Experiment: Vermicompost

by STEM Scouts

By Brooke Myers and Jessica Snider, Capitol Area Council

Download the Lab Guide: Vermicompost Lab Guide

Supplies Needed:

  • Plastic Shoebox (or any plastic/wood bin)
  • Dirt
  • Browns (paper, cardboard, etc)
  • Greens (plant-based scraps)
  • Water
  • Worms


This lesson has many facets and many different lenses in which it can be explored. In this experiment, students will learn the importance of decomposers in ecosystems and the basic needs of all living things. Students will build an “ecosystem” for decomposers providing, food, water, air, and shelter. Even though worms don’t need sunlight directly, help students to understand that all the energy from plants originally came from the sun. Understanding where the energy originates, students will begin to understand the cycle of energy in an ecosystem. Most importantly a tangible way to contribute to a more sustainable Earth by using the resources we have wisely.

Common Preconceptions:

  1. Energy from soil helps plants grow — The only energy plants need is from the sun. This energy helps the plant to reorganize, Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen in a chemical reaction. The product is a glucose molecule (sugar) that is used for the plant’s energy or consumed by a nearby animal.
  2. Soil is food for plants — Soil acts as a “shelter” for the plant’s root system. Without soil, plants wouldn’t be able to grow properly or absorb water. Not to mention we would have a greater ecological problem if we didn’t have soil to catch water run-off.
  3. Energy is destroyed when it is consumed — Energy is simply transformed from one type to another. Radiant Energy from the sun is transformed into chemical potential energy held in the bonds of glucose made by plants during photosynthesis. This chemical potential energy is used to carry out life processes and what is eaten is transferred to primary consumers to use. At every level, energy received is 10% of the level before it.

Parent Guide:

  1. There are a lot of things living things need. For this lesson, we emphasis food, water, shelter, air, and sunlight. Some students have trouble understanding that sunlight either directly or indirectly supports all life on Earth. Plants derive their energy from the sun, however, our food chain begins with plants! Therefore, all animals who eat plants, need sunlight indirectly for their energy.
  2. Instead of the energy from our leftover food going back into the local ecosystem, it’s hauled off to a trash dump. Compostable materials don’t break down as easily because it is surrounded by other non-compostable materials. Instead of the energy going back into the local ecosystem, trash is hauled off to a dump where it is doesn’t break down as easily surrounded by non-compostable materials.
  3. There are many ways worms and decomposers contribute to the ecosystem. They help keep our soil nutrient-rich and our ecosystems in balance by recycling energy from waste.
  4. Composting is good for Earth because it is a more sustainable lifestyle for us. Using our resources wisely is important, a Scout is THRIFTY!
  5. Help your student organize this challenge. They may need help setting up a data table to gather data of wasted food over a week.

Cub Scout Requirements:

  • Bear: Fur, Feathers, & Fern (6)
  • Webelo: Into the Wild (7a)
  • Sustainability Merit Badge (4C)

Next Generation Science Standards:

  • 4-ESS3-1 Earth and Human Activity
  • 5-ESS-3-1 Energy
  • 5-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
  • MS-LS2-3 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Additional Resources:

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