6 Steps to Starting a Worm Compost

I have been interested in composting for a while. I think that being able to use the food waste from my home to make wonderful nutrient rich soil is an excellent way to help the environment and enrich my home garden, at the same time. So, after doing some research of my own and talking to people who have composts, I have decided to start a vermiculture. Vermiculture or vermicompost is a process of using worms to turn your organic waste into compost. The reason why I chose this type of composting is because I feel that it will be slightly easier to manage than a large outdoor compost and it would be something that I will have easy access to all year long. The vermiculture is smaller in scale and easier to store. The black earth is formed quicker than an outdoor compost and it can be kept indoor or outdoor as long as you store it in a temperature of 30 - 80 degrees fahrenheit. Any hotter than 80 degrees and the worms will cook. At lower temperature the worms become sluggish, eat less and the whole process takes longer and may stop completely. The whole process was actually a lot simpler than I thought It would be. Follow these six steps and you will be well on your way to having wonderful nutrient rich black earth.

Step 1: Find a Worm Bin

The worm bin will be the home for your worms. It is essentially just a well ventilated opaque box. You can order a worm bin online or purchase them from your local gardening or farm supply store, but I used a cheap rubber bin that I bought at Target, that has a cover that fastened the top of the container shut. My container is 22” x 16” x 16”, but often people will start with a smaller bin. The larger you make the container, the more worms it can sustain. Estimate 1 pound of worms for every square foot of surface area.

Step 2: Drill Holes in the Bin

Drill several 1/8 inch holes in your bins cover and sides . Just make sure that the holes that your drill on the sides are 4 inches above the bottom of the bin. You don’t want the holes in the bin to be too big because you don’t want the worms to escape. You do need to have enough holes to ensure that excess moisture can escape and to make sure than the worms have enough air to do their work.

Step 3: Lay Bedding in the Bin

You are trying to replicate the natural habitat for your worms. Line the bottom of the bin with a thin layer of soil. Then put in about 2 inches of carbon materials (i.e. dry leaves, lawn clipping, newspaper, unbleached paper and cardboard, egg cartons work great too). Spray the bedding with water. The bedding should be as moist as a wrung-out wet sponge.

Step 4: Add the Worms and Your Food Waste

Add your worms. They should be Red Wigglers or Night Crawlers, because regular earthworms will not penetrate all layers on the compost. You can purchase them online or at your local bait shop. I actually was able to find my worms at Dick’s Sporting Goods Shop in my neighborhood. Once you add the worms to the bin, you can add your food waste. Take a scissors to cut up the scraps into small pieces. The smaller the pieces the faster your compost will turn into compost. Feed the worms at least once a week in the beginning, but only small amounts. As the worms reproduce and grow in numbers, try to feed them at least a quart of food scraps per square foot of surface area each week. The worms will eat fruits, vegetables, bread and other grains, tea leaves, coffee grounds and egg shells. Limit the amount of citrus fruit and avoid meat, oils and fat in the compost. Mix your scraps into the bedding when you feed the worms. Add one more layer of bedding materials.

Step 5: Storage and Maintenance

Keep your bin elevated off the ground with bricks, cinder blocks or what ever is convenient for you. It will speed the composting process, keep your worms inside the bin and discourage ants from entering the bin. Spray the top layer of your compost with water every other day. You want the contents to stay moist like a wrung-out sponge. Add paper, leaves and fibrous materials once a month or as needed. As the worms work through the contents of your bin it will reduce quickly. That is when it is time to add more fibrous materials and mix them in.

Composting Don’ts:

  • Don’t feed your worms to much. If your bin starts to smell, it may mean that you are feeding the worms more than they can process. This may also cause the contents of your bin to overheat which may kill the worms as well.

  • Don’t feed the worms foods that are hard to digest. This includes citrus fruits, meat, fish, fats or excessive oils, cat or dog feces, dairy products or twigs and branches.

Step 6: Harvesting Your Compost

After 3 - 6 months you should have a flaky, dark, fresh and earthy smelling compost. Put on some rubber gloves and start harvesting. Remove any large un-composted food waste. Then lay out a piece of news paper in a well lit area and start removing large mounds of compost and worms to be place on the paper. The light will cause the worms to burrow to the bottom of the mounds of compost so that you can collect your compost while saving your worms. Now your compost is ready to be used in your garden and your worms can be replaced into the bin with more bedding.

I hope these directions have been helpful to you and will give you the confidence to start a compost of your own. Do you compost? Do you operate an outdoor compost or a vermiculture? Which do you prefer and why?

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