Bugs Redux: Vermicomposting (Worm Composting)

In our last post we talked about attracting bees to your garden to give your pollination efforts a boost. Today, we continue on our “insect kick” by letting you in on one of your best compost tips: vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting is the use of worms in your compost in order to speed breakdown time and increase nutrients in the finished compost. Why add worms to your compost pile? Well, because vermicomposting:

  • Speeds the rate of decomposition, as the worms are eating through particles in your heap.
  • Helps increase the temperature of your compost pile due to the movement of the worms, as well as the speeded decomposition.
  • Increases nutrients due to worm castings (leavings).

Once you’ve gotten started on vermicomposting, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it. Here’s the quick and dirty on how to use worms in your compost heap.

Step 1: Create or Purchase a Container (or Containers)

Vermicomposting bins won’t be like your standard bins, which are normally either vertical or in a cylinder. For worms, you’ll want something more shallow, as worms feed near the top.

You can either create or purchase vermicomposting bins. Your bins should be about 12″ deep. The length will depend upon the total amount of waste you’ll be composting. A quick rule of thumb is to weigh the garbage you intend to use for your compost for one week if possible. Then provide one square foot for each pound of waste you plan to compost.

You can purchase vermicomposting bins, which will come with aeration, drainage and will be the appropriate depth for your little wrigglers. However, if you wish to make your own, keep these tips in mind:

  • ALWAYS provide AERATION. Drill holes in the sides of your bins. If this isn’t possible, leave gaps in your cover (see below) and at night if it won’t be too cold out, or on very overcast days, leave the cover off completely.
  • Provide drainage. You’ll be keeping your vermicompost bins moist, but you don’t want them soaking wet. Drill holes in the bottoms of your bins and place the bins up off the ground. Putting them on cinder blocks or bricks will raise them and should be sturdy as well.
  • You will need a cover for your compost bins in order to retain moisture, and to keep things dark, the way worms like their environment to be. If you use a plastic cover (plastic/vinyl tarps are included in this), NEVER cover completely – even if you have provided a number of aeration holes in the sides of your bin. Instead, cover loosely, leaving a slight gap for air to pass through.
  • An old dresser drawer works wonderfully as a vermicompost bin. Drill holes in the sides and bottom, stand up off the ground using bricks and cover with plywood that has had holes drilled in it or has gaps for aeration.

Step 2: Provide Bedding for Your Worms

Your worms need a place to live, so provide bedding for them. The bedding should retain moisture and should also encourage the worms to thrive.

Making bedding for your vermicompost bins is easy. Fill the bins 2/3 of the way to the top with any of the following:

  • shredded newspaper
  • commercially prepared worm bedding
  • shredded corrugated cardboard
  • peat moss
  • shredded paper (non-glossy)

BEFORE placing the bedding into the bins, do the following:

  • Place bedding in container(s) and add water. The water should completely cover the bedding.
  • Allow to sit for 2-4 hours (until completely soaked; thinner/lighter paper will be ready faster, while cardboard-type materials will take longer).
  • Drain the water and put the bedding into cloths. Squeeze the cloths to get as much excess water out of the bedding as possible.
  • Place the bedding into the bins. Separate it out with your fingers to make it easier for worms to crawl through.

Step 3: Obtain Your Worms

Different worms may work well for composting, but the “gold standard” for vermicomposting is the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida), also known as the red hybrid, tiger worm or manure worm. Use about a pound of worms to each half-pound of garbage you plan to add (total) to your bins.

You can obtain worms the old-fashioned way – digging them up in your yard – or you can order them online or even try a bait store.

Step 4: Start Composting!

Add compost materials SLOWLY to your bins so as not to accidentally crush or unduly disturb your worms.

Be sure to keep the environment moist but not soaking wet. Don’t let the compost bin get too cold. A good compost thermometer can help you determine whether your worms are in a comfortable environment.

See this video to find out what to add to a compost pile (your red wigglers will love all the same additions) and check here to find out when your compost is ready. We hope you enjoy your vermicomposting experience. It’s fascinating to watch nature at work in your own garage or side yard, and it’s a great learning tool for kids, too.

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