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I have a manure farm in my backyard. Before you decide to move on to another article, you should know that my farm is small, only about two square feet in size. It consists of a plastic bin in which live hundreds of small, red worms. Known as “red wigglers”, they are different from the earthworms you find in your garden. These little wonders will eat your food waste and create nutrient-rich manure that you can use in your garden.

My worms live very comfortably in their little storage bin, nestled in a bedding of shredded newspaper. Every now and then, I take some leftover vegetables and place them under the bedding. Before long, the little red wigglers are all over it, chewing it up and turning it into the garden version of “black gold.”

Their manure, or castings, looks much like soil at first glance. It is, however, around five times more nutrient rich then regular soil. The worms are good at their job of consuming and excreting up to half of their body weight in organic matter each day. This leaves me in awe. What if I could attempt such a feat?

Getting started on worm composting, also known as vermiculture, is easy. Obtain a wood or plastic container roughly one foot deep. Drill 1/4-inch holes on the sides and bottom to allow air and moisture to pass in and out of the container.

Fill the bin with 1-inch thick strips of damp, but not wet, newspaper. This bedding will help your worms stay cool and damp, as well as give them an additional food source. Glossy newspaper inserts or magazines won’t work as bedding. Choose a location that is not too cold or hot. I keep my bin in a shady corner of my patio, but many people keep theirs inside in the basement or laundry room.

Now that you have built your worm home, you can add worms and begin feeding them table scraps. Don’t overwhelm them with too much food at first. Watch to see how quickly they eat what you give them, and raise the amount as the population grows. They reproduce rapidly, so you won’t have long to wait.

Your new friends will be happy to have any leftover vegetables, fruit, dead flowers, tea bags, coffee grounds and even egg shells. They are vegetarian, however, so don’t feed them any meat or dairy products. It is also best to minimize acidic foods such as citrus.

If all goes well, in a few months you will start to see worm castings accumulating at the bottom of the bin. There are many ways to harvest them, but I find the following method to be the easiest. First, remove the finished compost and set it aside. After adding fresh bedding, place hardware cloth across the top of the bin. Put the finished compost on the hardware cloth and let the sun or another bright light shine onto it.

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The worms will move away from the light, through the compost, and out the bottom into the new bedding. Afterward, pick through the compost to find any stragglers that you can transfer by hand.

Now you have a highly nutritious, homemade fertilizer. You can use it wet, but to store it for later use, let it dry. Just sprinkle it in your garden before watering to enrich your soil. I also like to put a handful in the bottom of a planting hole to give the new plant a healthy start in my garden.

Red wigglers can be found at many fishing supply stores and online. You can also get some worms and a free bin if you attend a Master Gardener worm-composting workshop (https://compost.naparecycles.org/). The workshop is also your chance to get more detailed information on vermiculture. I started my bin after attending such a workshop, and now can’t imagine how I ever gardened without it.

Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Landscape Trees, Shrubs and Maples” on Saturday, June 10, from 9:30-11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Ave., Napa. The workshop continues from noon to 2 p.m. with a field trip to a local garden. Trees and shrubs add pleasure and value to your garden. Discover an array of options for the home garden and how to add structure and interest with landscape trees and shrubs. Tips for selecting, planting, and caring for trees and shrubs will be discussed. Please bring a sack lunch, dress for outdoor conditions and wear good walking shoes. Online registration (credit card only)

Mail-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).

T. Eric Nightingale is a UC Master Gardener of Napa County. UC Master Gardeners of Napa County (http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) answer gardening questions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.

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