Vermiculture, or worm composting, is the science of letting worms take your unwanted food matter and turn it into a fantastic form of nutrient-rich material, known as worm castings, that you can work directly into your garden!
Type of Worms
You can use almost any worm, but most experts agree the Red Wigglers worms are the most efficient worms for composting indoors or outdoors. They will double in population every 2-3 months with proper care, and can be easily handled to move into the garden or other bins. They’re also ferocious eaters and can eat their weight every week.
There are many options and things to consider when deciding on a container for your earth-bound friends! One of the first, and most important questions is “Will I have them indoors?”. If you’re composting properly there will be no smell associated with having them indoors, and it’ll save you lots of trips outside in the cold to feed them, but if you can’t wrap your head around having worms in the house then you’ll want to find a safe place for them outdoors. Indoor options can range from something homemade to something aesthetically pleasing like the Worm Factory Worm Composter. The price for these and some Red Wigglers worms will cost you less than 100$ for your initial setup. If you’re placing them outdoors (remember most of them won’t last if the contents in your container freezes solid, so consider making something portable so you can put it in a garage or shed during the winter) looks are not going to matter as much, and something as simple as a wooden box with a mesh screen and a lid will work.
Bedding and Initial Setup
The bedding you put in your container will be where your worms live, feed, and procreate. Many materials can be used from shredded newspaper, straw, compost, or even soil from your garden (be sure and heat it to 200 degrees in your oven to kill any pathogens or live creepies you don’t want interacting with your worms). It’s vitally important the bedding retains a good level of moisture, just slightly damp to the touch. When ordering your worm bin or worms they’ll normally come with bedding, and often Coconut Coir which retains water and moisture well, but other mediums can also be moistened with a spray bottle until they feel sufficiently moist. There’s not a lot of science behind the bedding, the worms want to live, and will create a hospitable place with the recycled material you put into the bin. They’ll also create more soil biproduct from their own excrement as you feed them.
Feeding and Care
Avoid anything that you think can or may spoil easily, or take a while for the worms to eat. Also avoid processed foods, dairy, meat, and citrus. Worms seem to enjoy salad left overs (no dressings!), tomatoes, apples, plums, berries, pears, and most soft fruits/vegetables. It’s important when trying new types of food to start slow, see how your worms respond, and lather it on if they respond favorably to something. Our worms can’t seem to get enough tomatoes and devour a whole tomato (thinly sliced and spread about) in about a day. They can also tear through a bag of salad mix in 3-4 days. Apples take them longer, and they don’t seem to much care for bananas, but seem to love to procreate under the banana peels. Feel free to experiment with your worms, but never ad more than you think they can handle. Start feeding them slowly and increase feedings in intervals when your worms are ready. If you over feed and notice some food starting to rot remove it immediately, rotting food can attract all kinds of nasties you never even knew existed to your worm bin.
Worm bins are about balance, good moisture, good temperature, no direct sunlight, and proper feeding are the keys to a successful worm bin. Any problems with the worm bin can normally be corrected by making sure you’re keeping a good balance in your bin.
Benefit of Vermiculture / Worm Composting
Aside from less food filling up landfills and hundreds of hungry little roomates; worm can provide their masters with a fantastic treat! Worm castings, the compost like excrement of the worms, and worm juice or “worm tea” are two of the most sought after fertalizers in the organic gardening world!
Worm castings can be taken out of your bin when you see an abundance of the soil-like product. This can be removed by hand or using a small shovel. Worm castings can be mixed with planting soil or sprinkled lightly around the garden or base of trees. The nutrients provided by worm castings will benefit your plants and the soil for years to come.
Worm Tea is the end result of the moisture or water in the bin as it makes its’ way through the worm castings and into a holding tank. Store bought solutions like the Worm Factory Worm Composter usually have a small valve at the bottom that can be drained periodically into a bucket or glass. Homemade solutions should keep this valuable liquid in mind and devise some kind of draining mechanism for the box (normally placing a burlap bag or cheesecloth will allow liquid to pass but not your worms or the worm castings). Some worm grows like to oxygenate this liquid and put a little organic sugar or molasses into the mixture to promote the growth of good bacteria (1-2 teaspoons per 5 gallon bucket).
We normally take this liquid and pour it into a 10 gallon watering tank (mix in 4-5 cups into the 10 gallon tank) and use that to lightly wet the ground around our crops before a general watering. It’s hard to believe until it’s been seen with your own eyes but the effects of using this amazing fertilizer are almost instant, you’ll notice greener greens, brighter blooms, more buds, and perky plants within a few days.
Please post any questions or comments you have!
Here are some pictures of my Bins: