Getting Started With Composting Worms
Whether you live in an apartment in the city or a farm in the country, you have the ability to compost your organic waste. Composting in both urban and suburban areas is becoming more common, with local government councils enacting organic waste collection. Small-scale worm farming is also becoming more accessible to city dwellers. Therefore, there is no excuse for failing to responsibly dispose organic waste.
Adapting your behavior to reduce waste takes perseverance, but habits can change quickly. Once you commit to change, thinking twice before throwing your organic waste into the trash will become second nature. This simple change will leave the planet a cleaner, greener, and better place!
What is Vermicomposting?
Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is the transformation of organic waste using worms. This creates a fine black compost known as “worm castings.” Rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, vital nutrients, and trace minerals, castings are an excellent all-around organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Castings are also a great source of water-soluble, slow-release nutrients for your garden, houseplants, or lawn. Composting is a simple and natural process. It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Don’t get too hung up on what the “C:N ratio” is, or the “pH levels” of your bin unless you want to know for your own gratification.
Biggest Challenges for the Beginning Worm Wrangler
This is the number one problem for new worm wranglers. Remember that too much of a good thing is still too much. Think “less is more” when choosing menu items for your worms.
Too much moisture is also a common problem, especially for composters using plastic bins indoors, as they often lack sufficient drainage. To correct this, there are a number of options for you to try.
- Add bedding — this will dry the bin
- Increase air — poke more holes above the bin
- Drain — poke more holes under the bin
- Aerate — turn and mix pile
The Key Elements of Composting
However you decide to start vermicomposting, whether by using bins, tubs, or the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system, remember these basics.
Ninety-nine percent of questions regarding various issues are solved by looking at the bedding-to-food ratio. Build your pile with one part grass clippings, salad or kitchen leftovers, or other green matter. Add to this two to three parts dried leaves, grasses, cardboard, or other brown matter to get the right mix.
Bedding can make or break your compost. It increases air flow and provides plenty of carbon rich supplements. It helps soak up nitrogen-rich acids, which brings balance to the system. Bedding also helps hold in moisture and increases your cocoon production, which creates baby worms. Brown cardboard is better for the worms.
If you want truly organic compost, avoid using bleached or processed white bedding materials. Don’t forget, you can’t add too much bedding!
Ideally, a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40°F to 80°F. Red Wigglers generally prefer temperatures in the 55°F to 77°F range. Most worm bin systems do not provide enough insulation or thermal mass to buffer temperature changes like the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system does.
If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you have a few options. You can move your bin inside during the winter months, compost on a seasonal basis only, or add extra protection through burying, mounding, or applying a heater of some sort.
What’s on the Menu?
Worms do not actually eat the vegetables. Worms subsist on the aerobic bacteria that break down the food in the compost bin. Food can be broken or cut up into 1” chunks. Smaller pieces are better, since they increase surface area and thereby encourage good growth. Blending or chopping it to mush is not recommended, since it prevents air circulation. Overfeeding pulp has been known to attract fruit flies. It can also become compact and contribute to anaerobic conditions. Bedding eventually becomes food. Avoid adding more food if you see a lot of unprocessed food in the bin. Allow your worms time to work through the food they have before giving them more.
Types of Foods
Straw: Thought to have less viable seeds than hay
Grasses: Dried lawn clippings or grasses
Leaves: Dried, brown & shredded are best. Full leaves can be used but they tend to compact.
Cardboard and Paper: Torn into squares, strips or shredded in a paper shredder
Sawdust: Tends to compact when used in excess
Wood chips: Small amounts act to hold moisture in the soil
Kitchen scraps: Vegetable and fruit
Coffee: Grounds, coffee filters, and teabags
Yard and Garden Waste: Old vegetables, flowers, or trimmings from trees and shrubs
No dog, cat, pig, or human manure should be used, since they may contain pathogens.
Rabbit: Can be added as is, as long as it is mostly urine free
Horse, Cow, and Other: Only add in small amounts unless composted first to avoid overheating the bin
Worms need grit in their gizzards. Finely crushed or ground sand and eggshells are great sources of grit. Grit helps worms properly digest food and successfully reproduce. Diatomaceous earth can be used to control the amount of mites, as well as add some needed minerals and grit.
Do not add items that don’t belong in your compost pile. While hot compost piles will kill many diseases, weed seeds, and insects, the temperature does not get high enough to do this in vermicomposting. Some of these nasty guests may survive to invade your garden. Certain materials can tempt unwanted critters to the pile or spread human diseases.
Here are a few items to avoid:
- Kitchen scraps containing meats, oils, fish, dairy products, and bones
- Weeds that have gone to seed or that spread by their roots
- Diseased or insect-infested vegetables or flowers
- Herbicide-treated grass clippings or weeds
- Dog, cat, pig or human feces
- Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables
Have fun, and happy vermicomposting!