If your garden is not thriving, you might want to count how many worms are wriggling in the dirt.

Good soil in the Northwest contains a healthy dose of 72 worms per square foot, said Miki Jurcan, who runs Alameda's Bay Worms at the Alameda Point Collaborative community garden and gives monthly workshops on worm composting. Worms are important for a healthy garden because they consume organic material and leave behind mineral-rich excretions called worm castings, which Jurcan calls "the best overall fertilizer in the world."

Jurcan is passionate about worms. He believes "we are killing our soil" with chemical fertilizers, pollution and overuse. In a workshop earlier this month at the APC community garden, Jurcan talked about worm composting, worked with participants to feed the worms he grows and create a composting pile.

Bay Worms, which began as Berkeley Worms in Richmond almost 20 years ago, moved to the Alameda Point Collaborative community garden in 2005 to pursue its goal of keeping organic waste out of landfills by turning it into usable compost. Bay Worms creates compost in two ways: by following a traditional layered hot compost method, and by using worm composting.

Jurcan creates worm casting with several crate-like Wriggly Wranch Worm Bins and three desk-sized "vermitopias" — bins of organic materials that include horse manure from Livermore, food scraps from the Alameda Food Bank and elsewhere, and grass cuttings from local gardeners. Thousands of red wriggler worms feast away on the bins' contents, creating about 20 pounds of castings for every 100 pounds of organic waste. Jurcan keeps the bins moist and aerated, then collects the castings from the bottom of the bins every four to six weeks and sells it to local gardeners through the Bay Worms Web site for about a dollar a pound.


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Alameda resident Rhamis Kent attended Jurcan's most recent worm composting workshop. Kent, who is trained as a mechanical engineer, went because he is interested in permaculture design work. The different composting techniques are "just kind of tweaking the process so that it's that much more efficient and that much more optimized," he said. "It's very similar to engineering work, although I think it's a lot more beneficial, in that you're always making attempts to improve on your design."

Mary Lee, who has 1 ¼ acres on a "big brown hill" in Alameda where she has planted oak saplings and fruit trees, attended the workshop because she has specific gardening concerns."We're just trying to repopulate our hill and make it more interesting," she said.

She came to the Bay Worms workshop because "we have all these trees that we want to see prosper"... but they're not too happy. And so I'm thinking the soil is a big issue."

"That's the issue," said Kent.

Anyone interested can learn more about worm composting, and order worm castings online, at the Bay Worms Web site at www.bayworms.org, or call 510-776-6210. The organization is open four days a week.

For those who want to grow their own worms, Bay Worms also sells a worm startup kit with worms and worm eggs for $18. To house the worms for composting, a household-sized Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin is available for purchase at www.stopwaste.org, the Web site for the Alameda County Waste Management Authority.

Bay Worms also grows organic produce which it plans to sell on-site for a small donation. The organization also plans to create a kids' area in the future. Jurcan hopes children can "come and pick up their own tomatoes or lettuce here, and spend maybe an hour or two and ask silly questions about worms and play with the worms, and go home with a bag of the best stuff on Earth."