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Wiggly worms turn garbage into rich fertilizer

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shawn Wright says he first learned to appreciate the power of worms a quarter of a century ago.

He had just moved to a run-down farm with run-down soil that could produce only run-down crops.

Today, that has all changed. Thanks primarily to the power of worms, the soil at the Wright farm is alive and well.

And now Wright is putting worm power to work at Central New Mexico Community College, where he is a member of the biology faculty.

“Nothing goes in the trash at my place if it can go to the worms or a compost bin,” he says.

Shawn Wright, who teaches in CNM's Biology Department, is planning to install his worm farms on the college's campuses. (Courtesy of CNM)

Shawn Wright, who teaches in CNM’s Biology Department, is planning to install his worm farms on the college’s campuses. (Courtesy of CNM)

As part of the college’s sustainability efforts, all of its campuses are getting their own worm farms that will turn paper, vegetable and fruit waste into mulch that can be put to use as nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Wright started a worm farm in his office at CNM and got several of his students interested in developing farms of their own. That led him to propose installing worm farms at all five primary campuses – Montoya, South Valley, Rio Rancho, West Side and main campus.

Luis Campos, executive director of the CNM Physical Plant, liked the idea. “Let’s go for it,” he said, and purchased a worm farm for each campus.

The worm bins, 18-by-18 inch plastic containers, are stacked on top of one another with small holes on the bottom. Placed on the bottom container is a bedding material made of paper and food the worms can eat – coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable and fruit material – anything but meat protein and dairy products, which they can’t digest.

The CNM worm farms start out with 500 Red Wiggler worms, which in about two months grow to 2,000. As the worm numbers expand and the mulch increases, a second container with fresh food waste is put on top of the original and the worms migrate to it. Eventually, all five containers are filled, and the first container, with fresh bedding and food material, is moved to the top.

The resulting material produced by the worms looks and smells just like fresh soil, and it serves as an excellent nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Wright is maintaining a worm farm in the Main Campus Biology Department, and farmers at other campuses will soon be receiving their worm-farm containers, plus 500 start-up Red Wiggler worms.

Larger composting facilities will soon be installed for CNM’s Culinary Arts program.

“The worm farms at every campus are another way to bring recycling into our every day lives,” Wright says. As for his home farm, he says, “the once-terrible soil is now healthy.”