You are on page 1of 8

Leader’s Guide

A 5th Grade School

Enrichment Curriculum
Introduction to
The 4-H Vermicomposting program offers fifth-grade
students an opportunity to explore a micro-community.
This community contains producers, consumers, and
decomposers (as all communities do), and students are
encouraged to reflect upon their learning as they achieve
mastery of the concepts in producing this curriculum we
have kept in mind that teachers are busy people. Therefore,
each of the six lessons is tied to the Department of Public
Instruction Standard Course of Study.
The curriculum includes an accompanying CD, which offers
a visual reference not found in traditional classroom
lectures. In addition, there is a training PowerPoint
presentation with subject matter backup from Rhonda
Sherman, Extension Specialist at N.C. State University.
Training for the 4-H Vermicomposting Curriculum is
generally provided by your County 4-H Agent.
Few supplies are needed, which also makes this a popular
curriculum with agents and teachers alike. A further
benefit of using this curriculum is your inclusion in the 4-H
Vermicomposting wiki, which provides you an opportunity
to ask questions and offer suggestions for improving the
curriculum. Rhonda Sherman and Jackie Helton, Extension
Assistant – Curriculum, moderate this wiki and will respond
to your questions in a timely manner.
We hope that you enjoy using this curriculum as much as
we have enjoyed producing it.

North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting ii

Table of Contents

Lesson 1 1
Introduction to Vermicomposting
What is Vermicomposting?

Lesson 2 5
Developing a Functional Worm Bin
Setting up a Worm Bin

Lesson 3 11
Identifying the Anatomy of an Earthworm
Earthworm Anatomy

Lesson 4 15
Identifying Different Decomposers in a Worm Bin
Other Critters in a Worm’s Neighborhood

Lesson 5 21
Identifying Ways to Reduce the Amount of Waste in our Lives
Recycle, Reuse, Re-Imagine!

Lesson 6 26
Harvesting Worms and Vermicompost from Worm Bins
to Harvest Castings

Vermicomposting Glossary 28

North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting iii

Lesson 1
What is Vermicomposting?

Introduction to Materials
• PowerPoint
presentation on
Standard Course of Study:
Competency Goal 1: The learner
will conduct investigations to build an

vermicomposting understanding of the interdependence
of plants and animals.
• Vermicomposting
1.1 Describe and compare several
statement cards for common ecosystems (communities
evaluation of organisms and their interaction
with the environment).
1.2 Identify and analyze the functions
of organisms within the
population of the ecosystem:
• Consumers
• Decomposers
Length of Lesson:
45–50 minutes
Learning Objectives:
By completing this lesson, students
will be able to:

Life Skill: Learning to Learn— • Identify the concepts of


Acquiring, Evaluating, and • List several advantages of

vermicomposting to recycle food waste

Using Information • Indicate how vermicomposting is

beneficial to plants and soils
• Recall some ways earthworms have
influenced history
• Describe categories of earthworms

Teaching &
rm s in
Ear t

Learning Sequence:
Begin the lesson by asking students to share examples of organic material
decomposing, such as rotting food, decaying animals on highways, or decomposing
leaves in the yard. Explain that the decaying process is a natural part of the life cycle
of living things, and that all organic material begins to decompose, or decay, once it
dies. Explain that decomposing material can be used to enrich soil and add nutrients
by using worms in a process called vermicomposting. Vermicomposting uses worms
and microorganisms to convert dead organic matter into nutrient-rich humus. The
organic matter passes through the worm’s digestive tract and is excreted as castings.
At this point, you may use the PowerPoint presentation to help present information
on vermicomposting.
North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting 1
Ask students the following What are some benefits
questions about worms. After of castings?
each question, you can provide Castings help air and water to permeate
information that clarifies the soil. When castings are added to soil, Giant Gippsland Worm

