Today we’re going to talk about a fashionable topic that’s always popular with the ladies: using worms to decompose your kitchen waste, and creating an effective fertilizer in the process.
Okay girls, settle down.
Worm composting, aka vermicomposting, is a very effective method of composting your food waste and turning it into fertilizer for your garden. The process is quicker than other forms of composting (it takes about 6 weeks to go from kitchen scraps to fertilizer), and is great for smaller amounts. The process is pretty much odorless, and will leave you with a high-quality fertilizer.
BUILDING YOUR COMPOST BIN
First, you will need a bin to house your compost and worms. These can be bought, although making one is simple and easy. Your bin can be made of various materials including wood, plastic or rubber.
Wood has some benefits- it will allow your compost to breathe better, and will absorb moisture (too much moisture can drown your worms). The downside of it is that it will eventually rot away or be eaten, so you’ll need to replace it sooner. Make sure you don’t use chemically treated wood, as this can damage your compost ecosystem. All in all, a wood bin will cost more and will be more work, but it will also give you the highest quality compost.
Rubber or plastic containers will need to have holes drilled in them for proper ventilation. Drill holes along the sides, some at least a few inches from the bottom, to make sure the lower levels have air, too. These types of containers are more durable and will last longer, but the downside is airflow might not be as great, resulting in a lower quality compost.
Your container will need a cover to keep the interior dark and damp. It’s very important that the inside of your bin remains dark and away from direct sunlight, to keep it moist and in the proper temperature range. You’ll want the temperature of your compost to remain between 50-80 F. Over 90 F will cook your worms, killing them and creating an awful smell. A tarp or wood plank would work well fine as a cover.
It’s a good idea to have at least two containers- this way, when one is full, you can remove any remaining, non-biodegraded food waste and place it in the second container. This way you’ll have your first bin filled with fertilizer for your garden, and your second container can then be filled with new kitchen scraps and organic material.
FILLING YOUR COMPOST
First, we’ll need to differentiate between two types of compost material, green and brown.
Green materials are high in nitrogen, and includes grass clippings, manure, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps.
Brown materials are rich in carbon and phosphate, and include leaves, wood shavings, sawdust, or cardboard and newspaper shreds (avoid colored ink as it may be toxic).
Put a layer of brown material in your bin, to about 3/4 full, to serve as your bedding.Your bedding is very important. It will chemically balance you compost (most of your kitchen scraps will be green material), it will absorb moisture and help with airflow, and it will generally serve as both a habitat and as food for your worms.
Add a thin layer of soil on top, then sprinkle it with water. A few days later, drop your red worms into your bin, allowing them to wiggle into the material.
Add scraps every day, and bury them in the bedding. Sprinkle water every few days, depending on moisture levels (you want it moist, but not wet. Water should not be pooling). You can keep doing this for a while, as the worms will eat the material and the amount will shrink.
Do not put meat, dairy products, eggs or oily food into your compost.
HOW MANY WORMS?
Plan for 1lb of worms for every 1/2 lb of daily kitchen waste your produce.
Another way to look at it is to have 1lb of worms for every square foot of surface area.
WHAT KIND OF WORMS?
You’ll need a specific kind of worm for your compost, just grabbing any old worm from your garden won’t do.
Eisenia foetida (Red Wigglers) are the most commonly used worms for vermicomposting. They usually grow to about 4″ long, and are reddish in color with a yellowish tail.
Eisenia hortensis (European Night Crawlers) can also be used. These guys reproduce slower, but grow larger and will eat a wider range of material. They also make great fishing worms. You’ll have to make sure they never get out into the wild though, as they will mess up the ecosystem with their veracious appetite.
Feeding your worm smaller amounts more often will cause them to reproduce more. This, somewhat obviously, will leave you with more worms, and is good if you’re planning on starting multiple bins, are looking to sell worms, are just plain like the little guys.
Feeding them large amounts less often will lead to less worms, but they’ll be much larger. This is good if you want to produce worms for fishing.
HARVESTING YOUR COMPOST
When most of the original brown material is gone, and your bin is about half full, it’s time to harvest your fertilizer. Make sure you have a pair of rubber gloves to wear, things are going to get messy.
Move your composted material to one side. Fill the other side with new brown material, and sprinkle it with water. Let it sit for a few days.
The worms will naturally gravitate to the fresher material. After a few days dig out your old material. This can now be used as fertilizer for your garden.
TIPS AND TRICKS
Leave any bugs you find in your compost, as they are part of the ecosystem. The only exceptions are centipedes, which will eat baby worms. Remove those guys at once.
Ground egg shells will increase the calcium content of the soil you produce.
Go easy on citric fruit scraps, which will make your soil more acidic.
For a great resource on the subject, check out redwormcomposting.com. They cover the subject in great detail and can answer just about any question you might have.
Good luck and stay prepared!