October 30, 2011

Calling all worms

Actually, it's a "casting" call! 

If your garden struggled last summer, you might learn a thing or two from local teachers and their green thumb students who have jumped into the “school garden movement” and worm composting.

J. Blaine Blayton (JBB) Elementary PTA president, Marlene Armstrong, is an avid gardener and a volunteer with JBB's School Garden that was officially dedicated two weeks ago. She says, “The school garden movement is burgeoning across the country and especially alive and well in our area.”

Matthew Whaley, Matoaka, Norge, D.J. Montague and Stonehouse Elementary Schools, Berkeley Middle, and Jamestown and Lafayette High Schools are among those that operate school gardens.

Armstrong says, “I have been struck by the dedication of the teachers and James City County Master Gardeners in getting our project off the ground. But the gardens are heavily reliant on the financial and volunteer contributions of the community.”

See J. Blaine Blayton Elementary School's Garden Page and Stonehouse Elementary’s Habitat Garden to see how green these school gardens are. These programs are part of the reason that the Virginia School Board Association just announced that the Williamsburg/James City County schools are among the 37 public school divisions in Virginia that were recognized as a "Certified Green School Division" as part of their "Green Public Schools Challenge" this year.

Dig in — With worm “castings,” the end product (pun intended) of the breakdown of organic matter by nightcrawlers or red wigglers. Officially called vermicompost, this stuff is the “caviar of compost”—super for your garden, landscaped beds, potted plants or lawns.

“Worm guru” Ron Crum in James City County raises more than 500,000 worms for both composting and bait. Homeowners can buy Ron's screened worm castings in one quart ($3) bags or larger at Jamestown Feed and Seed or Homestead Garden Center in James City County. He says, “A Kingsmill garden club member told me that just a spoonful on her sad-looking African violet returned it to health.” I’m trying some around our stressed-out Virginia sweetspires.

Leftover Halloween pumpkins? I watched Ron Crum’s worms feasting on donated pumpkins in his compost bins. You can drop off your unwanted pumpkins at Crum’s worm farm on Forge Road in Toano. Look for his stonework pumphouse on the left, about 350 yards off Richmond Road or contact him at 291-6675.

Adopt-a-bin? Local resident Gina Ridgway launched the “WormWatcher” program last year for students and home gardeners. About 100 Virginia schools already use her worm composting bins. Students at Rawls Byrd, the Academy of Life and Learning, Williamsburg Montessori Middle School, Stonehouse Preschool, Bruton High, and Norge Elementary are among the 35 local schools that have embraced the program.

The worms need only apple cores, coffee grounds, etc. every few weeks and some newspaper for bedding and fiber. Devoted teachers keep the worms thriving during summer vacations.

But budget cuts limit the number of students who are able to watch worms convert two to three pounds of food waste into castings weekly—more than 100 pounds into 50 pounds of castings in a school year.

The children at a week-long camp at Boys and Girls Club studied whether worms preferred white chocolate chips over watermelon. The worms ate the melon first and left the chips fairly untouched. Smart little wigglers! These students want a bin for their afterschool program but cannot afford it yet.

Ridgway suggests, “There is an Adopt-a-Bin program to help schools purchase them. Wouldn’t it be great if folks or organizations like Garden Clubs, Master Gardeners, or generous businesses or individuals sponsored a classroom?”

The season of giving is just around the corner if you’re looking for a unique gift. You can find more info at WormWatcher or contact Ridgway at 256-3489 or regina@biomeinabox.com .