You might know what composting is, but do you know what vermicomposting is? Vermicomposting is when you add earthworms to organic refuse to create high quality compost. While you could just create a compost pile and wait for the bacteria to decompose your kitchen scraps, but when you add small amounts of kitchen waste to a compost pile, it’s going to disrupt the whole decomposition process.
However, when the pile is riddled with worms, it’ll work just great.
Vermicomposting is popular among many gardeners because it is a way to create nutrient rich soil for their plants, but it also helps to reduce the amount of garbage they throw away. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can still compost your kitchen waste (as well as shredded newspaper and cardboard boxes).
By using worm boxes, you can see a reduction in the amount of garbage you throw out by a third. You can then take that compost and use it in potted plants and flowers and it’ll still provide you with healthy flowers, vegetables, and fruit.
Vermicompost is primarily consists of worm excrement’s and organic material that has decayed. In the right conditions, worms can consume their own weight in organic material in a single day—sometimes even more. They aren’t getting their nourishment from the organic material though, they are getting it from the micro-organisms that are present in the compost pile.
Interestingly enough, the worms excrements create up to eight times as many micro-organisms than what they consume! Now how’s that for a conundrum?
When it comes to creating a nutrient dense soil, the worm’s excrement contain 5x more nitrogen, 7x more phosphorus, and 11x more potassium than your regular soil. These minerals are essential for your plants to grow big and healthy. Not only does the worm waste contain plenty of nutrients, it also is packed with humic acids that work to create the perfect pH balance in the soil.
So you’re interested in starting a vermicomposting pile of your own are you? You’re going to want to choose the right kind of worm for your compost. There is one species that is used most often and that is the red wiggler (Eisenia Fetida or Eisena Andrei). These worms can adapt themselves very well to shallow compost bins.
These worms can process massive amounts of organic matter, they reproduce quickly when in the compost box, and they can be found pretty easily. There are is such a need for earthworms that there are markets that will cultivate these worms on a part-time or full-time basis!
Other than the red earthworm, you can European night crawlers (Eisenia hortensis) or even African night crawlers (Eudrilus eugeniae). We do want to point out that you want to avoid using the Canadian night crawler (Lumbricus terrestris) because they will burrow further than what most compost bins will allow for.
You don’t have to go out and search for the worms yourself. You can order them online from a nursery mail-order supplier or even at a bait shop because they are also used as bait. You will want to get at least 1,000 (1 pound) of worms to start a worm box. If you plan on using your garden wastes as well, you’ll need twice that amount. Keep in mind, they breed quickly when in the right conditions!
Speaking of breeding the worms, you should be aware that a worm population can double in only a month’s time. When they are in an ideal environment, your measly 1,000 worms can grow to 1 million in a single year! However, because you are going to be using the compost, you aren’t going to get nearly that much—about 35 pounds of worms at the most.
This is because the hatchlings and the eggs are going to be killed or ruined when you’re tending to the compost. To ensure that your worms do reproduce, you will want to make sure the compost has these conditions:
When you’re vermicomposting, you are going to want to keep it in a bin that is going to be able have plenty of air circulating. You can use things like galvanized garbage cans, plastic bins, and even a homemade wooden box. To promote air circulation, you’ll want to put plenty of holes all over the bin that have been covered in mesh so that flies and other pests do not get inside.
Your ideal worm bin is going to be something that isn’t more than 18 inches deep and it is wide enough so that you can spread out your material—the more surface area the worms have to feed on, the better. The size of your worm bin is really going to depend on how much waste you create.
We recommend that with a family of four, you’ll want just about 3 pounds of worms to start, but you can adjust that according to your specific needs.
With your worm bin, you can put it anywhere that is close to the kitchen so it is convenient. It’s a good idea to look for a place that will receive little direct sun, but will receive a decent amount of air. Some options can include:
Before you put your worms in the bin, you will want to have some kind of bedding at the bottom. This bedding can be any type of cellulose material like shredded newspaper or computer paper, moldy leaves, coconut fibers, wood chips or saw dust, and peat moss.
You will also want to add a few handfuls of garden soil, rock dust (powder) or powdered limestone so that your worms will have some grit to help break down the waste material.
When you’re vermicomposting, you are going to want to perform regular maintenance on it. This includes adding new bedding material periodically to replace what has decomposed. You’ll want to add kitchen waste whenever you can and check the moisture level when you do so.
If you notice that there is excessive amounts of moisture in the bottom of your bin, you can remove it by tipping the container (if it’s possible) or removing the standing water with a cup or a turkey baster.
It only takes about six weeks for the worms to start making noticeable changes in the compost. It is going to be darker and you’ll be able to see that the volume of the bedding is decreasing because it is turning into worm waste.
When you see these noticeable changes, it is time to start using the compost for your plants. The problem with using your compost is that you are going to lose some of your worms in the process. To minimize how much worms you lose, you will want to go through the compost by hand before you use it.
To do this, you will want to dump the compost from the box onto a large plastic bin (we like a child’s swimming pool) while outside in the sun. Form several mounds of the compost and wait a few minutes. The worms do not like the light so they will burrow to the bottom of these mounds.
After you’ve waited for a bit, scoop up the top layer of the mounds with a brush and dustpan until you’ve uncovered the worms. Continue to do this until you’ve been able to scoop up all the compost and the worms remain.
Once you’ve gone through all of your compost, you will want to put the worms back into the worm box that you’ve filled with fresh bedding and feed.
Composting is a great way to use your kitchen and yard scraps and turn it into something that’s going to provide great nourishment for your plants. With vermicomposting you only have to wait six weeks before you can use the compost, whereas it would take you much longer had you not used worms.
When you’re attempting to give vermicomposting a shot, remember to use 1 to 3 pounds of red worms (depending on how much waste you generate) and put them in a wide, shallow bin which has been filled with holes and there is enough cellulose bedding at the bottom.
By adding kitchen scraps to it regularly and making sure the box is moist, you’ll have fresh, nutrient rich compost to use in your garden in as little as six weeks! How exciting!