Strawberry Park 5th-graders learn about worms
March 2, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Guest speaker Chris Bradley asked a slimy question in Karen Goodman's fifth-grade classroom at Strawberry Park Elementary School on Tuesday, and it led to lessons in math, sustainability and biology.
"How much do you think a pound of worms can eat in a day?" Brady asked.
"Ten pounds?" one student ventured.
"There are 1,000 red wigglers in a pound, and they can eat as much as a quarter-pound a day," Bradley announced. "They'll eat more than their weight in a week, and they'll do that week after week!"
Bradley isn't a bio-engineer, but he owns his own woodworking business, Sacred Resource, in Steamboat Springs. He has developed a specialty in building outdoor composting boxes and indoor worm composting, or vermicomposting boxes, from beetle-killed pine boards.
Red worms, or red wigglers, are different from the large earthworms that most people see in the backyard, Bradley told the fifth-graders. Instead of working themselves deep into the soil, the red wigglers live close to the surface in decaying leaves and other plant matter.
"The worms and other microorganisms turned decaying vegetable matter into the nutrients plants need to grow," Bradley told the class.
Why bother to compost?
"Save the planet by not throwing things away and wasting!" volunteered Fischer Matthews, 10.
During Routt County's long winters, the fastidious little worms permit recycling to continue indoors. Their compost boxes don't produce any bad odors, Bradley insisted. A heated garage, a mudroom or a utility room can be an ideal location for a vermicomposting box.
The students at Strawberry Park are looking for a variety of ways to reduce the school's waste this year.
They are striving to limit the amount of trash that leaves their classrooms in the waste bin every night and are being careful not to load their cafeteria trays with more lunch than they can eat.
"This fits in really well with our schoolwide green initiative," Goodman said.
It was readily apparent that the fifth-grade teacher is willing to give vermicomposting a try.
"Just think," she asked her students, "if we up-cycled and recycled and composted everything we could, how long would it take us to fill up our trash bin in our classroom?"
Bradley told the class that in typical communities, 20 to 50 percent of the volume of trash that people take to the curb each week is food waste.
"It's nothing but food that could be composted," he said. "You know what? It sits in the landfill and gets yucky."
With that, Bradley poured a coffee can full of compost and small worms into a tray for the children to inspect.
"My dad said earthworms have 10 hearts. Do these worms have 10 hearts?" asked Zoe Sullivan, 10.
"I just checked, and you can find information on the Internet about how red wigglers live," school Principal Celia Dunham said.
Consider it a homework assignment, Zoe.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com