Subterranean gardeners

Darren Murphey turns waste into black gold

Darren Murphey, of Sierra Worm Solutions, raises worms, which consume waste and produce castings that enrich gardens.

Darren Murphey, of Sierra Worm Solutions, raises worms, which consume waste and produce castings that enrich gardens.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

For more information about worms and Sierra Worm Solutions, visit, or call 830-7778.

Darren Murphey opens the wooden lid of a mysterious, rectangular box built atop the ground in Spanish Springs. He reaches inside with one hand and pulls out a squiggling dark mass that looks like moist, black soil.

It’s not soil but worm castings—worm poop, to be direct—and it’s said to be one of the best things you can mix into your garden. The squiggly part of the mass is, of course, the worms themselves—red worms, or Eisenia fetida. Murphey, owner of Sierra Worm Solutions, started with 15 pounds of worms in his garage and now raises hundreds of pounds of them at this worm farm, where they eat and reproduce. They dine on horse manure, kitchen scraps, cardboard, junk mail, yard waste, egg shells and egg cartons, as well as compost he collects from Dish Café.

“I garden; I said I’ve got to have this,” Murphey says of his worm bed beginnings. He also makes worm “tea” from these castings, which increases the beneficial bacteria and is like a slow release fertilizer for gardens.

“All these farmers growing things on synthetic fertilizer are killing the soil and raising our plants on steroids,” says Murphey.” This makes me feel good because I’m also reducing 150 pounds of waste a day.”

Murphey says there are a million ways to do a worm bed. Even apartment-dwellers can have one. Some bins are available online and at nursery centers, but you can also build your own. As for the smell? When done right, it’s like soil after a rain.

New worm bedders should further investigate technical matters of construction, moisture, temperature and amount of food processed, but the basic process of building a worm bed goes like this:

· Get at least a pound of worms from a worm farmer friend, or buy them from Murphey or some nursery centers. They’ll reproduce best when it’s 70-75 degrees in the bin. They won’t process food below 60 degrees, so if you start a worm bin in the winter, it’s best to start indoors. Worms can live down to 35 degrees in their bins.

· If you want the worms to process all your junk mail, cardboard and kitchen scraps, Murphey says you’ll need at least four square feet of worm beds per person. The bed can be made from wood, cinderblocks or even plastic tubs. Layer about four inches of shredded cardboard and junk mail in the bottom.

· On one half of the bin, add a thin layer of peat moss. On the other half, add a thin layer of manure. Manure creates heat, while peat moss holds moisture without heating up. Dividing sections in half gives the worms a place to run if it gets too hot on one side.

· Add no more than an inch of food scraps at a time, starting with one-quarter side of the bin, again, to give the worms an escape route. Too much food can cause it to go anaerobic, killing your worms.

· Keep the bed moist. Test moisture by squeezing a handful of castings—if just a few drops are released, it’s fine; more than that, and it’s too wet.

At the Reno Green Summit in September, a municipal compost facility was suggested by a resident.

“When I hit the lottery … I want to take all the waste that’s going out there [to the landfill], and let the worms have at it,” says Murphey.