Posted by admin on September 29, 2010
Worm composting — also known as vermiculture — is the proverbial win-win situation. It gives you a convenient way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings. It saves space in the county landfill, which is good for the environment. It gives worms a happy home and all the free “eats” that they could want. For those that have gardens or even potted plants, homegrown compost is a great way to feed and nurture plants.
Worm composting, which some advocates have dubbed “the organic garbage disposal,” recycles food waste into rich, dark, earth-smelling soil conditioner. It’s such great stuff that Planet Natural sells a variety of organic compost that ranges in price from $5.95 to $10.95 as well as potting soil that contains compost.
And despite its reputation, worm composting doesn’t need to be a smelly endeavor. If you take care to set things up correctly, your compost bin shouldn’t be stinky.
Worm composting is being seen more and more as a way to help our environment and reduce waste. The City of Oakland in California has a recycling program expressly for food waste. (It supplies the bin and you supply the organic garbage.) The City of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, supplies residents with worm bins and even has a hot-line you can call to find where to buy worms. Spokane, Washington posts information on how to get started in worm composting to encourage residents to try this environmentally friendly way of disposing of garbage.
To get started you need: worms, a container and “bedding.”
Don’t go out and dig out night crawlers that live in the soil by your home to populate your compost bin. Night crawlers need to tunnel through dirt to eat and survive and they can’t live on vegetable waste. Instead, you need redworms — Eisenia foetida (also known as red wiggler, brandling or manure worm) and Lumbricus rubellus (manure worm).
You can buy worms from sites like Planet Natural. (We sell 500 red worms for $20.95 – shipping included.) If you’ve got the time and the access, you can also find a horse stable and recover worms from horse manure or ask a farmer to ransack his manure pile for worms.
Mary Appelhof, author of “Worms Eat My Garbage” recommends two pounds of worms — about 2,000 wigglers — for every pound per day of food waste. (Some experts recommend a one-to-one ratio — one pound of worms for one pound of garbage.) To figure out how much food waste your household generates, monitor it for a week and divide by seven.
When populating your bin with worms, also keep in mind that worms, provided you give them adequate food and a good home, can double their populations every 90 days. It’s probably best to start out with slightly fewer worms than you need and just expect that your worm population will increase to fill your demand for processing organic waste.
You’ll also need a container for the worms. We have a variety of worm bins on sale here including the Wormtopia ($109.95) and the Can O Worms ($126.95).
If you prefer, you can also build your own. Size does matter when it comes to compost. You’ll want a container with depth of between eight and 12 inches. Wood is a great building material. If you don’t feel like building from scratch, you can even adapt a “Rubbermaid” type tub and turn it into a composting bin. Books such as “Worms Eat My Garbage” give details on how to build your own compost bin. Just remember that worms like a dark, moist (not wet) environment and they hate light. Any container should be opaque.
Bins can be located anywhere from under the kitchen sink to outside or in your garage. One important consideration is temperature. Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Red worms generally prefer temperatures in the 55 to 77 degree range. If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you’ll need to move your bin inside during the winter months or compost on a seasonal basis. Another consideration: worms are like people in that they do not like a lot of noise or vibrations. Keep them away from high traffic areas.
Once you’ve got the worms and the containers you’re ready to set up your “compost shop.”
First you’ll want to build a home for your worms and one which will make them happy and prolific. You’ll need bedding that will fill the bin from one-third to one-half full. To create bedding soak a large quantity of shredded newspapers or cardboard. Worms want an environment that is about 75 percent water. Newspapers should only take a few minutes to take up enough water to make proper bedding. Allow cardboard, such as toilet paper rolls and tissue boxes, to soak overnight. Don’t use garden soil or mix fresh cow, horse or chicken manure into the bedding. These emit gases and will raise the temperature of your compost bin. You could end up “cooking” your worms to death.
Once the bedding matter has been soaked, wring it out until it is moist, but not dripping. Place it in the bin along with something gritty such as a bit of soil, fine sand, leaves, cornstarch, sawdust or ground egg shells. (Worms don’t have teeth so they need something gritty to help them grind up the paper and food.) Once your bin is up and running it will be self-sufficient and you won’t need to add additional grit until you harvest the worm castings and clean the bin.
To make your worms feel at home, dig down until about the middle of the bedding and place your worms there. Don’t just put them on top. Then place the lid on the bin and keep it at a moderate temperature. Leave them alone for about a week to settle in. They will feed off the bedding.
