Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is like regular composting, but super-powered! It has all the benefits of regular composting, like reducing garbage and providing an organic fertilizer, PLUS several advantages:
- works much, much faster
- can be done on a small scale (traditional composting is hard to manage small scale)
- much more interesting than a pile of dirt
- great on-going project to do with your kids
With 5 dollars and 5 minutes, you can start composting with your own worm farm!
**The hard part will be finding the worms, and finding them for cheap, but there are ways...
My worm farm was thriving, but then I let it get too wet, and they drowned or suffocated... There were fewer and fewer worms each time I checked on them, until there were none left... Happily, I was able to recover some from a window box in which I had added a few worms at planting time. So this is me starting over, from scratch.
Step 1: Gather Your Materials
You will need:
- an opaque plastic storage bin (worms don't like light)
- some "brown" compost material - newspaper, brown paper bag, toilet paper rolls, etc
- some "green" compost material - fresh kitchen scraps
- Red Wrigglers, or Eisenia foetida
- eggshells and/or coffee grounds
- 1 spoonful of dirt from the garden
*special equipment: drill
The Rubbermaid container I have here is ideal: only 5 bucks, and pretty sturdy. And it is wide and shallow, which is preferred by worms over containers that are small and deep.
For the browns, you can hit up your local liquor/wine stores and ask for their boxes. Try to get the plain ones and the inserts. It's a win for everyone, because there's less trash for them to haul out to the curb, the cardboard is getting recycled, and you get free, unlimited worm food/bedding. On another note, don't use glossy magazines or paper towels that has been used with cleaning chemicals as it might be toxic to the worms.
For the greens, my kitchen scraps has been more than enough, but other fresh organic material will also work. I normally keep one zip top bag in the freezer and add the random banana peel and apple core, and when it's full, add it to the worm bin. If I am expecting a lot of scraps at once, like while making dinner, I'll just collect them in a bowl, and afterwards microwave it for 2 min. The freezing or cooking will significantly speed up the composting process, but it's not necessary. Don't forget to let the cooked scraps cool off a bit before dumping on your worms!
The worms are a bit pricey if you buy it from a garden center. Try to mooch some from a worming enthusiast, or contact the local co-op. I understand sometimes bait shops will carry them for cheap.
The worms will need grits to help break down their food. Two or 3 egg shells or 1 batch of coffee grounds should do at the start, but you will want to add more later as the worm population grows.
Step 2: Drill Holes in Your Bin
Your worms will need air holes and drainage holes. I used the biggest drill bit I've got, and made 8 holes at the bottom, and 4 on each side of the bin. (You don't want holes in the lid because rain might make your worm farm too wet)
Step 3: Toss It All In
I like to layer it at the beginning, but it doesn't matter very much because it will get all mixed up in a few days. I added some cardboard at the very bottom, then some of the kitchen scraps, sprinkled with the eggshells, then more browns, and last layer of greens.
You could have carefully moistened and wrung out the browns before layering, or just wait till you get through and dribble in a cup of water.
Oh, and sprinkle in your spoonful of dirt. This will seed your worm farm with the necessary soil microbes to get things started.
Step 4: Add Worms to Their New Home
You can dump them right on top; they will move and dig down where they need to be.
The original can of worms I bought had about 300, but I was only able to salvage about 20 here, so it will take a bit longer to get established.
Step 5: Ta-da!
Loosely place the lid, and set your worm farm some where safe from extreme heat or cold. I've got mine in the shadiest spot of the garden so it doesn't get cooked in the southern summer, but come winter time, I will have to move it to the garage.
Maintenance: Add more greens and browns every few days, and "aerate" your farm. Just rake up and fluff the contents of the bin so that it gets air circulation. I have a dollar store claw thingie that works great, but use what you've got. Don't forget to add extra "brown" material if your bin gets too wet! And some more grits every couple of weeks.
Harvest: In a few months, when your bin is "mature", and is full of that "black gold" and fat, happy worms, it will be time to harvest. There are many ways to do this, but probably the easiest is to make a new worm farm identical to the first, and set it right on top of the old bin and nestle it right onto the wormy compost. After 2 or 3 weeks, the worms will have migrated up through the drainage holes to their new environment. Remove the bottom bin, and let the top bin continue as before.
If you have a large garden, you can likely use the worm compost as is, but if desired, you can screen or strain out the chunky bits like stems and such for use in smaller containers.
Hope this was clear and helpful. Happy worm farming!
For more details, check out these sites: