Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is a great way to compost your kitchen scraps. You might be asking yourself, “But why do I want to compost?” Well, food and yard waste contribute to the waste stream, and many of us are already aware that we are generating too much waste.
Our landfills are full to overflowing, and it is only going to get worse as the population continues to grow. Composting is a natural way to divert some of that waste from landfills and turn it into a nutrient-rich resource.
Vermicomposting is an alternative to traditional composting and isn’t that hard to get started. You have three options: 1. Purchase a worm farm, 2. Build a worm farm, or 3. Cultivate your worms outside, in your soil.
Whether you build or purchase your worm farm, the method is completely the same. You need a bin, bedding, and you need to feed them scraps to survive, reproduce, and create vermicompost. I won’t go into too much detail about how to build one, but all you need to do is replicate the same conditions as a commercial bin (usually a plastic container that has air holes in it, to ensure they survive).
So now that you’ve gotten yourself a vermicomposting bin. I recommend a three-bin vermicomposter (but most decent brands have the option to add more trays), and you will also need some red wiggler earthworms (about 1 lb to get started).
How is a worm farm set up & vermicompost prepared?
- Set up your bin with a layer of bedding. You will probably notice holes on the bottom tray, so cover the bottom tray with a damp layer of newspaper to stop them from escaping.
- Then add a layer of damp bedding (coco coir or shredded paper), and add a couple of handfuls of garden soil or compost.
- Add your 1lb of red wiggler worms to the tray.
- Feed them with kitchen scraps and garden waste, with a 50/50 split of food scraps and shredded paper or cardboard. Avoid feces, meat, dairy, and fats.
- Always research before feeding them anything, because they shouldn’t be fed things like citrus and spicy foods, etc.
- Feed them little, and often instead of piling it up, and cut their food into smaller manageable pieces. Every time you feed them, cover up them and their food with their bedding.
- Cover the tray up with a damp layer of newspaper and put the next tray on top with a layer of shredded paper to help protect them.
- The worms will ingest the food, digest it, and then poop out the worm castings (vermicompost). A commercial worm farm should have a spigot, the nutrient-rich moisture will filter down to it, and you can drain it out and use it.
- When the first tray is nearly fully processed, you can then start on the second tray, by placing their food and bedding there. They then climb through the holes at the bottom of the second tray to feast, so they need the damp newspaper on top of their food again.
- The third tray is placed on top with shredded paper again.
- Keep repeating the process and harvest the vermicompost whenever you want it.
- Remember to keep their home in a dark room at an ideal temperature of around 45-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- You can also keep a thermometer at hand, to be sure they are not getting too hot or too cold.
- They like moist living conditions, but don’t overdo it because they can drown.
- They reproduce, and within about 3 or 4 months they usually double in volume.
Vermicomposting in hot climates
There are lots of things to remember with vermicomposting during the hotter months. Red wiggler worms can be sensitive to too much light and heat. So you have to prepare for this, to achieve success and not kill them off.
To start vermicomposting in hot weather, you first have to decide on the location. Outdoor places may not be possible as the worms will be exposed to too much direct sunlight. Places such as the basement or kitchen sinks are dark enough, and not too hot for the worms.
The bin should be in good condition as it will house your worms and stop them from escaping, keep it moist as they love moisture to help them breathe. Another thing that you have to consider with the bin is the source of air or oxygen for the worms.
To be successful in worm composting either during hot seasons or cold seasons, you must have holes around their home. That way, aeration will be possible, and it ensures that they don’t suffocate.
Their bedding should be moist when it’s hot, and you can use materials that retain moisture. Things like wet newspaper will be fine. Also, remember that when you add the newspapers, they are first soaked in water. You will know that you are on the right track when you maintain a temperature of around 45-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
These things to remember with vermicomposting during hot seasons are not hard to do at all. If the bedding dries out, you can spray it with water to make it damp again.
When you have a population of worms within your soil
The best way you can add vermicompost to your soil is to bury your food scraps and leftovers deep into the ground. When you do this, worms in your soil ingest the food scraps, and their castings create vermicompost. Most worms can eat as much as their body weight every twenty-four hours.
You will not run out of worms and have to add more to the soil (although it will speed up the process). They live naturally in the soil under your feet, and when you bury food waste, they will find it.
They lay their eggs, which multiply the number of worms, and the volume will increase over time, although some will die off over the winter freeze. However, this risk can be reduced if you give them proper winter care.
Winter worm care
When the temperature drops, you must make sure the worm farm is placed in a warmer place, to prevent them from freezing to death. If you are forced to place them somewhere that is still too cold then you need to insulate them. Before you insulate them, give them a good feeding before packing their home with anything like blankets, carpet, hay, insulation foam, etc.
If you want to keep worms alive that are outside (in the soil), they can still be protected. Layer the soil with mulch, and then place insulation foam and or tarp on top of the mulch.
When you get involved with vermiculture, expect to achieve nothing but 100% organic end product from it. Worm compost is all-natural because they eat nothing but whole and untreated materials that come straight from your kitchen or yard.
Your leftovers and backyard waste, such as fruit peels, uncooked vegetables, newspaper strips, dried leaves, crushed eggshells, and even coffee grounds, etc can then be turned into nutrient-rich humus.
To start vermicomposting, you need a worm farm (or a container with holes in it), a layer of moist bedding, about 1lb of worms fed with garden and kitchen scraps, and they should be kept in a dark area. They also need to be protected when the weather is too hot or cold and kept at their ideal temperature to stay alive.
They then feed on the food that you give to them and poop out vermicompost. These worm castings can then be used to grow healthy plants and enrich the soil.