Integrating High Tunnel Vermicomposting in a High School Science Curriculum

Project Overview

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2014: $2,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Manager:
Mark Quee
Scattergood Friends School

Annual Reports

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, participatory research, youth education
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Project Abstract

    Students will construct vermicomposting sites in the corners of our high tunnel and build eight raised beds for vegetable production trials using the finished compost. The compost will be analyzed with microscopes in science classes and used to amend the raised beds and main cropping areas of the high tunnel.

    Students will design production trials to see how different crops respond to vermicompost. Finished compost will also be used to amend the main cropping area and fertility changes will be tracked withannual soil tests.

    Detailed Project Plan and Timeline

    Students will be involved in this project in many different ways. They will provide much of the physical labor for digging the pits, lining them with cinder blocks and landscape fabric, as well as constructing the raised beds along the walls of the high tunnel. Students will also research, build and maintain a healthy milieu for composting worms. In the classroom, students will study the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Rodale Institute and learn about the biological activity in healthy soils and composts. When finished compost is available, students will analyze it under microscopes, looking for a wide variety of life forms.

    Students will also design and implement a production trial which uses vermicompost as a treatment.

    Classes will collect and analyze data from the production trials, in addition to considering the soil tests results before and after vermicompost is used as a soil amendment.


    • September 2013: Our ninth grade Environmental Studies class has already conducted a feasibility study to see how well a medium scale vermicomposting system can be incorporated into our existing farm programs.
    • 2014: Biology teacher Michael Severino will take a Rodale Institute Soil Microscopy workshop with Elaine Ingham to learn how to determine the quality of compost by analyzing its living populations. Dr. Ingham occasionally offers these workshops in Fairfield, IA, though the 2014 schedule has not been published yet.
    • April 2014: soil tests will be submitted to establish baseline results before vermicompost amendments.
    • July 2014: Excavation and construction will begin. A teen group at a local summer camp will begin digging out the four corners of our 30’x96’ high tunnel. The future vermicompost pits will be sunken in the ground to provide insulation to maintain steadier temperatures and moistness for the worms. The pits will be lined with cinder blocks on the sides and landscape fabric on the sides and bottom.
    • August-September 2014: Construction of worm pits will conclude and raised bed construction will commence. Eight raised beds will be built along the walls of the high tunnel, between the worm pits, in order to create controlled environments for trials and replication. Various student groups (Environmental Science and Farm Project classes, as well as student work crews) will work on this with the goal of having all construction completed in the fall so worms can be introduced before winter. Students will then be responsible for educating the school community about proper materials for the worms and managing the vermicompost pits.
    • November-December 2014: Biology class will design experimental organic vegetable growing trials incorporating the eight raised beds and finished compost from the worm pits.
    • Spring 2015: Experimental trials will be implemented and a soil tests will be taken. Contents (both microscopic and visible to the eye) of the compost pits will be studied in various life-sciences classes (Environmental Studies, Biology and Advanced Biology).
    • Summer-Fall 2015 and beyond: Maintaining vermicompost pits will continue and data from the raised bed trials will be collected and analyzed.


    Resources Used

    People we will learn from:

    • The work of Elaine Ingham of the Rodale Institute will be instrumental in this project. She is a world-renowned expert in composting and offers classes in compost production and analysis.
    • Professor John Biernbaum of Michigan State University has incorporated permanent vermicomposting pits in the MSU student high tunnels. We hope to model his work in this area.


    Organizations we will work with:

    • Scattergood Friends School classes and crews will be responsible for much of the initial labor to get the project going, and then the on-going maintenance and data collection.
    • Taproot Nature Experience visits our farm frequently and helps with many projects. • Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends (Conservative) will host a conference and provide some of the initial labor to get the project started. Books we will study:
    • Building Soils for Better Crops Third Edition (SARE) will be a valuable resource in evaluating our soil health and developing metrics to measure the change in our greenhouse soil.
    • The Soil Biology Primer by the Soil and Water Conservation Society will be a guide to the various species living in compost and soil.
    • Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof provides a lot of basic information on worm biology and vermicomposting. There are many good activities in this book that we will be able to use when tour groups visit.



    The Scattergood Friends School Farm is well suited for outreach. We welcome visitors throughout the year, and are active in many organizations.

    • Taproot Nature Experience is an Iowa City after school enrichment program that visits the farm approximately twice per month and is familiar with many of our projects. They will actively explore the vermicompost pits and consider the test plots.
    • We also welcome classes from the nearby school districts of Iowa City, West Branch and West Liberty. When they visit again, the vermicomposting will be a stop on their tours.
    • We frequently visit (approximately three times per year) elementary schools in Iowa City as part of their Farm to School Program and can add vermicomposting to our presentation.
    • Scattergood hosts a Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) Field Day every other year and will do so again in 2015. This project will be of interest to many PFI members. We will prepare a vermicomposting poster for the PFI annual conference in January 2015.
    • We also host events for Field to Family in Iowa City, and have given farm tours to guests from the Council on International Visitors to Iowa Cities, Cornell College, Grinnell College, and the University of Iowa, in addition to many Quaker groups from around the country.
    • Scattergood maintains an active Facebook presence and the vermicomposting operation can be featured throughout the year.


    Student and Community Impact

    Students who take part in this project will gain experience in waste stream reduction, composting, raised- bed construction, soil biology and fertility, experiment design, and vegetable production. They will experience science in a living laboratory, see soil and compost life first-hand and not just as pictures in a textbook, will take learning out of the classroom and onto the farm, and will ultimately see that soil is so much more than “dirt.” Student impact will be measured both by classroom assessments (quizzes, exams and essays) and by soliciting responses on surveys given at several points during the project timeframe.

    Since the Scattergood Farm welcomes many visitors each year, our wider community will learn about reducing the waste stream and using vermicomposting to amend soils for vegetable production. Some outside groups will be able to take part in identifying soil life under the microscope and all will learn about applying science on the farm. Community impact can be measured through head counts and, when applicable, through post-visit surveys.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.