Trying To Be Greener

Safer eco-living, one day at a time

Getting to know Vermicomposting January 7, 2009

Jill, another crafty, knitting, and blogging friend of mine, is guest posting today about Vermicomposting. “What’s that?!!!” you ask? Oh, you’ll see – read on!

Raise your hand if you feel that little pang of guilt when you go to drop kitchen scraps in the garbage. Yeah, I know…me too. It’s like you need your own little composting machine to return the nutrients to the soil and keep those goodies out of the landfill. That’s where vermicomposting comes in.

Vermicomposting is a natural process that uses worms, specifically red wigglers, to turn food scraps into a nutrient rich worm castings. The castings are then used as a natural fertilizer.

Final Product

Final Product

Vermicomposting is absolutely fascinating. By turning your scraps into compost you are aiding the earth in about a bajillion ways. Not only are you saving space in a landfill, you are also reducing the use of chemical fertilizers, AND helping air-cleaning fruit-bearing plants thrive. It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, the nice bit about worm composting compared to regular composting is that you don’t need to worry about the balance of browns (carbon like dead leaves) and greens (nitrogen like kitchen scraps) and can thereby avoid the vomit like end product of a green overload.

You’re ready to start your own worm bin now, aren’t you?

Starting a worm bin doesn’t have to be all that complicated or expensive. Sure you could buy a “fancy bin” and “order worms online”… but who doesn’t love an easy DIY project?

Making a Basic Worm Bin:

Supplies-

  • Newspaper
  • Rubbermaid container with lid (not clear, dark colors are best)
  • Drill

First: Drill a line of holes about half way up the sides of the container all the way around. These are air holes that allow the worms to breath and bacteria to break down matter. Don’t make your holes so low that they become an escape route.

Then: Rip newspaper into strips about 2 inches wide. You are making a soft bedding for the worms.

Next: Soak the newspaper in water. Wring out excess water so it’s like a sponge and not dripping. Arrange the paper in the container so it is covering the bottom. A little worm nest.

Then: Toss in a handful of dirt and grit. Nothing special, just straight from the flower bed.

My worm bin looks like this. Nothing fancy.

Worm Bin

Worm Bin

It’s time to add your worms!

How to Obtain Worms

Worms

Worms

You have a few different options when it comes to locating worms. Whichever source you choose, you will need about 1 pound.

1. Order online. A variety of online retailers sell red wigglers for a hefty price. I’ve seen worms listed for between $15 and $30 per pound.

2. Garden Centers. Some gardening centers have worms available to sell. As with buying online, it will cost you.

3. Ask a friend. I was lucky enough to get my worms from a co-worker. It’s worth it to ask around. Someone you know might be ready to harvest their worm bin and give you their excess wigglers.

4. Network. If you don’t know anyone with worms try visiting: http://vermicomposters.com/ You can locate your city on the map and find vermicomposters in the area- many who have worms available for free or a small fee.

Now that you have your worms and your bin all set up, all you have to do is unite the two and celebrate with a good feeding. Cover the worms with more newspaper and replace the lid to keep it nice and dark, and your worms happy. (See why you didn’t want a clear container?)

Cover with paper

Cover with paper

Feeding Your Worms

When I feed my worms, I keep it simple. I try to remember three things:

  • Chop it up small.
  • Keep it vegan.
  • Nothing stinky.

The more surface area of the food you expose, the faster it will break down and become edible to the worms. See that apple? It’s wasn’t chopped up and it’s been there forever.

Apple

Apple

Some items worms won’t eat, like meat and dairy. My personal rule is vegan only compost. Furthermore, worms tend to not like strong flavors. For example, I keep onions and garlic out of my bin. Just about anything else is fair game.

Depending on the size of your bin, you’ll need to feed your worms about once a week. You don’t want to overwhelm them with food (for all sorts of scientific complicated reasons). But if you peek in there and notice most of the food is breaking down, add a little more.

You now have your own little compost machine.

For more information on vermicomposting I’d first recommend:

  • Recycle with Earthworms: The Red Wiggler Connection by Shelley C. Grossman and Toby Weitzel… This book is easy to understand and includes a lot of good information on worms in general and troubleshooting with your bin.

Other resources:

Jill is based in the Pacific Northwest where she regularly experiments with gardening, teaching, crafting, cooking, baking, and living. Visit her blog, “Pilliebee.Handmade”.

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Copyright © 2008. Trying To Be Greener. All rights reserved.

