Vermiculture - The Worms Shall Inherit... The SMC Campus?

Every spring after a long sleep during winter, nature awakes with the blooming of the flowers.

On the campus of Santa Monica College, flowers as yellow as the sun, and those that have reds and greens so vivid that it makes you stop and pause for a second, are all over the place.

Like every other living thing flowers need food and water to grow and survive. Water for these flowers comes from the rain and sprinklers. To maintain the health of flowers in the winter months or when freshly planted, they need fertilizer, which is food. Believe it or not some of the fertilizer that SMC uses is made right here on campus.

Out behind the cafeteria, next to the big green dumpsters, inside a white container that looks like nothing more than storage, live a large number of worms called red wigglers worms. These worms make castings from food scraps and anything that was once living.

Food scraps are either the uneaten portions of food or ingredients that were not part of final dish such as eggshells. All of the food venders on the campus from Fresh and Natural to Carl's Jr. participate in providing food scraps to the worms.

"The worms that we use are called Red Wigglers," Recycling Coordinator Madeline Brodie said. "We use these worms because they are the best and eat the fastest," said Brodie.SMC adopted the vermiculture idea for recycling three years ago. Chris Wilsons of Simply Worms in Thanksgiving of 2002 approached the school and the school went with it.

SMC will never have to worry about too many worms in the tank. The worms self regulate themselves. If there are too many they won't reproduce; if there are too little they will reproduce to get their numbers back up. SMC from time to time will harvest some of the worms and donate them to other schools that are putting in vermiculture projects.

"This is a great educational tool as schools come to the campus see how it works," said Brodie. "In fact we had a school come on the campus earlier this morning."To maintain the worm project is very expensive. The money, which SMC saves by producing fertilizer, goes to pay for the cost of the upkeep.Juan Martin, a janitor at SMC, feeds the worms three times a week. The castings are collected every two weeks. Every time a harvest is made the amount is weighed. Once Martin gets the weight he will then enter the amount in his records for the school."On average I will collect around 160 pounds of fertilizer every two weeks. Sometimes more and sometimes less," Martin said.

Even though the upkeep is expensive, making sure the worms are in good health is a fairly simple process. As long as they are kept moist and are given carbon, the worms will do their job. The carbon they need comes from cardboard and paper products that are fed to the worms along with the food scraps.

"It gives good organic fertilizer for the flowers at SMC," Grounds Manager Tom Corpus said.