Well, over the last couple days I finished my third (or possibly my 4th) worm bin harvest. During my second year of teaching, when I taught high school, I received a grant to help educate students about agriculture. The project I chose was worm composting because I thought it could connect to many different areas, including agriculture. I didn't receive the funds for the bin until fairly late in the year, so I really didn't get that project up and going.
By that time, I think I had been "talked to" about being transferred to the middle school, so I was thinking of how I would continue this project with my middle school students. As I worked on the curriculum for this past year, I decided that 6th grade would have a mostly Earth Science emphasis, with environmental science included as well. We started the year learning about how organisms interact and how materials breaking down is a really important part of the cycle of life.
I decided that I would write another grant and around November, we received a second worm bin. Since we were past our Environmental Science unit, I didn't complete our project as I originally envisioned, but I still wanted students involved with the process. So during a class period we had a discussion about what sorts of things we could bring for the bins and we made a list in our science journals. During that same discussion we talked about what was going to happening in the bin and reviewed what roles various organisms were playing in it and what good would the resulting material would be. So for the last semester, my two 6th grade classes competed to bring the most compost for the bins. I put of paper to chart their results over the weeks. We decided to keep track of the pounds of food.
I had students volunteer to help set up the bins and throughout the rest of the year, students brought in food for the bins. I didn't get as much participation as I hoped, but I had some students that usually don't actively participate bring things for the bins. My one class hour had just over 10 pounds for their bin, while the other class period had over 30 pounds. I had hoped to have some time for the students to help with the harvesting process but timing didn't quite work for that.
The compost that I had from the previous year was used for 7th grade plant projects and I am planning on doing that again this year. I am hoping that because I will have both bins for the upcoming school year, we will be able to have a more complete project. Possibly, we could do some organism identification. So far I have seen fruit flies (blast them!!!) and what I think is their larva, snails, of course the red worms, and some other critters here and there. I'm also thinking of using the bin to help introduce more effectively the different cycles and such. For instance, the newspaper provides carbon, eggshells provide calcium, grass clippings would provide nitrogen, etc.
I hope that this project can continue to grow and change over the years. I use newspaper from the school for the bedding. It's possibly we could get something more large scale and do some composting from pre-consumed lunch room food. This project has great connections to reducing what gets thrown into the landfill. As I write this post, my head is swimming with ideas for the worm composting. I have really grown to enjoy having these bins! :) Those who know me, know that I'm not a "bug" fanatic, but it's not really that bad, besides it's in the name of science! I have been very careful to work on the balance of things, not letting the nitrogen content get too out or balance and not having too much anaerobic bacteria thriving. This has prevented the stinky mess that I remember from my own 6th grade class's compost project smelling. Virtually no smell is a good thing, as these bins are kept inside. Aside from the harvest every 4-5 months, the bins are pretty low maintenance.
Anyone else do worm composting or interested in trying it out?