Worms love ‘salad days’

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High school students Alex Walsh and Kelsey Reardon hold worms. They are working on a project to see if worm fertilizer is better than the generic kind. High school students Alex Walsh and Kelsey Reardon hold worms. They are working on a project to see if worm fertilizer is better than the generic kind.

Students turn leftovers into prime fertilizer

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Some students may not love lunch when lettuce is served, but not everyone turns their nose up at salad days.

The students may toss a larger percentage of their lunches on those days, but hundreds of worms are happy to get the leftovers.

Earlier this school year, high school science teacher John King bought bins for composting. They were filled with materials like newspapers and with 1,000 worms.

The red worms got to work.

Vermicomposting involves worms eating food scraps and producing fertilizer through their waste. The process is taking place at the high school’s greenhouse.

Two high school seniors will see if worms produce better fertilizer than generic fertilizer bought from a store.

The worm fertilizer is rich in minerals and contains copper, zinc, and iron, according to Earthworms Plus of Warren County.

In one of the bins in the school greenhouse, there were pieces of cardboard, newspaper, lettuce and plenty of worm castings, a name for what’s left after the worms have eaten.

Food is collected from the school cafeteria after the lunches each day, King said. His Advanced Placement Environmental Science class is asking for leftover salads, fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds and teabags. Meat and dairy are not on the list.

On Friday afternoon, there wasn’t much food in the red collection bucket – lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, croutons and radishes.

On salad days, it’s better, King said.

“That day we cash in,” he said. “The worms love that day.”

High school students Alex Walsh and Kelsey Reardon are using the composting project as part of a science fair project to see if red wriggler worms composting is better than generic fertilizer.

Walsh of South Dennis said she hasn’t done composting before.

“It’s different. It’s interesting,” the 17-year-old said.

Reardon, 18, of Cape May Court House, said the hope is that the worm-produced fertilizer grows better.

The worms mostly munch on lettuce but they eat tomatoes, too, King said.

“And they [the worms] seem to be happy. No complaints,” he said.

The composting project calls for students to take out the castings from the three compost bins and do measurements.

“My prediction is that [worm composting] this will work better, but we’ll see,” King said.

He said he may reach out to school cafeteria workers about giving leftovers to be used for the composting project.

King has referenced the vermicomposting project in his environmental science classes, which totals about 90 to 100 students.

The 1,000 worms came from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm, which sells worms, indoor and outdoor composters, books and more.

Middle’s composting could be expanded. In the bigger picture, the high school could set an example for composting, King said. Vermicomposting could also be tackled communitywide.

The high school’s horticulture teacher could have students use the fertilizer, he said.

The high school science fair is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center.

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