While, for many of us, putting the recyclable trash can at the road is our contribution to reducing our carbon footprint, one down-to-earth girl is recycling in a down-to-earth way with the help of some wiggly friends. Taylor Lyons Vaughan, owner of Worm Lady Recycles, has been lowering waste and landfill use by composting recycled materials using worms.
“I like earth, animals, bugs…all life,” says Vaughan who has fond memories of gardening with her grandmother. But it’s only been in the last four years that the Lafayette native has become a serious gardener.
“A few weeks after having my third child, I was trying to figure out a way of working from home,” recalls Vaughan. “I read an article about worm farms that interested me; Lafayette didn’t have a lot of recycling options. The waste crisis is a big deal everywhere and we have to find different ways of decomposing our stuff. So in the summer of 2018, I said, ‘I’m gonna start a worm farm.’ I researched vermicomposting (worm composting) and bought a pound of worms to start up the farm the following year. It took nine months to build a shed, get the materials and build recyclers.”
Located between Broussard and Youngsville, off of La Neuville Road, Worm Lady Recycles is a recycling facility that produces one of the most powerful natural fertilizers on the market, converting 100 percent recycled materials from around Acadiana into worm castings (manure). Worm castings are considered by many horticulturists to be one of the best additives to create nutrient-rich soil, giving outdoor and indoor plants a premium boost. Located on just under an acre, the worm farm has 50 bins scattered around, some made from wood and others are small plastic swimming pools, along with a 10’x10’ shed housing another six containers.
Vaughan uses red worms, native to Europe, because they breed and compost more quickly than earthworms, so you get more castings at a faster rate. They can process 50 to 60 pounds of food waste per week while tolerating a wide range of temperatures.
The worms feed on certain waste fruits, vegetables and paper gotten from local grocery stores, picked up at public bins located around Lafayette and at some businesses, as well as Vaughan’s own household waste. In a week’s time, she gathers 50 to 100 pounds of food waste, about seven 30-gallon trash cans of paper trash, and 50 pounds of coffee grinds.
Vermicomposting involves filling a bin – or any receptacle – with leaves and paper and “feeding it” with food scraps. “Worms don’t need a large area,” Vaughan notes. They burrow into their bed and turn scraps like fruit skins and egg shells into a crumbly, nutritious soil. What started with a pound of worms has grown to 100 pounds of hungry wigglers at Worm Lady Recycles.
Vaughan says the end product has a light and airy texture. “I like to touch it when it’s done. It feels like moon sand, and when you squeeze it, it comes together and then breaks apart.” As for the smell, Vaughan says the worm castings don’t stink. “It has a fresh, earthy smell,” she reassures.
One pound of castings can cover up to 30 square feet while adding minerals and nutrients to indoor or outdoor plant soil, warding off diseases, helping the soil retain moisture, and promoting more foliage and bigger harvests. All it takes to start is a handful in the plant hole before planting, and then some on top after covering the roots.To assure she’s making a quality product that will build and rebuild soils, Vaughan sends samples to the LSU AgCenter regularly to test nutrient and microbe content.Always looking for new natural composting methods, she’s discovered the usefulness of black soldier flies. She learned that the flies can speed up the process by eating masses of any type of food waste, including some things that red worms can’t eat – like lemons. “Once they break down the food, I feed it to my worms to break it down even more,” she explains. “In their larvae stage, black soldier flies are full of protein - more than fish - and contain good oils. They could provide a sustainable way of feeding chickens and livestock.”
Vaughan also concocts a worm tea that works well in combination with the worm castings. This liquid fertilizer can be sprayed on any indoor or outdoor plant or poured into the soil. It’s geared towards giving a good start to seedlings and acts as a bug repellent against insects like aphids and spider mites. Made from worm and black soldier fly castings, the tea is brewed for 48 hours in bubbling rainwater. Molasses and kelp are added to feed the bacteria and fungi that repel bugs.
At her nursery Vaughan also sells composting worms, herbs as well as indoor and outdoor plants, including carnivorous varieties like the venus fly trap.For those interested in starting their own compost bin, Worm Lady Recycles offers worm classes at the farm where you can learn about composting and leave with a 10-gallon bin and a starter worm kit. “Even some businesses have participated,” mentions Vaughan. Worm Lady also offers a sifting service to filter the castings out and then return the bin and the worms.
For more information and dates on upcoming monthly workshops, check WormLadyRecycles.com.
“I like working with the community – telling people about the business and seeing their reactions,” says the 30-year-old. “We’re using 100 percent recycled materials from households that would normally be thrown away and turning them into something to be used in a better way.”
In her first year, Vaughan recycled 1,000 pounds of waste; this past year that number rose to 5,000 pounds. Grateful for the support of people in Acadiana she says, “I hope that composting with worms will catch on.” And then she pauses with a smile and shares, “I remember I took an aptitude test in seventh grade that said I should be a farmer – and I was embarrassed. Now, thinking back, I’m where I’m supposed to be.”