importance of earthworms: they boost nutrients that are available found was in South Africa, measuring
to the plant and enhance soil structure 22 feet long. The Giant Gippsland
What is vermicomposting? and drainage. Castings can be mulched earthworm of Australia grows to
What consumes food scraps and or mixed into the soil in gardens and 12 feet long and can weigh 1½ pounds.
organic matter in worm bins? around trees and yard plants. They
can also be used as a top dressing on Earthworms have been classified in
Vermicomposting is the process of
outdoor plants or sprinkled on lawns several ways; perhaps the most useful
using worms and microorganisms
as a soil conditioner. is based on their behavior and habitat.
to convert organic matter into
Marcel Bouche developed a classification
nutrient-rich humus. Earthworms and How are some ways that that divides worms into the following
microorganisms eat the organic matter. earthworms might have three categories: epigeic, endogeic,
Where does vermicomposting affected history? and anecic.
take place? Earthworms have been mentioned in • Epigeic – (ep-i-JEE-ik) types live at
Vermicomposting can occur wherever history as far back as Aristotle, who the surface in freshly decaying plant
food scraps or other organic matter described them as “the intestines or animal residues.
are being generated or delivered. of the earth.” In the time of the • Endogeic – (en-do-JEE-ik) types live
Worm composting bins can be found in Egyptian pharaohs, Cleopatra declared underground and eat soil to extract
classrooms, homes, apartments, offices, earthworms sacred and established nutrition from degraded organic
or on farms. Vermicomposting is also laws protecting them. Charles Darwin residues.
being used to solve North Carolina’s studied earthworms for 39 years • Anecic – (an-EE-sik) types burrow
hog waste problems. and demonstrated that they improve deep in the soil but come to the
soil conditions and enhance plant surface at night to forage for freshly
What are some advantages productivity. Darwin went so far as to decaying organic matter.
of vermicomposting? say, “It may be doubted whether there
• It saves electricity and water that are Earthworms in the epigeic category
are many other animals in the world are most commonly used in
consumed by garbage disposal units. which have played so important a vermicomposting. The species of
• Trashcans won’t get smelly part in the history of the world.” worms that are usually associated with
from decomposing food scraps.
How do you think scientists processing organic materials are Eisenia
• It produces a soil amendment classify different types of fetida (commonly known as red
that helps soil and plants. earthworms? wiggler, tiger worm, or brandling worm).
• It requires little space, They can be found in areas of decaying
labor, or maintenance. There are at least 4,000 species of
vegetation such as fallen leaves,
earthworms worldwide. The smallest is
• It spawns free worms manure piles, or under rotting logs.
M i c r o o r ga ni s m s h e lp
half an inch long, and the largest ever
i to
for fishing.
m a t t e r n t h e wo r m b dec
in . po
ni c

Time Line
600 300 0 300 600 900 1200 1500 1800 2100
/ / / / / / / / / /
384 – 322 69 – 30 1809 – 1882
Aristotle Cleopatra Darwin

North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting 2

At this point in the lesson, students have been provided with a great
deal of background information on worms and their importance in the
vermicomposting process. Students should remember that:
• Worms aid in the process of vermicomposting by digesting organic
materials in a worm bin and excreting castings that enrich the soil.
• Vermicomposting is a natural process that can turn waste into a
beneficial product.
• One type of worm, Eisenia fetida (known as red wiggler,
tiger worm, or brandling worm) is most commonly used in
vermicomposting bins. These worms typically live on the soil’s
surface in freshly decaying plant material or animal residues.

To determine what students have learned about worms and their role
in vermicomposting, students will be asked to recall information from
the lesson and provide statements that support a particular position.
The class will be divided into groups of four or five. Each group will
be provided with a card with one of several statements related to
vermicomposting. The members of the group will attempt to recall information
from the presentation about vermicomposting that supports their card’s

The statements on the cards include (printable cards found at the end of this lesson):
lu d
s in c s e • Vermicompost is beneficial in several ways when added to soil.
bi excu
Foo orm
d scra
p s u s e d in w a s a n • Earthworms have been important throughout Earth’s history.
fr u i t t hat c a n b e hi s
s u se t
to n and vegetables. Don’t
ot e at • Earthworms can be classified by the way they behave and where they live.
your vegetables !
• Some types of worms are better suited to vermicomposting than others.
• Vermicomposting can save water.
Glossary After giving groups a few minutes to discuss the information they recall about their
Organic: Characteristic of, pertaining to, statement, each group will read their statement and provide facts that support it to the
or derived from living organisms class. The class as a whole will discuss whether the points made by the group support the
Decompose: To rot; putrefy statement or not. You may need to refer back to the PowerPoint presentation to review
Nutrients: Substances that provide points that were not clear to the students.
nourishment for growth or metabolism. In Lesson 2, students will examine the external features of the worm
Plants absorb nutrients mainly from the soil
and its response to stimuli and learn the importance of each feature.
in the form of minerals and other inorganic
compounds, and animals obtain nutrients Castings consist of undigested materials
from ingested foods. such as plant residues, bacteria, and soils.