After about a week, start feeding your worms food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds. Avoid meat scraps, bones, fish, leftover dairy products and oily foods since these will make your compost pile smell as well as attract flies and rodents. Experts are divided on whether pasta and grains should be tossed into the compost or thrown away in regular garbage. Your best bet is to experiment and let your worms tell you what they’ll eat or won’t eat.
Of course, there are certain things that worms won’t eat or shouldn’t eat. Do not dispose of glass, plastic or aluminum foil in your compost. Although paper can be used as bedding, don’t include paper with colored printing on it. Many colored inks are toxic to worms. Also avoid rubber bands and sponges.
It’s best to feed worms once a week in small amounts. If you feed them more than they can process you will end up with a stinking compost bin as the garbage literally backs up.
Compost actually doesn’t smell. The foul odor comes from rotting food that the worms haven’t eaten yet. If you give them appropriately sized meals — not supersized entrees — they will eat the food before it starts rotting (and smelling.)
If they are eating too slowly, chop up vegetable matter, which is easier for them to eat and gives new meaning to the term “fast food.” If the chopping doesn’t help enough, reduce the amount of organic matter you are feeding them.
When you feed your worms, check and see how things are going. If the bedding is wet, give some additional paper bedding to soak up the excess. (Remember that the bedding should be moist, not dripping.) If the bedding is too dry, use water from a spray bottle to moisten it.
Once your compost bin is up and running, it requires little maintenance until little or no original bedding is visible and the contents of the bin are reduced in bulk and mainly consist of worm castings, which are brown and “earthy” looking. Once your bin has reached that point, it’s time to harvest the worm castings and give your worms new bedding. Castings can be harvested anywhere from two and a half months to every six months, depending on how many worms you have and how much food you’re giving them.
There are several harvesting methods. For those with the time and patience or little kids, you dump the bin’s contents onto a large plastic sheet and then manually separate the worms from the compost. Children usually love helping out with harvesting the worm casings. Remember that your helpers as well as yourself should wear gloves. Once all the worm casings are removed, keep aside some of the compost to mix in with the new bedding and then the cycle starts all over again.
A more common way to harvest is to move everything – worms, castings, bedding, food – to one side of the bin. Pick out partially decomposed materials and push to the other side. Place some food on top of the partially decomposed materials. Replace the lid and leave it alone for a couple weeks. During that time, the worms should migrate over to the new food. Once they’ve gone to the other side, put on a pair of gloves and harvest the castings. Make sure you don’t remove any worms in the process. Then give the worms new bedding mixed in with some residual compost.
Compost is useful whether you have an apartment adorned with potted plants or you have a backyard garden. Use compost to enrich potting soil and the soil in your garden. It also makes great mulch. It’s relatively hassle-free and you’re not only helping your plants, but the environment as well.
Common Problems and Solutions
Problem: Strong, unpleasant odors from the compost bin.
Solutions: Most likely the odor is from rotting food because you are giving your worms too much to eat and food is sitting around too much so it rots. The solution is to stop adding food waste until the worms have broken down what they have. (Also avoid meat and other greasy food which can cause odor problems.) If odor becomes a problem, also try stirring the contents of your compost pile. That will allow more air in, which can also reduce odors. At the same time you are exploring those solutions also check your bin’s drainage holes to ensure they are not blocked and drill more holes if necessary. Worms will down if the bin’s contents are too wet.
Problem: Worms are crawling out of the bedding and onto the sides or lid of the bin.
Solution: The bedding may be too acidic which is forcing the worms to migrate. Bedding can become too acidic if you add too much acidic food scraps such as orange peels. Try reducing the amount of acidic organic matter that you’re putting into the bin.
Problem: Fruit flies.
Solution: Avoid the problem in the first place by burying food waste and not overloading your worms with too much food. You can also try keeping a plastic sheet or a piece of old carpet or sacking on the surface of the compost bin. If flies persist, consider moving the compost bin to a location where the files will not be a problem. Also think about recruiting a few friendly spiders to take up residence near the compost bin.
This article was written by Eric Vinje of Planet Natural.
Convert kitchen waste into soil-nourishing organic matter with worm bins available at Planet Natural.
Posted by admin on September 26, 2010
The information on this page will teach you about the basics of keeping composting worms. You’ll learn everything from how to set up your first bin to how to brew worm tea.
