We know, we know. Vermicomposting? That sounds like vermin – eew! Who likes that?
We do! And so does our compost pile. Yours will too...we promise!
Vermicomposting (literally, using worms to speed up the composting process and make it more complete) is an easy, fun and interesting way to get things cookin' on your compost pile. Before you know it, you'll have rich, nutrient-rich compost for mulch, fertilizer and garden soil.
Why Should You Use Worms?
The compost process relies on the breaking down of organic materials to create soil/fertilizer. It's something that happens naturally all throughout nature, but when you – the gardener/composter - do it, it's a controlled process, not relying on the elements and time alone.
Instead, if you're a composting aficinado, you're probably adding the correct proportions of materials, omitting rat- and other pest-attractors (like rotting meat), and testing the temperature of your pile from time to time.
Wait – didn't we just say you want to keep pests away? So where do worms come in?
Actually, the right “pests” aren't pests at all when it comes to the controlled composting process. Specifically, most beginning (or even seasoned) vermicomposters select a specific type of worm – the red wriggler – and add populations into the compost pile in controlled amounts.
If the new inhabitants find the environment hospitable (and they should, if you're maintaining your compost heap properly), they'll eat their way through the contents of your compost and eventually will generate the most fertile compost you've ever created.
The Benefits of Vermicomposting
Using worms in your compost bin or pile has a number of benefits and will easily save you work in the long run.
A few great effects of vermicomposting include:
• Soil aeration. The movement of the worms throughout your compost material creates tiny pockets of space, allowing air to move more freely throughout the pile to enhance the composting process.
• Soil enrichment. The castings, or waste (yes, you read that right), also known as vermicast, contain a cocktail of microorganisms and nutrients that will be a real fertilizer boost to your garden once the compost is ready.
• Faster breakdown of materials. Brown (dry) and green (live/wet) materials will ALL eventually break down – whether in your compost bin or on a forest floor – but if the process is very delayed, rotting, mildew and mold can occur. Worms eating through your compost materials means they're processed faster, before these issues can happen.
• A fascinating look at the life cycle. Watching the process happen over time (and caring for your worms) is fun and interesting. (By the way, if your child's school has a garden and an area for a compost heap, they'll love getting involved in this process, so suggest it to your child's teacher! We did. Big fun!)
How it All Happens
You may call it gross – I call it science! (By the way, you might actually find this an interesting process to watch over time, and if you have kids that are anything like mine, they'll LOVE it.)
• Worms are introduced into the compost pile.
• They immediately begin eating through the materials for sustenance and to “bed down” and make themselves at home.
• Systematically, the worms begin creating tunnels through the compost so they can move more freely; this creates beneficial pockets of aeration throughout your pile. (Don't worry, if you mix your pile regularly, the worms are happy to create new tunnels.)
• The worms digest the materials and leave nutrient- and microbe-rich vermicastings (waste) in the compost pile.
• The microbes left by the worms do additional work breaking down the compost.
• The worms reproduce in the pile, and continue the process. How to Vermicompost This is the easy part. The worms will do the work all by themselves once you get them into your compost pile.
• First make sure you have your compost pile ready and ideally, beginning to break down (this happens quickly – you should see some signs of decomposition within approximately a week of starting your pile).
• While your compost pile is doing its thing, buy or order worms. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most common species used for composting. However, tiger worms (Eisenia andrei) or nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) can also be used. You can obtain your worms by ordering live delivery online (google reputable worm farms/suppliers for this) or from a fishing bait shop. If you do purchase from a bait shop, make sure the worms are all live and appear active; bait is not usually collected with the longerm health of the worm in mind.
• Add the worms to your compost pile. The general rule is 1 lb. of worms per square foot (in your compost bin or pile). However, if you don't have that many, work with what you do have. Worms will reproduce quickly in the right environment.
• Make sure to maintain the temperature of your pile and to add brown and green materials regularly.
If you'd like, start your own worm farm with your children to watch the worms eat, grow and reproduce! We'll have an article in the future explaining exactly how to do this.
In the meantime, let the worms do the work for you, and you'll be enjoying the benefits of rich, fertile compost in no time.
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