Vermiculture. It’s a big word. What we are really talking about here is also known as worm composting. You probably have heard of it but do you may not know what is involved? Once you find out, it may be your next little gardening project. Why don’t we learn what makes worm composting so incredible and how to get started in Vermiculture!
I started my worm composting bin last spring after obtaining some worms from a gardening acquaintance of mine. I started with a small bin, maybe a 10 gallon tub. The slimy details can be devoured at Getting Started With Worm Composting. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this small bin was not going to accommodate my little worm farm. As usual, my gardening projects have that ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ aspect going for them! Before starting any slightly hair-brained sceam like this, consider whether you are up to seeing it through. Worm composting is not for the faint of heart and you certainly need a stomach for it. That being said, it’s not even that gross. If you currently deal with a backyard compost pile, you can likely handle a worm bin.
Materials For Making Your Bin
A great thing about creating a worm composting bin is that it’s simple and inexpensive. You will need: two 18-20 gallon bins or totes with one cover, shredded paper or newspaper, compost items and some garden soil. When it comes to containers, many different things can be used. Just search ‘worm compost bins’ and you will find tons of ideas. Some have used an old cooler or even a broken chest freezer with great success. The plan I have used is for someone who wants a typical home sized bin that can be managed with minimal work.
The last key ingredient would be the worms. You will need to obtain some red wiggler worms or Eisenia fetida. Regular garden worms do eat waste but not as rapidly as red wigglers. Earthworms generally require deeper soil for survival. It is fine to get worms from someone you know but be advised that their bin may have unwanted pests. It is possible to find clusters of red wiggler worms in your garden. Capture them if you like. Just make sure that they are the type that you want. If you buy online, purchase from a reputable seller such as Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. This will obviously add cost to your project.
You are probably asking yourself what you can put in your bin. Vermiculture is much like regular composting. Save your kitchen scraps, egg shells and stale bread or pasta. I tend to use the bread items sparingly. Animal manure, leaves, newspaper and toilet paper rolls can be used. All things in moderation. Avoid using meat, dairy or fatty foods.
Do not over feed your worm bin. I give my red wigglers one feeding per week. You will eventually get an idea of how much you should feed them and how often. I wouldn’t assume that your worm bin will replace your normal outdoor compost heap. Only a large scale bin can really accommodate a large quantity of waste.
Assembling the Bin
Drill a few drainage holes in the bottom of one tote. Also drill holes in cover and in the top sides for ventilation. In the un-drilled tote, place two bricks or similar sized pieces of wood in bottom of bin. Place drilled tote on top of wood or bricks. This allows drainage to collect in bottom bin and helps with moisture control.
Next, start layering your materials. Build it like you might put a new compost bin together. Layers of ‘brown’ and ‘green’ ingredients. Add some kitchen scraps, then some paper, then some soil or compost. After you have added all materials, nestle your worms into their new abode! They should burrow into the yummy food quickly. Layer some cardboard on top and this will keep your worms nice and cozy.
Worm Bin Care
Worried that you are going to spend every day tending worms? Think again! Normal maintenance should just involve one or two checks week. The worms do not like bright like so keep the cover on as much as possible. After each feeding, cover with fresh shredded paper. The compost items should be covered. Check moisture levels weekly. Paper products should be damp but not wringing wet. Bad smells could indicate that something is off in your bin. The compost bin can become quite heavy. Get help with moving or use a dollie.
Where should you place your worm bin? A cool shed, garage or on a shady side of a building are all good places. Worms do not like warm temperatures. To keep your red wigglers from getting to ‘aggressive’ keep them below 80 degrees F. Ideal temps are between 60-80 degrees. The bin should not be allowed to freeze in winter. All these guys really do is eat, poop and make babies so you will want to keep them as happy as possible!
Worm poop. In more pleasant terms they are called worm castings. Lovely sounding, don’t you think? When see a quantity of casting accumulate, maybe after 3-4 months, it may be time to harvest.
Spread an adequate piece of plastic on the ground or a table. You can then dump some or all of the contents out. Begin to separate the worms from the ‘black gold’. It is a learning experience. Worms will shy away from the light so they will tend to gather together. It’s really not hard to sift through them. If a few worms get added to your garden, that’s okay too. A fine mesh could also be used to sift the castings. The castings are ready to use on your garden or to make worm tea. Put your bin back together, layering more ingrediants and snap down the cover.
I like to place a heavy object on the cover. Some worms may unknowingly slip through the crack around the cover and then die in their escape.
So far, our worm bin has been working out really well. Of course there is a learning curve, as with most things. At times, I have felt like I’m one step ahead of what needs to be done. I do think it has been a positive experience. I harvested castings in the fall and got quite a bit for that initial small bin. One major step was that when cold weather hit, I didn’t anticipate our garage being so cold. Temperatures dipped down below freezing much of the winter. What is a girl to do when her vermiculture project is about to turn into a giant worm-cicle? Well, I had to bring them in the house. The coolest place for them was in my tub upstairs. At first, I was a bit terrified about having them so close to my actual living space but things have been fine. My husband does assure me that this is not normal but hey, normal is overrated!
There are some terrific resources out there for anyone interested in worm composting. Henry Owen has a great web site called Worm Composting HQ. He offers a blog, a fantastic website and free eBooks. Another informative blog is by The Worm Monger. Both provide comic relief and indispensable information for the budding vermaculturist.
This has been a wordy blog post but there really is no way around it. I also apologize for these unappetizing photos! Worm composting is easy but there is a lot to know. Just like getting chickens or a rabbit. I’m sure there are many other techniques out there and way more information. This has just been my experience. Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener this week! Don’t forget to subscribe for free in the sidebar for more wormy content and gardening articles!