Compost is a mixture of decayed organic matter that is used to fertilize and improve the quality of soil. Verne the Worm helps Vanessa turn her garbage into compost!
What is Vermiculture?
Composting with worms is known as vermicomposting or vermiculture. Vermi means worm. Worms help the process by eating vegetable waste and turning it into worm castings. Worm castings are full of nutrients. When worm castings are added to soil, plants growing in that soil will be able to use the nutrients to grow healthy and strong.
The most common types of worms used for vermiculture are red wrigglers, also known as red worms. They are ideal for indoor composting as they can survive a wide range of temperatures. They are happiest between 55°F (13°C)and 77°F (25°C). Be careful if you leave your worm bin outdoors. Bring them inside if the weather gets too hot or too cold.
What Do Worms Need?
Worms breathe through their skin and produce mucus to help them slide around. To do this, they must have moisture. But if there is too much water, they will drown.
Ventilation is important because worms breath oxygen just like we do. And, like us, they produce carbon dioxide. If there is not enough ventilation, they will suffocate.
Worms can eat all sorts of organic waste. You can feed them all sorts of vegetable scraps and fruit. They even like coffee grounds and egg shells.
Worms like the dark. They will crawl away from bright light, burrowing themselves underground.
What Do We Need To Start Vermicomposting?
Before the worms arrive, pick out a good location for them to live and get their home ready. You’ll need a few things to get started.
A container with a lid. Choose a container that will hold the amount of food you would like to compost and will fit in the spot where you want your worms to live. A shallow container (about 8 inches to 12 inches deep) will work better than a deep one to give your worms more surface area and prevent the bedding from packing down. Remember that ventilation will keep worms happy and prevent bad smells. You can buy ready-made bins with drainage holes or just make your own.
*For grown-ups only* If you decide to make your own, a plastic 10 to 14 gallon storage bin will be big enough for families with up to four people. Drill a couple 1/4 inch ventilation holes on each side of the bin, near the middle. Then, drill small drainage holes near each of the four corners of the bottom of the bin and a few near the middle. Lastly, drill a few holes in the lid. Use a second lid to act as the drainage tray.
Bedding. Also known as “brown” material, this fibrous material helps to keep air pockets in the compost for ventilation. Bedding can be made out of newspaper strips, corrugated cardboard, straw or leaves. Bedding will need to be continuously replaced so keep a bunch handy.
Food. You will need a small about of food scraps to feed your worms. For indoor bins, use only fruit and vegetable scraps. They break down quickly so no bad smells will develop. Stay away from meat or dairy products as they will stink!
Worms have no teeth so a little bit of gritty material will help them break down their food and improve the composition of their worm castings. You can use a handful of fine sand or crushed egg shells.
|Do Use:||Do NOT Use:|
|fruit and vegetable scraps||meat or bones|
|bread, pasta, and other grain products||dairy such as milk or cheese|
|egg shells||kitty litter or other animal waste|
|tea and coffee grounds||plastic, metal, or glass|
|untreated citrus rinds*|
*Citrus rinds often contain fly eggs that are too tiny to see and hard to wash off. If you put them in the bin, they may hatch and that could create a fly problem. If you must add citrus peels, put them in the freezer for several days to kill the eggs first.
Setting Up Your Worm Bin
- First, wash your container to make sure it is nice and clean for your worms.
- Place your container in your chosen location. The less you move the bin around the better. Worms don’t like to be disturbed.
- Dampen your bedding by spraying with water. Wring or drain out any excess water. You want the bedding to be barely damp, like a well wrung out sponge.
- Fill the container with the bedding, about two thirds full. Make sure to fluff up the bedding; don’t pack it down.
- Sprinkle a generous handful of gritty material on top like crushed egg shells, clean sand, or coffee grounds.
- Gently place the worms on top of the bedding.
- Add some food for the worms. For one pound of worms, add about 3 pounds of food scraps. Place the food on one side of the bin and add some bedding on top. The worms will seek out the food.
- Place the lid on top and let the worms do their work!
Keep adding food each week. Place the new food in a different section of the bin. At the same time, check the old pile to see how the worms have progressed. If there is a lot of food left, add only a small amount. You want to feed the worms as much as they can eat in a week but not have too much left that it will start to smell bad. But you don’t want to let the worms starve either.
While you’re in there, check that the bedding is still damp. If it dries out too much, moisten it by spraying some water on top.
Remember to be gentle when adding new food and checking on the bedding. Keep the worms happy by disturbing them as little as possible.
As time goes on, some brown water may leech out from the bin and into the drainage tray. This “worm juice” can be mixed with water and used to water your plants.
To prepare for harvesting the compost, stop feeding the worms for two weeks.
Afterwards, push the bin’s contents to one side of the bin. On the cleared side, add fresh bedding and bury some new food scraps in it. Replace the lid. Continue adding food scraps each week but only on the new side. Over a couple weeks, the worms will move from the old side to the new side. After two weeks, you should be able to scoop out the compost from the old side.