Vermicomposting is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast.
You Need 5 Basic Ingredients to Start Vermicomposting:
- a bin or container
- nonfatty kitchen scraps.
Worm bins can be purchased or made. Plastic storage containers are convenient and come in a variety of sizes. These containers are easily transported and are a nice alternative to heavier wood bins.
Depending on the size of the container, drill 8 to 12 holes (1/4 – l/2 inches) in the bottom for aeration and drainage. A plastic bin may need more drainage — if contents get too wet, drill more holes. Raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks, and place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid which can be used as liquid plant fertilizer or ‘compost tea’.
The bin needs a cover to conserve moisture and provide darkness for the worms but should be loosley placed on top, never sealed completely. Like us, worms need air to live, so be sure to have your bin sufficiently ventilated.
Worm Bin Bedding
Place dry, shredded bedding in a large container and add water until bedding is quite damp, and has absorbed as much water as possible before putting it in the worm bin. Squeeze excess water from the bedding, then add it to the bin loosely, so that air pockets are present. Your bedding needs to remain moist.
- Shredded corrugated cardboard
- Shredded newspaper or computer paper
- Peat moss- has a low pH level that may cause a problem for your worms
- Commercial worm bedding- available in sporting goods stores
The worms typically used in vermicomposting are called “red wigglers”. You can order them through lawn and garden catalogs, or if you know someone who has an established supply, they may be willing to share their worms with you. A small handful of worms is all you need to get your own population going.
Feeding the Worms
Worm food basically includes all your organic kitchen scraps, including:
- all vegetable and fruit waste, rinds and seeds
- coffee grounds and filter
- tea bags
- finely crushed egg shells (dry the shells first)
Foods to Avoid:
- meat scraps
- onion skins
- citrus peels
Start slow. It will take time for bacteria to form and your bin can quickly become septic if you add too much food, too fast. You can gradually increase the amount of food as the bin becomes established. The easiest method is to spread the scraps in a thin layer on top of the bedding. If the bin is kept in a dark place or covered, the worms will come to the surface to eat. You can also pull back a small amount of bedding in the bin and dump in the scraps. If you notice bad odors, cut back on the amount of food or try chopping the food up into smaller pieces.
Harvesting the Compost
Given the right environment, the worms will go to work to digest the kitchen scraps and bedding faster than any other compost method. The material will pass through the worms’ bodies and become “castings.” In about 3-4 months, the worms will have digested nearly all the garbage and bedding and the bin will be filled with a rich, black natural fertilizer and soil amendment. Compared to ordinary soil, the worm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium. They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil.
To keep your bin going, you will need to remove the castings from time to time. Push the black, decomposed material to one side of the bin, and fill the other side with new bedding and food scraps. Then wait several days. The worms will migrate to the freshly filled side of the bin and you can just scoop out the finished compost.
- Don’t add plastic, bottle caps, rubber bands, sponges, aluminum foil and glass in the bin. These materials cannot be broken down or consumed by the worms and may leach toxic chemicals into your compost.
- If you have cats, provide a screen or other device to keep them from using the worm bin as a litter box, as cat urine would soon create ammonia, which not only creates a powerful noxious odor, but will kill your worms.
- Don’t use garden soil as bedding for the worms.
- Don’t add any type of manure, worms will avoid and will not consume feces. These manures will heat up the bedding and literally cook your worms.
- If you make a worm bin out of a plastic storage container, never snap the lid shut tight. The lid should lay loosely on the bin to allow air flow.
- Red wigglers prefer temperatures between 55 – 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin. The temperature of the bin should not get below freezing or above 84 degrees.