Move over sliced bread!
Composting worms are all the rage, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Join us, and find out why this wiggling phenomena is becoming so popular. Who knows? Composting with worms may just revolutionize waste management.
Before we get started, please note that there are several different terms to describe composting with worms, including vermiculture and vermi-composting.
All of these terms describe the controlled process of using worms, namely red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), to decompose organic waste, such as kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and manure. After these wastes are broken down, the finished product, or worm castings, are harvested and used as nutrient-rich soil amendments.
These processes can take place in large-scale commercial vermiculture facilities, however, we are going to focus our discussion on the small-scale home vermiculturist, better known as YOU!
We’re going to teach you all about composting with worms, including:
So what are you waiting for? Let’s start wormin’.
There are a lot of different reasons why people compost with worms. For instance, we started because we juice a lot of vegetables, and couldn’t stand to throw all of that wonderful pulp into our regular compost bin. Because this waste was already pre-digested, we knew worms would have to do very little work to make use of it. Aside from that, we started indoor composting with worms because we live in Ontario, Canada, and our outdoor temperatures don’t allow for quick composting in the winter months (November-March). Now that we use an indoor compost bin, we’re able to produce organic fertilizer all year round.
Other reasons to start worm composting include the following: Worm bins are incredible educational toolsIt’s a great hobbyIt helps reduce your household wasteWorm castings are amazing garden fertilizer
Here is a great article from the New York Times discussing the growing trend of vermiculture.
Using composting worms is very easy. Below are some basic vermiculture guidelines to consider before you start your wormy adventures.
A worm bin, or worm container, can be homemade or purchased from a worm bin supplier. We prefer the homemade varieties because they tend to have more character. Also, nothing says compost junkie, like re-using scrap materials to make a new worm bin.
The 3 factors that need to be considered when building, or buying, a worm bin are the shape, size, and materials. You must also consider where you will put your worm bin.
Remember, worms need lots of oxygen, so whatever bin you choose, please make sure it has adequate ventilation. Also, the rule of thumb for bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week.
Below is an image of a worm composting bag, created by Amy, a fellow compost junkie. These bags are wonderful creations that minimize the work needed to harvest worm castings. Food is added to the top of the bag, which keeps the worms near the surface, while worm castings are harvested from the bottom of the bag. Ingenious? We think so. Excellent work Amy.
If you’re interested in building your own worm composting bag, here is a list of step-by-step instructions.
The most common bedding materials for composting worms, include shredded newspaper or computer paper, leaf mold, peat moss, animal manures, coconut fiber (coir), and wood chips.
Each of these bedding materials has its own list of advantages and disadvantages. For instance, leaf mold is a natural habitat for worms, but it may also contain organisms that you don’t want in your worm bin.
It doesn’t matter which bedding material(s) you choose, you must always remember to add a couple handfuls of soil, or rock dust, to your worm bin. This is especially important if you are just setting up a new bin. These ingredients add “grit” to the bedding materials in your bin. This grit is very important because your worms use it in their gizzards to help in breaking down food particles. The soil has the added benefit of inoculating your bin with various soil microbes, all of which are important in establishing a healthy ecosystem for your composting worms.
Ah, it’s finally time to discuss the workforce within your bin…your worms!
Unfortunately, you can’t just use any old earthworm in your worm bin. The common earthworms that you see in your garden, and those that are on the pavement during rain storms, are typically a burrowing-type of worm. In a bin, we are in need of worms for composting that are surface-dwelling, and that’s why we typically use red wigglers. If you’re interested, here is a more complete history of the earthworm, including how it made it’s way to North America.
The Almighty Red Wiggler
is the most common type of worm used in vermiculture systems. Other types, such as blue-worms (Perionyx excavatus), are better able to withstand warmer temperatures, so they are used in more tropical regions.
How many worms do you need?
Composting red worms are typically sold by weight, rather than by number. So if you see a quantity of worms listed by your worm supplier, please know that this is just an estimate. It would be quite hard for your supplier to make any money, if they spent their entire day counting worms.
