Worms are fascinating especially to kids. They are also an essential part of the environment, mixing up and breaking down organic matter. As they burrow deep into the soil, they also help with aeration. In the process, earthworms also leave behind worm casts (or waste), which contain nutrients that enrich the soil. Plants need these nutrients for healthy growth.
To keep the project interesting for kids, talk to them about worms and their activity. Allow them to examine their worms. Discuss their appearance and colour. Ask questions about their wormery activity. Can they spot any worm casts? What happens to the food in the wormery? What about the different layers? Wormeries are a great way for kids to observe and study worm activity up close.
What is a Wormery?
A wormery is a temporary home for earthworms. More often than not, wormeries have clear sides for easy viewing. This allows kids to watch worms work their magic. Although you could purchase a wormery, it’s often just as easy and less expensive to make one yourself. In fact, the kids will enjoy making their own. Materials for making a wormery can be as simple as a large, clear container with drainage holes placed around the bottom, with air holes along the top if desired. They can also be constructed from old fish tanks.
Arm the kids with trowels and send them into the garden to dig up some dirt. They can gather sand from the sandbox or you can purchase some. Provide them with newspaper and let them forage for leaf litter (or just gather some browned leaves). If the project is done indoors, make sure to cover the work area with newspaper, as it will get a bit messy.
Collecting earthworms is easy. Of course, the best place to find worms is near the soil surface following a good rain. However, if the soil is dry, you can wet it down with a garden hose and wait thirty minutes to an hour. The earthworms will eventually come to the surface. You can also dig for worms in shady, moist areas of the garden like beneath shrubs or rocks.
Making a Wormery
There are several ways to make a wormery. Some people begin with a layer of sand in the bottom, while others prefer to line it first with moistened newspaper. Either way is fine. If lining it with newspaper, add a layer of sand on top. The layer that follows this will be used for bedding so be sure to include materials like manure, leaf litter or compost and add some soil and strips of moistened newspaper. Put in some earthworms and a supply of food. Worms will normally eat anything organic, such as kitchen scraps and garden waste. This could be anything from fruit and vegetable peelings to eggshells and tea bags. Avoid feeding them anything with fat, meat, or fish.
Also, keep in mind that worms are not very fond of orange or lemon peels and do not like onions either. Don’t overfeed the worms! Earthworms will continue to eat whatever is in the wormery so make sure to wait until the previous food supply has been eaten before adding any more.
Cover the wormery and place it in a cool, dark location for a couple of weeks. Keeping the wormery covered is important, one to help retain moisture and two to help keep out flies, which may be attracted to the kitchen scraps. Don’t forget to keep an eye on it. Make sure that the wormery remains moist, but not wet. You may even need to add a tiny amount of water now and then. If, for some reason, the wormery becomes stinky, which it shouldn’t, you’ll have to take everything out and start all over. This generally happens when the wormery becomes too wet. Also, make sure the wormery does not get too hot. If air holes have been provided, this will usually help with ventilation.
Kids can also make a mini wormery using a cut-off bottle. Simply cut off the top of the bottle and poke some holes along its bottom. Then let the kids fill their wormery with layers of sand, shredded newspaper (moistened), soil, and leaf litter. Give them a small trowel and send them out digging for worms. Once they have a few, put the earthworms in the wormery. Drop in a few kitchen scraps and cover the bottle with a piece of cloth or window screen. Secure this in place with tape or a rubber band. Have the kids place their mini wormery in a dark area and allow them to monitor their worms’ activity for a week or two before releasing the worms back into the garden.