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14 Responses to “Getting to know Vermicomposting”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    I’ve been thinking about starting worm composting this year, so this is really helpful.

    A question: If you’re only feeding your worms once a week, does that mean you’re keeping your scraps elsewhere and putting a week’s worth in at one time?

  2. Joy Says:

    Hi! Quick question…I already made my bin (just trying to track down worms now :/) but I made my bin out of clear plastic. Is that a huge problem? Or if I covered the non-holey sections with something do you think that would work? Thank you. Great post! 🙂

  3. Jill Says:

    Jennifer: There’s a lot to answer in your question, bear with me!

    Depending on your household you might produce just enough food for your worms’ weekly feeding or way too much. (A family would probably overwhelm a pound of worms).

    It’s just me so I produce just enough for my worms. I collect the scraps in a small non-transparent lidded container that sits on my counter. When it gets full and the worms need more food, I toss it in. (the lid is key to avoid fruit flies)

    If you have a family and produce too much:
    What some people do is freeze their excess scraps. Then when they go on vacation they thaw it and toss it in the bin. I sometimes throw extra bits in hidden places in my flower beds, of course if you don’t have a yard that’s not possible.

    If you have so many scraps that you don’t know what to do with them, you might want to consider starting another worm bin or a regular compost bin.

    I think that gives you more information than you requested, but it’s all connected! 🙂

  4. Jill Says:

    Joy: It depends. Where do you plan on keeping your bin? If you want to keep it in a dark place under the sink, a clear container is probably ok. If you want to keep it outside (or a lighted place)… a clear container will be a problem. Worms like it really really dark. If worms are exposed to bright sun light they can die in about 3 minutes. Also, clear containers can encourage algae to grow if your bin gets too damp.

    I would suggest finding a different use for your clear bin. If you do really want to use it and plan on keeping it outside, I would try to cover it in dark shelving paper or something similar to keep out the light.

    Good luck and welcome to the wonderful world of vermicomposting!

  5. Joy Says:

    Thank you for the response! It was very helpful information! And so was the info you gave in the response to Jennifer’s question. Thanks! 🙂

  6. Marcy Says:

    Hmmm we started a regular compost pile a month or 2 ago, but it’s unclear if it;’s actually “composting” or not (not heating up). I’m wondering about throwing in some worms to help it out? Are they completely different processes that won’t work together, or is it a worthy experiment?

  7. Lilli Says:

    I have been vermicomposting for almost two years. I have distributed “worm bowls” (large tupperware containers) to my friends and family to fill with their fruit and veggie scraps. Once it is filled, they return it to me and I give it to the worms, then wash and return the bowl to them for a refill.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    Jill: Thanks for your response. We’re a family of four, so I’m thinking we’d start off with more worms and a larger bin. We garden a lot, so more compost is a good thing. And, if I have too many scraps, I’m not averse to tossing them behind a bush or just digging them into whatever bed is not currently in use.

  9. Jill Says:

    Lilli: That’s a great idea!

  10. Jill Says:

    Marcy: The question of whether or not your compost is actually composting might have something to do with the weather. When it’s cold, composting happens at a slower rate. Some master composters are so good at the process (knowing when to turn, the right combo of browns and greens) that they get steam coming off their piles in winter. That’s never happened for me. Adding worms to your regular compost bin… I personally probably wouldn’t do it. Mainly because it adds another aspect of your compost you need to manage. It might be better to read up and try to figure out what the problem is in the first place. Two books I really like are: Compost by Clare Foster and Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost. That being said, you can add worms to your bin but they do best in compost bins that are already at least partially breaking down.

    Hope that helps!

  11. Patti Says:

    I’ve been meaning to read this post for a while. It sounds like a great, cheaper alternative to large composting bins. We have a “pile” but it usually ends up as a dog treat. This seems much more manage and workable. Perfect for our garden! Thanks-I’m going to look into it a little more and see if it is something we could make work!

  12. melissawest Says:

    Worm poop is one of the best fertilizers in the world! I get some from a farm up the road and am always amazed at how clean it is–no smell and awesome texture!

  13. akkii Says:

    really its a very interesting way 2 get manure by using this worm
    it reduces all kind of pollution .i m planing to start it in my garden

  14. Mindy Says:

    I didn’t know much about this until I read an article about a school starting their own worm bin to compost leftover cafeteria food. Kids learn and are helping the environment. They’ve inspired me to at least be more watchful of my food waste.


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