Are you thinking of trying vermicomposting or worm composting? This method of composting is often called nature’s ultimate recycling system. Worms (ideally red wigglers) are used to process huge quantities of organic materials. Basically, the worms digest the materials and their castings (extremely rich compost) are harvested for use in the garden.
Worms are so great for composting there’s no reason to hate them. These humble yet super achievers provide gardeners with excellent soil conditioner that they process from organic waste. Many gardeners are into worm composting or vermicomposting.
Benefits Of Vermicomposting
The worm castings are a nutrient-rich soil food so they are great for improving the quality of your garden soil.
Additionally, vermicomposting is environment-friendly. By producing compost this way, you help reduce the amount of garbage that is being sent to the landfill.
This type of composting can also be a good business opportunity. The type of worm used in worm bins which is the redworm (Eisenia foetida), multiply rapidly that they can be sold to others who are starting their own worm bins.
Another great benefit of vermicomposting is that compost making can be done indoors. Worm bins are small and compact and when maintained properly they produce no odor.
Also, maintaining a worm bin is so much easier than a compost pile which needs to be turned regularly. With worm bins, you can compost all year round even in winter.
The Worm Bin
If you are just starting, you can start with a 10-gallon plastic container in a dark color. The container should be shallow, no more than 8-inches deep. Worms are surface dwellers and are accustomed to living in the top 6-inches of the soil.
For air, drill holes at the bottom of the container approximately 3-inches apart. Put something under the container to catch any excess moisture.
The two commonly used red worms for vermicomposting are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus.
For the bedding, collect dried leaves and mix with torn up newspaper. Don’t add shiny colored pages from magazines because the ink in those glossy pages can be toxic to worms. Fill the container almost to the top with equal amounts by volume of torn newspaper and leaves.
Add warm water to the bedding materials until the mixture feels like a wrung out sponge. Moisture is very important to worms as their body is 90% water.
Add worm food to the bedding. Foods you can add include…
- stale bread
- toilet paper
- paper towel tubes
- vacuum cleaner dust
- crushed eggshells
- trimmings and peels of vegetable and fruit
- used tea bags and tea leaves
- newspapers cut into small pieces
- coffee grounds and filters
- cardboard, plain and corrugated
- dried leaves
Do not include these…
- glossy paper
- onions, hot peppers and other spices
- dairy products
- potato peels and sweet potato peels
- junk food
- citrus fruits
- garden weeds
- fruit seeds
After adding the bedding and worm food, place the worms carefully atop the bedding. They will wriggle to the deeper parts of the bedding on their own.
Cover the bedding with several damp pieces of newspaper. This will help keep a good level of moisture in the bin.
As the bedding decomposes, add more damp leaves and shredded newspaper.
How To Maintain Your Worm Bin
Feed the worms the right amount of food to avoid overfeeding them and making the bin smell. Worms eat their weight in organic matter everyday so 1 pound of worms consume 1 pound of organic matter every day.
Feed the worms once a week. That means giving 1 pound of worms 7 pounds of organic matter a week.
Make sure the bin is properly aerated. It will help to keep the worms moving from one part of the bin to another so when you feed, feed in a different part of the box each time.
If the bin is dry, add a small amount of water at a time. If the bin is too wet, add newspaper and leaves.
Keep the bin in a cool, dark, dry place away from light. Worms hate light.
Harvesting The Castings
Within 2-3 months, your vermicompost or worm castings should be ready.
You know it is ready if the castings look and feel like dark, moist, forest-scented soil. Then it is time to harvest the compost from the bin.
Start over and make a new batch of nutrient-rich compost by setting up new bedding for the worms.
The Worm Tower Concept
The worm tower concept eliminates a few stages in the composting process, making composting a speedier affair. With a worm tower, the worms and their castings are set up directly where they are needed – your garden.
Constructing a worm tower is simple enough. All you need are:
– a piece of PVC pipe about 15 cm wide
– the length of the pipe is up to you (3-4 feet is what’s commonly used)
– drill and 5mm drill bit to make holes
– a terracotta dish or pot to be used as cover/lid
– compost worms
– worm food (organic waste, food scraps, cardboard, newspaper, etc.)
How to build your worm tower:
1. Drill holes in the pipe to create airflow within.
2. Select a spot in your garden bed and dig a hole to your desired depth.
3. Position the pipe in the hole. Make sure there is about 15-20 cm of pipe above the surface. Backfill around the outside of the pipe with soil.
4. On the inside of the pipe, add bedding material for the worms. Start with a thick layer of dry carbon material (about 10cm) like straw or dry grass. Follow it up with a layer of wet carbon-rich material like soaked newspaper strips. Alternatively, you can use manure as the base bed for your compost worms.
5. Add your compost worms.
6. Add the worm food.
7. Cover the lid of the pipe with your terracotta dish or pipe.
Now you have your worm tower! Those wriggly creatures will chomp down organic matter pretty fast so be sure to keep checking on them from time to time and add handfuls of organic matter for them to chow down as needed.
You should also keep your worm bed nice and moist. A dry environment discourages compost worms from working at their best and also attracts insects like ants.
Empty your worm tower every 6 months, scoop up the worms and fork the castings into surrounding soil. Set up your worm tower in another area in your garden to make sure it is evenly conditioned.