Vermicomposting from Waste to Compost
According to the latest statistics, approximately 30 percent of garbage contains paper products such as junk mail and food scraps. Instead of letting these items end up in landfills, you can use them to create compost for your garden via vermicomposting. The best part is that this is something you can easily do. It doesn’t if you live in a big house with a garden or in an apartment.
All Worms Are Not Equal
Before starting on your vermicomposting bin, it is important to understand that all worms are not equal. You cannot use the earthworms from your garden for this project. For the best results, you should use either brandling worms (Eisenia fetida) or redworms or red wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus). You can buy your worms online and have them shipped to your home.
Earthworms may feed on the bottom of your compost pile outside, but they prefer a diet of soil. Red wigglers and brandling worms are much happier consuming compost or manure. When they consume your organic waste, it’s excreted as castings or worm manure. This manure is very rich in nutrients and looks like fine-textured soil.
Getting Started On Your Worm Bin
One of the best and most common worm compost bins is a plastic storage bin with a lid. A bin that is long and wide works better than one that is tall and narrow. Before putting anything in the bin, punch lots of holes in the lid for air circulation. If you prefer, you can also buy premade worm compost bins. These come with plenty of holes in the top and sides lined with screen. The screen is there to prevent your worms from escaping.
Layering Works Best
Add a layer of chopped food scraps and moist shredded paper to the bottom of the bin. You should never add any type of meat or dairy product to your bin. Next, add approximately one pound of red wigglers or brandling worms to the bin. Follow this up with another layer of moistened paper.
Every week or every other week gently mix the compost mixture. You can add more compost in layers as described above, each time you stir the mix. In order to reduce any smells and keep bugs out, always add a layer of shredding paper to the top of the mix. You can also use sawdust if you have access to it. After you stop adding to the bin, leave it alone except for the occasional (weekly or bi-weekly) stir.
Keeping Your Worm Bin Going
The contents of your vermicomposting bin should always be slightly moist. To get this right, the contents should be as moist as a slightly damp sponge. You must find a place in your home for the bin that is out of direct sunlight. Your bin should not be next to the oven, air conditioner/heater vents, or any other source of heat. Maintain the bin at a constant temperature of between 55° and 75° (13° and 24°C). The good news is that your worms produce their own heat as they work.
Worms tend to be very picky eaters, just like young children. Be sure you cut food scraps into pieces that are no bigger than one to two inches. You must shred any paper before adding it. The small pieces of scrap food and shredded paper present a larger surface area. This makes it much easier for your worms to eat and digest.
But what if you are going on vacation for a few weeks? If you plan to be away from your bin for up to four weeks, you don’t have to worry. Add a couple of freezer bags of scraps to the bin and spread them out evenly. This is enough to keep your worms happy while you are gone.
If you have to be gone for longer than this, your worms may need a little help. Have a family member, friend or neighbor you trust add some food scraps to the bin and give it a gentle stir. They should be willing to do this every couple of weeks or so. You should always have a few bags of scraps in the freezer if you tend to travel frequently.
Harvesting Your Compost
Once your compost has reached the point where it’s moist and a rich blackish brown color, it’s ready to harvest. You may find a few eggshells and paper, but that’s okay. When removing the compost to feed your plants, keep an eye out for worms. For the most part, they will be in the middle or bottom layers where it is warm and dark. The idea is to keep as many of your worms in the bin working on more compost for you to use the next time. This is an ongoing process, if your worms are kept fed, they will live for a very long time.