McCandless Scout worms her way to Gold
Elizabeth Mathews of McCandless has hundreds of helpers assisting with her Girl Scout Gold Award project. They just happen to be red wiggler worms.
She brought her vermicomposting system that uses worms to convert food waste into nutrient-rich fertilizer Nov. 6 to North Hills Community Outreach's Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Memorial Garden in Bellevue.
Elizabeth, 17, constructed a waist-high plywood cabinet with an interior containing three rows of shelves, with two plastic bins on each level. The worms, shredded newspaper and soil fill the second level's bins, which have holes for the creatures to travel to the upper-level bins.
Those trays have chopped produce for them to eat and process into fertilizer through their waste or castings. Similarly, the bottom trays collect leachate — a fertilizer created from leftover moisture during the compost process.
She said the design is “a combination of two other people's plans online, but it was a unique build to get what we needed.” She used Styrofoam to insulate the structure and a nontoxic water wash to waterproof it.
“I did a lot of research of how big I needed to do it, what can I do to insulate it … to waterproof it and to make sure it was all-natural — that it won't leak into the Styrofoam, which would leak into the worms, which would be bad.”
A junior at North Allegheny, she installed a raised handle and latch to keep predators at bay.
Her father, Richard, helped with components of the construction requiring the use of a power saw.
He jokingly said that through his daughter's project, he has learned more about worm farming than he “ever wants to learn again.”
“It's fascinating. I think we should all try to be good stewards of the earth,” he said.
The 17-year-old was inspired to embark upon the vermicomposting activity after growing vegetable seedlings and transplanting them into the NHCO garden, as part of another Girl Scout project. Alyssa Crawford, NHCO garden and youth coordinator, mentioned that she would like to implement a vermicomposting system and that it might serve as a good Gold Award project.
“I was willing to get dirty playing with worms and building and everything, and I was comfortable doing that, and I didn't explore any other options because I knew I was capable of doing this.”
She had prior experience growing home flower and vegetable gardens with her mother, Marianne.
“The picking part of buying the flowers is my favorite part,” she said.
A member of Girl Scout Troop 55090, she decided to pursue the Gold Award — the highest Girl Scout achievement — because her twin brothers, Peter and Steven, have found their Eagle Scout status beneficial.
Working toward the suggested requirement of completing 80 hours on the project, Elizabeth started her proposal in July and construction in August.
She plans to develop an online presentation and pamphlets for students visiting the garden.
“I learned what it takes to compost new materials with the worms,” she said. “I found it interesting what they actually do. I didn't actually realize worms can travel upwards through the bins.”
Crawford said she greatly appreciates the Scout's efforts.
“We have both the educational component and the worm castings, which are a great fertilizer for our plants.”
Jennifer Kissel, NHCO's communications director, said the garden produces 11,000 plants for the organization's food pantries in Millvale, Allison Park and Bellevue.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.