Vermicomposting is the process of using vegetable kitchen waste from meal preparation and other organic materials to make a really fine soil amendment and letting red wiggler earthworms do all (most) of the work. Raising worms, producing rich compost that is very beneficial for plants and disposing of kitchen waste occur all in one.
This process takes place in a worm bin that can be as simple or complex as you desire. There are commercially available bins that are utilitarian or eye-pleasing or both.
Do you compost?
You can also make your own bin from plastic totes, old buckets or wash tubs, untreated wood, or anything else you have around the house that can hold bedding, a bit of soil, worms, and food scraps you provide for your worms that is not toxic to them. A box or other such container, other than cardboard, would be suitable.
- Bedding material should be moist – not too wet or too dry
The bin bedding material should be moist, not too soggy and not too dry as both conditions can be harmful to the worms; and adequate ventilation is a must. Ventilation and drainage holes, where provided, should be covered by fine screening to prevent escape. Because worms breathe through their skin, too much moisture can kill the worms as easily as very dry conditions.
- New bedding needs to be added
Moistened shredded newspaper can be used as the initial bedding for your worms with a small amount of soil for grit for their digestion. Since red wigglers live in the top 6 inches of soil, the bedding does not have to be extra deep. As the worms process the bedding into compost and the level drops, new bedding will need to be added.
- Composting food scraps
Most bins are started with a pound of worms, approximately 1,000 worms, and they will eat about a half pound of vegetable food scraps daily. Earthworms are sold by weight or by count, and redworms or red tigers of the bed-run grade are recommended.
- Avoid acidic foods
Most kitchen scraps are fine to feed the worms as long as they are not too acidic. Cutting the scraps into smaller pieces will help the worms process the food, but it is not necessary; and make sure there is not an excess of acidic food such as citrus. A soil level pH5 to pH9 is best because a high acidity will kill the worms or cause them to escape the bin.
- Meat and animal by-products not recommended
Meat and animal by-products are not recommended with the exception of dried, crushed egg shells. Food should always be buried about an inch under the bedding to discourage insects and unpleasant odors from rotting foods and should be rotated around the bin with each feeding.
Temperature is another consideration you need to be aware of when setting up your worm bin. Between 59 to 77 degrees is best.
Extreme cold or heat can kill the worms, and below 59 degrees and above 77 degrees will usually slow processing of the organic materials in the bin as well as cocoon production. With slower processing of the bin and fewer new worms, feeding might need to be reduced accordingly.
In winter you may need to bring the outdoor bin indoors to the garage or basement, to insulate the bin to accommodate your local temperature ranges, or to add extra or supplemental heat as your circumstances dictate.
During summer, you may again need to bring your bin indoors to make sure to keep the bin well shaded or to use some kind of cooling system or apparatus. If you are comfortable in the surrounding temperature, your worms will usually be comfortable, too.
There are a number of pests and organisms that can get into your bins. The smaller ones are the microscopic ones – actinomycetes (fungus-like bacteria that produce thin strings or filaments), molds and bacteria.
Others intruders include beetle mites, sow bugs, flies, springtails, centipedes, millipedes, ants and mold mites. Some are annoying but harmless, some are beneficial and some are harmful to the worms in the bin.
You need to be aware of what is in your bin and research the ways to prevent or treat undesirable infestations of any pests.
By raising your own worms, you can have a rich soil amendment for your garden and container plants without a lot of work, time or expense on your part. With a bit of research, attention to details and the needs of your worms, you can have worm castings or vermicompost.
Try vermicomposting to create rich, organic compost.