The Basics of Vermicomposting
By brandeplotnick on March 01, 2014
I'd like to introduce you to my latest army of little garden helpers. Their names are Eisenia foetida, all 2000+ of them. I'm using these cool little red wiggler worms to help me build great soil in my garden through vermicomposting. Now that we're getting settled in our new home, I'm back to creating a more sustainable life, particularly in the kitchen. Why not improve the garden while I'm at it?
I've been interested in composting ever since I got into gardening. I knew I had the perfect guy for me when, a few years ago, Mr. President bought me a space-saving tumbling compost bin as a birthday gift. But as we learned, traditional composting is a slow process. Even with the tumbler, we got only one batch of compost in nearly a year's time. I also didn't have the capacity in the bin or the space in our yard to be able to compost more than just a small percentage of our kitchen waste.
If worms gross you out, consider getting over it. They make wonderful garden fertilizer!
I think I've found a solution through vermicomposting. This process uses red worms to convert kitchen scraps and household waste into worm castings (worm poo) which are the gold standard of garden fertilizer. A vermicomposting operation takes very little space. In fact, you can set it up indoors and it's suitable for apartment and condo dwellers. Once the system is ramped up, it's possible to produce a batch of compost in as little as 4-6 weeks.
I researched vermicomposting extensively and finally decided to buy a Worm Factory 360. I had to convince Mr. President by showing him all the positive reviews online and the assurances from others that the system would not smell and wouldn't be messy. We set it up in our basement, and followed the easy instructions for set up.
Once our worms arrived by mail a couple of days later, we followed the instructions for feeding. Now, nearly a month later, our worms are actively eating and now even getting comfortable enough to start little worm families. I couldn't be more proud!
Tips for Successful Vermicomposting
- Get the right system for your needs. I chose the Worm Factory 36o because it has a small footprint and is a stackable system. It costs more than most worm bins, but the benefits of the design make it a good value for us.
- Prepare the bin before your worms arrive. Use a mixture of shredded paper and coir to create a layer of bedding for the worms. Mist the mixture with water until it's similar to a damp, but wrung out sponge. It also helps to add a few handfuls of regular garden soil or finished compost to help jump start the composting process once you have your worms. We added two small handfuls of kitchen scraps as well.
- Keep a countertop compost pail on your kitchen counter to collect scraps before you feed them to your worms. The vermicomposting process will be much faster if you take a few moments to chop the scraps into small pieces. Most fruit and vegetable scraps are fair game, but avoid citrus, meat, and dairy. Bonus points for coffee grounds and ground up eggshells - worms love these!
- Don't overfeed your worms. The worms can eat up to half their body weight in food each and every day. But, if you don't see the worms actively feeding in the most recent layer of food, don't add any more just yet.
- Be patient. It takes time to ramp up a vermicomposting system. Within 4-6 weeks, your worm population will begin to increase if your worms are comfortable in their new home. The population is self-regulating - the worms will reproduce only to the extent that there is enough food and space available. Initially, your worms may not be able to eat all your kitchen scraps.
Use equal parts "browns" and "greens" as in traditional composting. Browns include shredded newspaper (non-glossy), junk mail, and cardboard and greens are kitchen scraps. Prior to the worms' arrival, we shredded a lot of paper and cardboard and filled a large box with it. We keep the box next to worm bin so it's easy to add the browns when we add kitchen scraps.
So far, the worm bin takes just a few minutes of my time each week. There's nothing to do but add a little food at a time, and I usually can't resist digging around a little to see how the worms are doing. I hope to have some finished compost in time for transplanting my tomato seedlings.