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Worm whisperer
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I once heard a well-known evangelist ridicule Earth Day, saying, "What is it anyway - the celebration of dirt?"

If there had been a wall handy, I would have headbanged it a couple of times. That demeaning attitude toward nature has gotten us into a multitude of environmental messes.

What really irked me was the slur against earth, i.e., soil, referring to it as mere dirt. Hello! Dirt/soil/earth is where we grow our fruits and vegetables, grain for livestock, and the "fabric of our lives," cotton.

It's the womb of our food and textile supply. Dirt is worthy of our reverence and stewardship.

I am pretty excited because I am doing something positive for the earth, meaning both the soil and the planet. It all began with the urge to make use of my vegetable trimmings and coffee grounds. Like most people nowadays, I endeavor to send fewer things with my DNA on them to the landfill.

I considered three options. The first and most logical solution was to engage in composting. After reading a bit on this subject, I concluded I'd be more successful attempting to emergency land an airplane.

Turn the pile at the right time, check the internal temperature, concoct the right mix of manure and other ingredients... It's probably easier than it sounds but I couldn't commit to composting.

Option two really captured my fancy. Chickens! They not only eat all your kitchen scraps, they also provide eggs and fertilizer. And chickens can lawfully live within the city limits.

It seemed like fateful synchronicity that there was a Chicken Coop Tour last summer. A trolley full of backyard fowl enthusiasts visited ten hen houses from eastside Savannah to Wilmington Island. The coop architecture was vernacular and diverse.It was a blast! But I couldn't commit to chickens.

Down to the last option, I hoped I would be able to commit to worms. Worm composting, also known as vermiculture, is not complex. I learned this at a mini-workshop at the Earth Day celebration in Forsyth Park.

The worms (or verms as I playfully like to call them) require only simple housing, food and bedding. Of course, I was skeptical, but I plunged ahead and ordered a supply of eisenia foetida, the redworms which are well suited to container life.

I've learned happily that worms require very little of my time. They live in plastic storage bins in my backyard and industriously consume all my kitchen scraps that are vegan. Strips of newspaper provide bedding and, in the event I am not adequately feeding the worms, they will eat the paper, relieving me of the guilt of awakening at 2 a.m. and thinking, "Oh no, I forgot to feed the worms."

At first I made mistakes with the amount of food and I kept the bedding too soggy, but still they survived. They've soldiered on through our brutally cold winter and now the intense heat. My verms!

I've found worms to be ideal urban livestock. Brown lettuce leaves, tea bags, carrot tops go into the bin and every couple of months I harvest worm castings, a superb, naturally time-released fertilizer and soil builder.

Truly, this is black gold. Full of nutrients and beneficial microbes, it has an almost magical ability to nurture plants and enhance the health of the soil. Worm castings added to container plants and to the garden help retain water and nutrients in our sandy, sieve-like soil.

Give it as gifts to gardening friends. Sell it. The stuff is valuable.

Here's what Albert Howard, one of the founders of organic gardening, prophesized about vermiculture:

"I am fully convinced that the eventual salvation of the soil of our country will include the harnessing of the earthworm as one of the major measures. And from my experience I know that the soil can be made to produce several times as much food as the present average through the proper harnessing and utilization of the earthworm under control."

Earthworms also enamored Charles Darwin, though they may have found him odd. He played the piano for them and shouted at them to test their hearing. After 40 years of experiment, Darwin concluded the earthworm is possibly the most important animal on the planet. That's some praise for a small wiggly creature living in dirt.

My source for worms is Kazarie Worm Farm in north Florida ( They offer a five percent discount to schools and nonprofits.