3 factors to consider when determining the number of worms you need to purchase are:
the size of your binthe amount of money you want to spend, and the price of the wormsthe amount of food waste you’ll be adding to your bin each day
For a typical-sized worm bin (surface area = 2′x2′), being used by an average-sized family (3-4 people), we suggest you start with a minimum of one pound of worms. A pound of worms will usually cost between $30-$50. Always remember, with time, your one pound of worms will quickly grow into two pounds, if your bin is maintained properly and your worms are well fed. You will eventually want about one pound of worms per cubic foot of volume in your bin.
The best place to buy composting worms is online, or from angling and bait shops. If you’re going to buy composting worms online, we’ve compiled several reputable worm suppliers from across the United States and Canada. Please take advantage of these reputable suppliers, and offer them your patronage when possible.
It is very important to ensure you are not over-feeding your composting worms. If you are new to the composting-worms scene, we suggest you start by monitoring your feedings very carefully. This means that you’ll have to start by feeding smaller amounts of food. By feeding smaller amounts, you will quickly get a good idea as to how much food your given quantity of worms can handle.
A worm can consume more than its weight each day. If you start with roughly a pound of worms in your bin, expect to be able to feed them at least one pound of waste each day.
Below is a short list of foods to feed your composting worms. Please visit this page for a more comprehensive discussion on proper worm foods.
As it is with all of our composting ventures (outdoor composting bins, composting toilets, compost tumblers), to successfully compost with worms, you must ensure the conditions are right. When using composting worms, you want to ensure you have the right moisture, temperature, aeration, and pH levels. To learn more about each of these factors, please click on the corresponding term.
Traditionally, there are two methods used to harvest composting worms from your worm bin. The first method is referred to as the low maintenance harvest, and the second method is referred to as the medium to high maintenance harvest. Below is a small definition of each. If you’d like more information about these specific harvesting techniques, please refer to our harvesting composting worms page. Low Maintenance Harvest
– This method has two phases: the feeding and phase and the fasting phase. During the feeding phase, you feed your worms for a period of three to four months. This is followed by the fasting phase; during which time, you do not feed any food for three to four months. During the feeding phase, your worm population grows and starts to consume the food. During the fasting phase, your worm population peaks and eventually dwindles to nothing (when all food supplies are exhausted). At this time, you can easily harvest all of the worm castings from your bin. Unfortunately, following this method means that you will have to purchase new worms every six to eight months.
Medium to High Maintenance Harvest –
How you use this method to harvest composting worms will all depend on the design of your specific worm bin. Some bins require that you dump your bin out and sort the composting worms by hand; whereas, other bins allow the worms to do all the sorting. An example of a bin design that allows the worms to do all of the sorting, can be seen to the right. To learn more about all types of worm bins, please visit our worm bin page.
Worm castings, or vermi-castings, are the more technical terms used to describe the poop of composting worms.
We often think of worms consuming soil and decaying organic matter; however, they are actually going after the bacteria, and other microbes, present on the surfaces of these substances.
Another interesting fact about a worm’s digestion – It is not the worm’s own enzymes that breakdown the substances it consumes. Instead, these substances are broken down, and processed, by the bacteria present in the worm’s intestine.
So how does all this fit into the health of your plants?
Since a worm’s gut is dominated by bacteria, the vermi-castings it produces are also dominated by bacteria. If you refer back to our page on compost tea, you will recall that specific plants thrive in more bacterial-dominated soils (compared to balanced, or fungal-dominated soils). For instance, annual plants, including vegetables and flowers, love bacterial dominated soils. So we can assume that they’ll welcome an application of worm castings. However, worm castings are quite potent, so you must make sure you use them properly.
For more detailed information about the use of worm castings as a soil amendment, please visit out worm-casting page.
We are NOT using the term, worm tea, to describe the liquid that percolates out of your worm bin. We refer to the liquid that drips out of your worm bin as worm leachate. We do not recommend that you use worm leachate directly on your plants, or directly as a soil conditioner. The reason being – worm leachate contains a number of partially decomposed substances, some of which have the potential to be phytotoxic (i.e. harmful to plants).
If you want to use this worm leachate, we suggest you dilute it with water (preferably distilled), and apply it to the soil around your plants. Try to avoid using this mixture as a foliar spray. If your worm bin is fairly mature, you will probably see some benefit.
What do we mean when we say worm tea?
We are referring to the tea produced when you substitute, all or some, of the compost in compost tea with worm castings. This mixture will then be actively aerated and fed, just like a regular batch of compost tea. But don’t forget, worm castings are bacterial-dominated, so be sure you take that into consideration before you brew your tea.