In my How to Start Composting post that I wrote in January, I talked about the basics of saving food scraps in your kitchen and different ways of getting started with composting, including vermicomposting. Now that it’s April and we’re knee-deep in worm poop, I’m excited to show you how to vermicompost. We’re not literally knee-deep in worm poop. Well, I guess we could be if we stand in our worm box. Anyhow, just imagine having a big box of rich “black gold” to use as a fool-proof way to organically feed your veggie garden. Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a really easy way to make the most of your kitchen scraps for any type of garden that you have! It’s a great method whether you live in a house with lots of yard space, or in an urban apartment. You can set up a worm bin outside or inside. Here are the specifics!
Why Are Worm Castings so Good for Your Garden?
Besides being good for garden soil and plants, one of my favorite things about worm castings is that they’re a fool-proof way of fertilizing. You don’t have to be quite as precise about feeding your garden with them because even though they contain a high saturation of nutrients, they won’t burn plants like some other types of fertilizer and you also can’t overfeed your plants with them. Here are some of their other bragging points:
- Increase root and plant growth.
- Improve the soil texture in your garden.
- Provide protection against disease causing organisms in the soil (source.)
- Help soil retain moisture more efficiently.
- Attract beneficial earthworms to the garden.
All of the benefits of worm castings together will provide you with a stronger, healthier, faster growing, and higher-yield garden. Did you know that they also reduce waste in landfills? By recycling waste at home by vermicomposting, you’re reducing your carbon footprint (source.)
- Eliminating curbside pickup of waste reduces fuel consumption by vehicles.
- Composting at home reduces use of machinery at commercial composting sites.
- Making your own compost at home reduces the need to buy bags of soil amendments which reduces the use of packaging materials, vehicle use and fuel consumption.
10 families of 3 who produce 1,560 pounds of food waste per year can divert 7.8 tons of waste from landfills per year by vermicomposting. (source)
How to Start a Worm Bin
You’ll add kitchen scraps and bedding to a bin where the worms will convert the scraps to castings, or compost. Here are some options for worm bins:
- Here’s a great tutorial on how to make an inexpensive indoor worm bin.
- Here’s a nice option if you would like to buy an indoor worm bin.
- Here’s a tutorial on how to build a wooden worm bin that can be used outdoors.
- We bought this cedar Bugabay worm bin for our yard.
Our worm bin is made of natural, non-toxic cedar wood and is 4′ x 2′ and 21″ deep. It’s sunken into the ground except for the top 6″. This helps recreate a worm’s natural habitat and also helps moderate temperatures year-round. You can see more pictures of it in my How to Start Composting post. We chose a cedar bin because the wood is sustainable, naturally rot-resistant without the need to be treated with chemicals, it will last for years, and it’s 100% natural so nothing will leach into the compost.
How to Fill the Worm Bin
Our worm bin has two compartments, so we started to fill up one side with layers of food waste and bedding. Here’s what the worms like/don’t like to eat:
- They like to eat all table scraps including fruit/veggie trimmings, eggshells and just about anything.
- They like meat, fish, and dairy but use caution as these types of scraps produce odors that can attract animals to your bin. We personally do not put these things in our bin since we live in a rural area where bear are common.
- Coffee grounds and unbleached filters, unbleached tea bags and muffin liners are all good.
- Don’t put anything in your bin that contains large amounts of cooking oil.
- Don’t use grass clippings or pine needles.
- Non-biodegradable materials should not be used.
We use organic peat from our local garden center for the bedding layers. We dump our gallon stainless steel kitchen pail of scraps in every other day or so, and sometimes every day. There’s no need to cut up the food scraps; just fill the kitchen pail and dump into the worm bin. It ends up being a couple of inches of scraps at a time in the worm bin and we cover each layer with an inch or so of peat. We did this until one side was 3/4 full, then added our worms.
Adding Worms to the Worm Bin
European red worms or red wigglers are good composting worms. Did you know that they can eat half of their body weight to their whole body weight every day?!? If you add 1 pound of worms, add no more than 1 pound of food scraps per day.
We brought 4 pounds of euro worms home to our worm bin. You can order worms online or the less expensive option is to look for a nearby worm farm or bait shop. We’re grateful to have a reputable worm farmer near us, so we picked up our worms locally and didn’t have to pay shipping costs associated with ordering online. We chose euro worms because they are explained by the local worm farm to be hardy worms and they also burrow deeper than red wigglers. We have a hot and dry summers as well as a deep worm bin so these characteristics made sense to us. The euro worms also love a high fiber/low protein diet and most of our food scraps are from fruits/veggies. Here is a helpful article about the differences between the red wiggler and the euro to help you choose the right type of worm for your bin.
How to Troubleshoot Your Worm Bin
Here are some minor issues that we have had with our worm bin, and how we easily remedied them:
- We had an abundance of fruit flies and flies in our bin, so we started to cover the scraps with more bedding. This also helped reduce odors from the scraps.
- Worms were sitting on the top of the bedding, so we left the lid open so light could shine on them. Light causes them to burrow back down into the bin to get back to work!
- We noticed the bedding/scraps drying out. The instructions that came with our bin mentioned that the material should be as moist as a wrung out sponge, so we sprinkled a little water in with a hose. Alternatively, if the material in your bin is too wet, you can leave the lid open to air it out.
When to Harvest Worm Castings
I’ll show how to harvest worm castings in my next post in this series. For our type of worm bin, we started to fill the second half of it when the first half was filled within 6 inches from the top of the bin. When the second half is full with scraps and bedding and the worms have moved to that side to eat, we’ll know it’s time to harvest the first half. It will be full of rich, dark matter (castings) that will have a mud-like consistency. We can’t wait to work this “black gold” into our gardens soon!
Other posts in this series:
Would you like to start a worm bin? Would you use an indoor bin or an outdoor bin?