Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to breakdown organic matter. Not the same worms that you find in your garden. No, these here are basically super worms. Fun fact, there are over 9000 different varieties of earthworms. Earthworms are one of the oldest creatures on the planet. These worms have a voracious appetite, like the plant in little shop of horrors, and they love to eat. Red Wiggler, or composting worms, can eat up to half their body weight in organic material daily. Usually, they consume around 25% of their body weight, though. Imagine if people ate that much!
What do they eat?
It is more like what don’t they eat. If it is a kitchen food scrap, then it is safe to be fed to the worms; bread, bagels, pineapple or watermelon rinds, coffee grounds or filters, tea bags – you name it. Now, like everything else in life, there are exceptions. Do not feed the worms meat, raw or cooked, animal bones, fresh animal manure, or dairy products. Have you ever stopped to think about how much kitchen waste you actually produce? For one week, I want you to try writing down all your food scraps or waste. Keep a couple of gallon ziplock bags around to store the scraps. You would be surprised how many scraps you could accumulate over this short period.
Worms are housed in a bin with air holes, with bedding material, and are fed kitchen scraps. They eat the scraps and convert them into worm castings. Castings are the fertile digested “soil” or excrement produced by composting worms. They contain a concentrated source of Ca, Mg, N, P, and K, in readily available form. The castings slowly release the nutrients needed for healthy plant growth throughout all stages of the plant’s life. Castings help improve the soil structure and root zone by contributing to build up the organic matter in the soil/growing medium. This helps strengthen a plant’s immune system and decreases the plant’s vulnerability to pests and diseases. Castings also increase the production rates for all flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
Benefits of worm castings include:
• Vastly improves soil structure
• Will reduce irrigation costs up to 50% by improving moisture retention in the soil
• Will promote beneficial microbial activity that will result in healthier plants
• Reduce the carbon in the soil and increase the nitrogen levels
• A perfect soil conditioner with naturally balanced levels of minerals & nutrients
Vercomposting 101: The How To’s
Alright, now that we have gotten that out of the way, it is time to talk about how we actually go about getting started vermicomposting. The idea may seem daunting at first, but if we break it down into the 5 fundamental parts you will see it is not that difficult.
1. Container 2. Bedding 3. Moisture 4. Worms 5. Food
Let’s get one thing clear, like with all things gardening, there is not just one right way to do something. By that, I mean, there is no such thing as the perfect container. The type of container used depends on how much food scraps you are generating and where the bin will be placed. Regardless of what you use, there are a few critical points about the container that applies irrespective of what you decide to make it out of. The bin needs to be breathable, around 12” deep, and have air holes.
The most common bins used by home vermicomposters are plastic rubbermaid totes. They are relatively cheap, can be stacked, come with a lid, and can have air holes added easily. If you are planning on vermicomposting outside, not on a covered porch or balcony, then you should look at building the bin out of wood. Try to stay away from pressure-treated lumber and use naturally rot-resistant wood, like cedar.
Whichever bin you decide on is a personal preference, make sure you have a lid of some type. The cover helps retain the moisture within the container and helps keep the bin dark. Now a cover can be anything from burlap sacks that we wet and put on top to the cover that comes with the plastic tote. If the bin is outside, then I recommend a solid hinge cover. This will help keep all unwanted visitors, rats, opossums, and raccoons from interfering with the composting.
This is where the worms spend their life, so it is crucial to understand the purpose. The bedding retains moisture and air for the worms. The worms will actually eat and process this bedding into castings, so the size of the materials matters.
The first time I did vermicomposting, I filled my container up with garden soil and compost. Ha, I thought I was doing the worms a favor. Came back one week later and all the worms that weren’t dead were trying to climb out of the bin. That’s when I learned that bedding is actually essential.
When it comes to bedding, you do not need store-bought options. You can use any of the following:
- Shredded newspaper
- Shredded Cardboard
- Peat Moss
- Coco Coir
Before filling your bin, you need to prepare the bedding. This is done by shredding and moistening your materials. You do not want them to be waterlogged and full of moisture, you just want the bedding moist. Now fill your bin 2/3 of the way to the top. This bedding is where the earthworms get their moisture from; therefore, it needs to remain moist at all times. If it starts to dry out spray the top with a spray bottle.
Now that you know what vermicomposting is, are you ready to get started? Let me know in the comments below!