It’s hard to buy presents for a friend’s children or grandchildren, especially if you don’t see them all that often. You know how it is – you ask Mum if Sam still loves dinosaurs and get the response – not so much since turning 17.
I exaggerate but it really is difficult to know what to get a child if you don’t know what they already have and what their current interests are. You don’t want to waste money or add to the mountain of discarded junk by buying pointless gifts.
I thought long and hard a few months ago before getting Christmas presents for my best friend’s grandchildren – Reggie, 6, and Magdalena, 2. I always like to get practical, useful things – I’m not bothered about being popular (‘Oh great, another swimming cap/duvet cover/homework bag from Auntie Julie.’)
But this time I upped my game.
Eco gifts are gifts that keep on giving. It would be easy to drive children to despair about the climate crisis, but how much better to show them instead what they can do to help? Yes, tackling the climate emergency is a big job, but it’s one that each and every one of us – no matter how young – can play a part in.
And so I gave Reggie and Maggie a worm farm.
Why? Because worm farms (also called wormeries) are a great way to introduce children to small-scale composting and the marvellous way that nature deals with waste. Not only does vermicomposting (from the Latin ‘vermis’ for worm) keep organic waste out of landfill, but also shows how easily worms can turn our food scraps into a highly nutritious food for plants
Yes, there were quizzical looks from the kids as they opened the box – it was clearly not a fort or a unicorn castle – but they were very keen to set it up and probably very relieved that it wasn’t a pack of thermal vests. As it was the coldest time of year, they set the worm farm up in the greenhouse, which provided warmth and shelter for the winter, and waited excitedly for their worms to arrive. The worms come separately through the post from a supplier of specially selected composting worms.
The children’s reaction when the worms arrived was a mixture of ‘Eurgh’ (Magdalena) and ‘Ooh’ (Reggie).
Reggie was keen to show how brave he was and gently introduced a worm to his sister, who also became brave but was happy just looking. They made a cosy home for the worms, providing a blanket of newspaper (hessian is also good) to keep them warm and safe in the dark.
Reggie and Magdalena noticed the worms were not very active for a few weeks, probably because of settling in at such a cold time of year, but then they soon started tucking in (the worms, not the kids).
The young vermicomposters were careful to follow the rules of not overfeeding. If you give worms too much food it will be left uneaten, which will obviously start to smell. Like most young children they were expecting fast results, so were surprised to learn it can take two to three months to get worm casts (poo, since you ask). You can’t rush these things…
But when you do harvest the casts you realise why gardeners call this stuff ‘black gold’. One tablespoon of worm casts provides enough nutrients for a plant to thrive throughout the growing season.
Ten weeks in and Reggie and Magdalena were the proud harvesters of some of this black gold.
Wonderful things about worm farms
- They make great projects for children as this subject can grow in complexity as the child grows – it can be super simple for pre-schoolers but gradually takes in chemistry, biology, ecology, the food cycle and carbon cycle as well as gardening and growing your own food.
- Children will develop respect for these humble but mighty creatures. Through tunnelling, worms aerate and improve the soil, providing nutrients for plants to flourish. Without them the earth would become cold, hard and sterile.
- Studies have shown that the simple act of introducing worms to degraded soil in poor regions of the world has increased plant yields by 280%.
- Worms are easy to feed on vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells.
- Convenient to set up indoors or outdoors in a sheltered spot.
Inspired by how well Reggie and Magdalena have taken to vermicomposting, I’ve decided they don’t really need yet another boring Easter egg from Auntie Julie this Easter.
Not when there are other fabulous presents to be had, such as membership of the Earthworm Society!
I like to think they’ll thank me one day.