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.
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?
Making a Basic Worm Bin:
- Rubbermaid container with lid (not clear, dark colors are best)
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.
It’s time to add your worms!
How to Obtain 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?)
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.
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.
- Worm Woman – http://www.wormwoman.com/acatalog/index.html
- Urban Agriculture Notes – http://www.cityfarmer.org/wormcomp61.html
- Cheap and Easy Worm Bin – http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/Easywormbin.htm
Jill is based in the Pacific Northwest where she regularly experiments with gardening, teaching, crafting, cooking, baking, and living. Visit her blog, “Pilliebee.Handmade”.