Composting Basics: How to Get Started with Vermicomposting {Worm Composting}

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Worm composting
Image: Shiensumisu via Flickr
Vermicomposting is a fancy name for worm composting (composting using worms). It is another system of composting that you can consider for your farm.

Why vermicompost?

Vermicomposting is an easy, cheap and efficient way of recycling waste into nutrient-rich, high-quality compost (from worm castings, or droppings). Vermicompost is great for regenerating your soil so you can grow healthy plants.



Earthworms are nature's recyclers. They help rebuild poor soil and improve soil health for growing healthy crops. Building your good soil through vermicomposting is a great way of keeping your plants drought tolerant and pest resistant.  Feeding your soil well helps your plants produce high yields...which is the goal right?

Types of Worms

Not all earthworms are the same. There are earthworms and then there are earthworms! Only epigeic worms such as red wrigglers (Eisenia Fetida) are suitable for vermicomposting.

Getting to know red wrigglers:

Red wrigglers live in dense population. They can tolerate different temperatures, humidity and acidity. They double in population every three to four months, and can eat organic matter equivalent to half their body weight.

To purchase appropriate earthworms, you should look in the classifieds in a local paper like The Herald or ask other farmers for reputable worm breeders in your area.

Choosing Your Vermicomposting System


vermicomposting demonstration
Vermicomposting using bath tubs at Soil for Life



vermicomposting demonstration
Vermicomposting at Growing Power via Inhabitat


Vermicomposting at Byoearth
Worm bins at ByoEarth
Vermicomposting can be done either indoors or outdoors in large or small spaces. It is generally odor-free and easy to do though it does require care when adding materials. The system you choose depends on the size of your operation and available feed and resources. Here are two examples:

Mini farm: this is ideal for a small farm or domestic use. You  can use a number of metal, wooden or plastic bins with lids.

Large-scale worm farm: if you have space then you should consider a large-scale vermicomposting using windrows, also known as a static pile. Windrows consist of bedding materials for your earthworms to live in without walls. Care must be taken to provide a good environment and bedding for your worms. The worms will stay in the windrows if they have adequate food.

What you should feed your worms:
  • Vegetable scraps (I avoid putting onions)
  • Bread and grains 
  • Fruit rinds and peels (worms love apple cores and bananas)
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • Animal Manure-- horse, cow, pig or sheep (pre-composted to remove pathogens)
  • Brewery waste
  • Eggshells (broken down)
What you should avoid feeding worms
  • Meat or fish
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Greasy, oily foods
  • Allium family plants (onions and garlic)
  • Citrus peels such as lemon, orange or grapefruit (if you do add, add in moderation)
7 Steps to Vermicomposting

1. Get a metal, a wooden or plastic bin with a tight fitting lid. You can even use  half a 200l drum or an old bathtub! The choice you make is entirely based your preference and available resources. Use a drill or knife to make holes in the bottom for excess water to drain. Add a bottom catch tray such as a dish or bucket to collect excess water. Make holes on the top and sides for air circulation.

2. Add moist, drained bedding to the bin. Some good bedding to use are shredded cardboard, shredded newspaper, leaves, peat moss, animal manure (50:50), cereal straw and/or coarse sawdust. Make sure the bedding materials are moist like a damp sponge. Worms breathe through their skins and must be kept moist.

3. Add food waste (kitchen scraps) in bedding: see the list above for what to include or exclude in your worm bins or windrows.

4. Place red wiggler worms in bins. Once your bedding is set you can lay your worms. 1,000 worms make up about half a kilo. The amount of worms you put in your worm farm will be determined by the size of your system. The worms will reproduce very quickly if they have ideal conditions.

5. Cover food waste with bedding such as newspapers and old carpet. This helps prevent fruit flies. For large-scale operations use old carpet to prevent your compost piles from drying out. Check periodically that worm beds are moist and there is ample food. Place food in different places of the worm bin. The worms will eat, breed (reproduce quickly) and shed worm castings.

6. Harvest worm compost every few months. The process takes about 3 to 5 months from start to finish. You harvest your worm castings by removing the cover in the daylight. Worms are sensitive to light and will retreat further down. Scoop off 25mm of castings (worm poop) or vermicompost. Repeat until you have all the materials you want or are left with worms.

7. Start again.

Worm Bin Trouble Shooting & Fixes

If your bins smell bad, make sure to:
  • Add only enough food that worms can eat in a few days
  • Maintain air spaces in bedding
  • Keep bedding moist
  • Add only the proper food items
  • Keep them at a temperature of about 15-25 degrees C
If you have fruit flies, make sure to:
  • Bury the food waste in the bedding
  • Place a dark plastic sheet over the bedding (do not use plastic sheeting in the summer)
  • Put bin in a place where a few flies will not bother anyone
If your composting worms are dying, make sure to:
  • Correct worm bin temperatures could be too hot or too cold
  • Make sure worms have enough food
Uses of Vermicompost

Organic Fertilizer: the worms produce a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer that you can use for your seedbeds or garden soil.

Compost/Worm Tea: is also known as liquid manure. It is made by diluting or soaking worm castings in water (at least ten times) and applying the solution to garden plants.

Worms: for fishing bait and composting

Remember to provide your worms with a constant supply of food, oxygen, water and shelter from sunlight.

Happy vermicomposting!



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2 comments:

  1. Hey, nice information. I am also doing research on vermicomposting. This information is very helpful to me and keep posting new updates.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice information, adding worms to gardens will increase the soil fertility and increases the plant growth rate. I am also searching for best methods like vermicomposting to increase my plants growth.

    ReplyDelete

 
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