If you’re a die-hard gardener or composter, you may have heard of vermicomposting. If you’re not a die-hard gardener or composter, this idea just might make your face scrunch up. Vermicomposting is the process of composting organic matter such as kitchen scraps using worms, and using the resulting worm castings as a fertilizer. Worm castings have the highest nutrient content of any fertilizer.
And here comes the face-scrunching part–most vermicomposting is done indoors. Ewwwww! Yucky. For worms to survive, they must be in an environment where the temperature stays between about 40 and 85 degrees. Otherwise the worms will die. I realize how disgusting this sounds, but I’ve been wanting to try this for several years after reading about restaurants that practice vermicomposting.
Since the possibility exists that this great idea could turn into a bad idea, I’m going to make my first composting bin out of an inverted, recycled cake container that is 5 inches deep and measures 15 by 20 inches. If this experiment is successful, I’ll upgrade to Rubbermaid bins.
All I did to construct my bin was cut a large hole in the lid (which was actually the bottom of the original container) and tape a piece of screen over it to contain any prospective deserters. I actually saw a video of someone who made a worm bin and suggested not putting a lid on it, but I’m thinking this whole process is scary enough with a lid. A lid for me, thank you.
If the environment in the bin is unsuitable, the worms will make an attempt at freedom. I saw another video of someone’s bin that had hundreds of worms up near the lid, trying to make a run for it because he didn’t drill air holes in it–another face-scruncher. Incidentally, I filled the bin with about an inch of water to test for leaks, as sometimes liquid can accumulate in the bottom.
If your bin doesn’t have enough air circulation, condensation will form inside the tub. And if your compost gets too wet, it will start to smell. I’m also assuming the worms would eventually suffocate. A clear bin like this one isn’t ideal since worms don’t like light, but I’ll be storing mine in a dark place. If this is a success, I’ll be using a dark-colored bin for subsequent batches.
I’m using sphagnum peat moss for bedding as was suggested by Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, where I purchased my red wigglers.
It’s wintertime, and it’s a blizzard here in Central Illinois right now. The worms I ordered were supposed to be shipped to the post office, and held for me to pick up so they wouldn’t die in the cold in my mailbox or get buried in a snow drift on my porch. However, the package wasn’t held at the post office and was delivered to my house. Thank goodness for those little worms I happened to be home when the box that looked like an elephant stepped on it, was delivered.
The worm farm was having a winter sale on worms, and a thousand worms cost me $20.00 plus shipping. Most women buy shoes on clearance. Not me. I buy worms.
There’s a variety of bedding that worms will thrive in. I’m thinking they’re really not all that particular. Many people use shredded paper or cardboard scraps for bedding. I’ve read that most black newspaper ink (not colored) is safe for your worms and for your soil, but I can’t get past the fact that ink just seems “chemical-ish”, and I can’t bring myself to use it. The worms actually eat the bedding too.
I filled the bin with a couple of inches of peat moss, and added enough water (about 5 cups) so that the moss is moist, but not dripping wet. And to make the worms feel right at home, I used melted snow at room temperature instead of tap water. We’ve got plenty of that right now!
Red wigglers are surface dwellers that travel horizontally in the top layers of soil or organic matter, which makes them perfect for composting in shallow bins. I’ve read not to use worms from your yard as those are tunnelers, and won’t survive in a compost situation like this.
Here are my 1000 little poop machines! I’m wondering who counts all those worms…Just kidding! Worms are weighed, not counted, and 1000 worms weigh roughly one pound.
They came in this nifty little fabric bag.
I dumped them into their new home, and they were a tangled mess. I spread them out a little bit, and then read the instructions that said not to spread them out. So…don’t spread them out. After several minutes, most of them disappeared under the peat moss. It’s recommended that you leave them under a light after you release them, so they’ll acclimate faster to their new home. Since they don’t like light, they’ll burrow down to get away from it, and get settled in.
Next, I added some chopped up food scraps I’d been collecting, and buried them to avoid a fruit fly party. It’s going to take some experimentation to know how much to feed them, but I’ve read about three to four pounds of scraps a week for 1000 worms. Am I gonna weigh and puree my scraps like some people do? Not a chance. We’re gonna wing it on the amount, and my worms are just going to have to chew their food like everybody else.
This is an odor-free process if done correctly, but if this turns into a stinkfest that I can’t get under control, I’m probably gonna bail. And by bail, I mean release them into my garden when it’s warm enough for them to survive. Their castings will be great for my soil.
Worms will compost anything that you would throw into a normal compost pile with a couple of exceptions. Do not feed worms onion or citrus scraps. Leaves are good, but no sticks. And, as with a normal compost pile, you don’t want to add any meat, dairy or greasy foods. Coffee grounds and ground up egg shells are good for worms, because like chickens, worms have gizzards, and these gritty foods aid in their digestion. Feel free to throw in tea bags, paper towels, and coffee filters too.
Castings should be ready to harvest in about three months, which will be just in time for spring planting here in Illinois. I’m guessing 1000 worms aren’t going to produce enough castings to service my whole garden by any means, but they should produce enough that I can make worm tea. That is, adding castings to a bucket of water, letting them steep for a few days, and then using the nutrient-rich water to fertilize plants.
It’s February at the time of this writing. The holiday buzz is over, and I’m really missing my garden, so vermicomposting gives me some semblance of gardening–something new to try. It’s sort of like taking an aspirin when what you really need is surgery, and all I’ve got right now is aspirin. Sigh.
If my slimy little friends survive, I’ll publish a follow-up post on how to harvest their castings. If they die, I’ll have a funeral to which all of you will be invited.
One Month Later: My bin is doing well at the one month mark. Amazingly enough, I can confirm that despite the fact that I fill it with rotting food scraps, there is no smell other than the smell of dirt. So far, so good.
This post was written by Tracy Evans, who is a certified Home Stager and Redesigner, a journeyman painter and an avid gardener. If you have an interest in Redesign, please feel free to check her other blog at HomeStagingBloomingtonIl. You can find additional before and after pictures on her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com.