keeping a layer of shredded paper below the top sheets of newspaper will lessen their numbers.  They get caught in the shredded paper.  I also have other strategies so email me for them.
  • Remember the food in the wormcycler should be as damp as a squeezed out sponge.  if there is too much liquid in the bin, add more browns like shredded paper or egg cartons or crumpled non diseased dry leaves. Otherwise, your food will begin to smell bad because the anaerobic (doesnʻt need oxygen) microbes are out-producing the aerobic (needs oxygen, aeration, gives off heat) microbes.
  • Worm castings are the worm poop that looks like soil in your tray. Like your soil, it has good and bad microbes in it so it`s good practice to wash your hands with soap and hot water or wear gloves.  Keep your bin area clean.
  • If you have your wormcycler outdoors and some undesirables are sneaking into your bin, you may consider getting a netting “tent” to keep them away. Ask me about it if you are interested in buying a worm tent.   A cover made of old screen works fine too.
  • The drainage tray with the spigot holds a liquid (leachate) from your food, from the water you might sprinkle in the bin.  It is recommended that you use the leachate from the drainage collection tray only on non-food plants and dilute it with 1 part leachate to 10 parts of water. The worm castings themselves have 90-95 % aerobic bacteria (good bacteria) and can be used on all your plants, edible and ornamental.
  • Leave the spigot in open position 24/7 to help with the aeration.
  • The worms often go down into the collection drainage tray to cool off and take a swim!  Allow them to have more ways to climb back up to the tray above by putting a plastic piece in the center of the drainage tray that will touch the tray above to act as a ladder for the worms. Suggested items:  a piece of old nylon screen rolled up or several plastic 6-pack soda or juice holders weaved together or several plastic netting tied together such as net bags from frozen turkey or long rice or even the netting that the Xmas tree is often wrapped in…use your ingenuity!

For information on the Worm Ministry you can reach Velma at 808 595-3135 after 7 p.m.) or email her at kimoment2@hawaiiantel.net.

Rob Kay writes about business, technolog and firearms for Hawaii Reporter and is the author of How to Buy an AK-47.

Photos courtesy of Rob Kay, Nature’s Footprint and Nu’uanu Congregational Church

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