Vermiculture (also known as vermicomposting, worm composting, or Worms Eat My Garbage!) is easy, good for the Earth, good for your plants, and fun – especially for kids. Vermiculture allows you to responsibly dispose of your vegetable food scraps while creating nutrient-rich worm castings you can use on your indoor or outdoor plants. Worm castings are not only 100% organic and all-natural, they’re one of the best soil additives you can use. You’ll grow blue-ribbon tomatoes and mind-blowing flowers.
This article will give you an overview of the key concepts of vermiculture.
Overview of vermiculture / vermicomposting
Vermiculture is a form of composting in which you feed your fruit and vegetable scraps to a specific type of earthworm known as red wigglers (scientific name Eisenia fetida).Vermicompost (woorm poop) is better for plants than almost any other type of compost. Scientifically-proven benefits of using worm castings in your garden include:
- stronger root systems
- improved soil aeration
- over 60 micronutrients and trace minerals for improved plant health
- help to buffer pH in the soil
The composting worms have three jobs: eat, poop, and make baby worms. Your job is to manage them in a way that maximizes all three.
You’ll need three things to get started:
- an appropriate container
- red wiggler worms
Worm composting container
Almost any container (purchased or built) can be used to contain worms as long as you can vent it somehow, or drill holes in it. Worms breathe air through their skins, so air holes are very important. The simplest bin to use when getting started in vermiculture is a plastic storage tote or tub. The 14 to 20-gallon sizes work well.
You will need to drill holes in the sides so that the worms can get air. Don’t worry about the holes being so big that the worms will get out. The composting worms won’t squirm through the holes because they don’t want to leave the nice cozy home you’ve made for them. Also, if they break out, they’ll die without the ideal environment you’re preparing for them.
You can buy a special worm composter like this one, or you can make your own from a pair of plastic tubs. Make sure the tubs nest nicely, and you’ll need a lid for one of them. Choose opaque bins rather than transparent ones – like goth kids, worms hate light.
Your composting worms
Eisenia fetida are the most widely used composting worms. These worms are preferred because they eat A LOT (up to half their own body weight every day!), tolerate being dug through, and and are easy to keep contained indoors or out. Red wigglers can be purchased online and mailed to you (in weather that is not too hot or too cold), or you can try to find a local provider. Redworms, another name for red wigglers, can be found in nature in many climates, but gathering your own to start your worm castings bin is very difficult. I strongly recommend purchasing your first pound of worms online from a well-reviewed and experienced worm wrangler. You’ll need a minimum of 500-1000 worms to get started.
Bedding for your worm compost bin
Your red wiggler worms need bedding to live in. Think of the worm bedding as their furniture. Any carbon source can be used as worm bin bedding. For example, leaves, shredded office paper, shredded cardboard, and shredded newsprint (not glossy paper) all work well. Y?u can also purchase coir bricks which are a natural fiber made from coconut. The bedding must be moist at all times. After preparing your bedding, spray it with water until it feels damp like a sponge that you’ve squeezed in your fist. Damp, rather than wet, or soaked. When you squeeze a handful of bedding, no water should drip out.
You should never have standing water in the bottom of your bin. If you do have standing water, either add some dry bedding or drain some of the moisture off. The drained liquid, called “worm tea,” is every plant’s favorite cocktail. Pour it directly onto the soil and your plants will LOVE you.
The ideal home for worms is:
How to feed your composting worms
What can you feed your worms? You can feed them any vegetable or fruit scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds (if you use a paper coffee filter, throw that in, too!) You can also feed your worms lint from your clothes dryer and paper towels (use only paper towels that were used to clean up drink spills and don’t have cleansers on them). Worms are vegetarian, they don’t eat meat.
Don’t feed them meat, eggs, butter, or oil. They also don’t do well with bread or cheese. Composting worms can handle a small amount of bread and cheese, but I’d discourage putting them in your worm bin until you’ve had some practice caring for them.
Be careful not to overfeed your worms as this can attract fruit flies and other pests – because the worms won’t be able to eat the scraps fast enough. You’ll know you’re overfeeding if you see gnats or flies.
I recommend placing your vegetable scraps in alternating corners of your bin, under a layer of bedding. This encourages the worms to explore their home thoroughly (and also helps ensure you don’t pile their new meal on top of an old, half-eaten meal). If you see food rotting before it’s eaten, you’re overfeeding.
Harvesting your worm compost
When should you harvest the worm castings (worm poop)? You won’t harvest for the first time until 5-6 months have passed. After the first time, though, you can harvest more frequently (2-4 months). When it’s time to harvest, you have several options. You can simply dig down to the bottom of the worm bin and pull out a handful of worm castings. They’re dark browm, moist, and the consistency of fertile soil. This can be added directly to your soil with worms included, or you can pick out the worms and put them back in your bin. Another option is to wait until most of the bin is full of worm castings (because they’ll eat their bedding, too) and then dump the whole bin out on a tarp on a sunny day. Form a couple of small pyramids of worm castings and the worms will burrow into the pyramid because they don’t like the light. Then, carefully brush worm castings off of the outside of the pyramid and set them aside. The worms will burrow deeper. Repeat until most of the worm castings are harvested and you’re left with a ball of worms. Refill your bin with fresh moist bedding and return your worms to the bin.
… and that’s everything! When you’re all set up, your worms will produce a harvestable amount of castings every 2-4 months. Healthy worm bins don’t smell and don’t attract any pests.
I hope this article encourages you to at least try to start your own worm farm! Kids really love to have their own worm farms and can be a great help in virtually every step of the process.