Lookie, there’s gold in them thar worms

WSU Extension Waste Wise Volunteer Program Manager Janet Hall shows workshop attendees “black gold” from a wooden worm bin at the Oak Harbor Public Works Shop. - Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times
WSU Extension Waste Wise Volunteer Program Manager Janet Hall shows workshop attendees “black gold” from a wooden worm bin at the Oak Harbor Public Works Shop.
— image credit: Katie McVicker/Whidbey News-Times

It’s a rare thing to see a woman pick up a pile of manure, hold it to close to her face, take a big whiff and exclaim, “This is beautiful stuff. Oh, it’s just gorgeous!” And then proceed to explain how she plans to wrap it up for Christmas presents later in the year. But at the Oak Harbor Public Works Shop, that’s just what WSU Extension representative Janet Hall did, and the people present joined in her excitement.

Hall, along with Oak Harbor Environmental Educator Maribeth Crandell, was demonstrating the benefits of composting and introducing the treasured manure-producing creature, the red wiggler to its adoring new fans.

Worm bin demonstrations have been popping up all over Whidbey Island lately from lessons at the Farmer’s Market to classes at the Public Works Shop. Crandell said worm bins’ popularity is going strong and she often meets people at the Farmers Market whose friends insisted they needed to learn more about the wonders of the red wiggler. Furthermore, worm bins have found homes in teachers’ classrooms and at City Hall.

For those who don’t know, a worm bin is an eco-friendly way to compost waste and food scraps in order to keep them out of landfills and illegal burn bins.

As Hall put it, “If you’re burning your garbage in a burn barrel, you’re polluting the air terribly.”

Building worm bins is simple and consists of four main components: a container (like a wooden box or a Rubbermaid tub), bedding (like torn up newspaper, cardboard or leaves), food scraps and about a pound of red wigglers.

“Red worms are the champions because they reproduce rapidly and they eat a lot,” Hall said.

The wigglers live in the bin, eating and creating an abundance of rich manure which Crandell calls “black gold.”

The “gold” can then be used to fertilize gardens and household plants. The upkeep is easy and the rewards to the environment and plants are abundant. Crandell said there are a few guidelines regarding what food waste can go into the bins, mainly no dairy products, oils or meats. Those items can attract unwanted rodents and cause a terrible odor, she said. Additionally, it’s best to keep worm bins in the shade.

“Worms are like people,” Crandell said. “They like their temperature to be around 50 to 70 degrees. They’re Northwesterners.”

Many people attended the workshop who were familiar with composting, but had the desire to add some wigglers into the mix.

“We’ve got the furnace,” Cliff Wagner said, referring to his composting bin, “but we don’t have the fire starters. We need the worms.”

Detailed information on how to build a worm bin and where to get free red wigglers can be found at

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