Soil structure: Determined by how Reflection

individual soil granules clump or bind (ask students)
Species: A class of individuals having some What have you learned
common characteristics or qualities; distinct
sort or kind about earthworms and
Epigeic: An earthworm that lives primarily vermicomposting that you
in leaf litter on the soil’s surface and feeds on did not previously know?
surrounding plant debris
Endogeic: An earthworm that primarily feeds How would you convince
on soil and plant roots
your parents that they
Anecic: An earthworm known for burying leaf
litter in the soil and pulling it into underground should participate in a home
burrows for consumption vermicomposting project?

North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting 3

Statement Cards Vermicompost is
beneficial in several ways
when added to soil.

Earthworms have been

important throughout
Earth’s history.

Earthworms can be
classified by the way
they behave and
where they live.

Some types of worms

are better suited
to vermicomposting
than others.

Vermicomposting can
save water.

North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting 4

Vermicomposting Glossary
Acarina: subclass of the arthropod class Endogeic (en-do-JEE-ik): an earthworm Segments: the areas of the worm’s
Arachnida that includes the mite and tick that primarily feeds on soil and plant roots outer body that bend and stretch and
Anecic (an-EE-sik): an earthworm known Epigeic (ep-i-JEE-ik): an earthworm aid in movement
for burying leaf litter in the soil and pulling it that lives primarily in leaf litter on the soil’s Setae: stiff hairs on the exterior
into underground burrows for consumption surface and feeds on surrounding plant debris of the worm that serve as feelers
Anus: where waste is excreted from Isopod: Isopods are omnivores or or sensory aids
the worm scavengers feeding on dead or decaying Soil structure: Determined by how
Castings: excreted end product of organic plants or animals. Some may eat live plants. individual soil granules clump or bind
matter passing through the digestive system Isopods breathe with gills, so they are together
of the worm restricted to areas with high humidity, under Species: A class of individuals having
rocks or logs, in leaf litter, or in crevices. some common characteristics or qualities;
Clitellum: located near the front Some species are nocturnal. Some species
of the worm; the worm’s genitalia distinct sort or kind
roll up into a ball when disturbed. They are
is located here commonly known as sowbugs or pillbugs.
Decompose: to rot; putrefy Mouth: where the worm ingests food
Drosophilidac: a diverse, cosmopolitan Nutrients: Substances that provide
family of flies, including fruit flies, vinegar nourishment for growth or metabolism.
flies, wine flies, pomace flies, and grape flies Plants absorb nutrients mainly from the
Enchytraeid: Enchytraeid worms are soil in the form of minerals and other
smaller than earthworms. The highest inorganic compounds, and animals
populations are found in acid soils, but the obtain nutrients from ingested foods.
numbers are not uniformly distributed. They Organic: characteristic of, pertaining
are sensitive to drought and do not tolerate to, or derived from living organisms
desiccation. Enchytraeid feed on bacteria and
fungi. They have no enzymes for digesting
complex polysaccharides and thus do not
digest the organic matter they ingest.

Prepared by:
Rhonda Sherman, Extension Solid Waste Specialist, Biological & Agricultural Engineering, North Carolina State University
Rebecca Liverman, Extension 4-H Agent, Washington County, North Carolina
Dr. Ed Maxa, Associate Professor and Extension Curriculum Specialist, 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences,
North Carolina State University
Graphic Layout:
Imp Designs, Raleigh, North Carolina

Distributed in furtherance of the acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. North Carolina State University and North
Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color,
creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran’s status, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons
without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.
North Carolina State University | 4-H Vermicomposting 28