Vermicomposting

October 3, 2014

Author: Ian Whittington

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

Throughout the class Joe has stressed how it important it is to respect all the natural processes that go into gardening. It all goes back to the notion that to have productive gardens you need to work with, not against nature.

And what better way to work with nature than by composting with worms? This is vermicomposting.

 

Red wriggler worms from Joe's vermicomposting.

Red wriggler worms from Joe’s worm bin.

Some of the benefits of composting with worms are:

  • The digestive enzymes of the worms break material down much greater than typical compost
  • Because of this breakdown, worm compost is said to be ten times as nutritious as regular compost
  • Vermicompost can be made inside in a much smaller area than regular compost

 

That last part, that vermicomposting takes up less space, is key. For a lot of people, especially those living in cities, a big issue with making a pile of compost is that they don’t have enough room. The bin that Joe brought was easily small enough for only one person to carry and could be tucked away in a corner without hassle.

Although worm bins can be bought for $50 to $100, they can be made cheaply at home too.

When constructing a worm bin:

  • Use an opaque bin
    • Worms don’t like light
  • Size doesn’t matter
    • But the bigger the bin the more compost you can make
  • Use a lid
  • Drill 1/8 inch holes around the rim for air and in the bottom for drainage
  • Have something to catch the liquid seeping from the bottom
    • Could use a third bin
    • Liquid can be used as fertilizer or to make compost tea

 

Joe and his two-tiered bin set-up for vermicomposting.

Joe and his two-tiered bin set-up for vermicomposting.

Joe used a two-tiered system, which was basically placing one bin inside another, both with air and drainage holes. The idea is that after the first bin is ready you place the second bin above it so the worms can migrate up. Once they do you can harvest the bottom one more easily.

So now that you have a worm bin what do you do? First you’re going to want to make sure your bins have the proper bedding. The idea of bedding is to mimic a decaying forest floor using organic material. You can use pretty much whatever you want; just avoid bleached paper. Since worms need a moist environment you’ll want to make sure your bedding is damp, sort of like a wrung-out sponge.

Speaking of worms, I hope you didn’t already waste your time digging through your yard. There’s only one type of worm you’re going to want to use, and it’s all the way in Russia: Red Wrigglers.

Red Wrigglers are the best type of worms to use because they’re the only worm that can live as densely as you’ll need in your bins. Don’t fret about having to make the trek to Moscow; Red Wrigglers can easily be found online.

Now that you have your worms ready, what do you feed them? Like with regular compost, there are some rules you’ll want to follow.

A layer of food scraps for worm feed.

A layer of food scraps for worm feed.

 

Don’t feed worms:

  • Citrus
    • Releases ammonia
  • Meats, fish
  • Greasy foods
  • Dairy products
  • Members of the onion family
    • Can be poisonous for worms
  • Twigs and branches
  • Dog/cat feces, cat litter

 

Do feed

  • Vegetable scraps
  • Fruit scraps and peels (mold/rot is fine)
  • Bread and grains
  • Teabags
  • Non-greasy leftovers
  • Coffee
  • Grounds (and filters)
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Napkins, paper towels

 

You’ll want to put about 1 inch deep of scraps every few days, depending on how quickly the food gets low. Joe feeds his worms about every four days. It’s also important to avoid putting large chunks of food. The smaller your food scraps the easier it’ll be for the worms to break them down.

Besides making sure your worms are fed, there are two important things you’ll want to monitor:

  • Temperature
    • The worms prefer temperatures between 40 and 80 degrees F°. 60 F° is ideal.
  • Moisture
    • If its too dry the worms will die
    • If too wet the worms will try to escape
      • They breathe through their skin and will suffocate if its too wet
    • You want to be able to squeeze bedding and worm castings gently and se a few drops of water run through your hands

 

A worm bin after the worms have eat the food.

A worm bin after the worms have eat the food.

While there’s a lot to consider and it does take an effort, vermicomposting isn’t all that difficult once you have everything in place. Really the hardest part may be harvesting. Although the store bought models have screens and levels to help with that, homemade bins will require a little more patience as you sift through your worm castings and try to avoid taking out worms.

Still it’s worth it.

Not only are worm castings nutrient rich, they’re also very gentle on plants. They’re great for seedlings, side-dressing for plants in your garden, and are even good for your houseplants. Still not sure you want to go through all the trouble of raising worms but still want their wonderful poop? Don’t fret, you can buy it online too!

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