Harness the power of worms for bigger, healthier plants. Some may see worms as gross, but they’re lean, mean composting machines. Using worm composting bins can yield the same results as using other organic practices.
Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, uses worms in a bin to turn kitchen and garden scraps into nutrient rich compost. The worms live in the bin, eat the scraps, and their castings (yes, worm poop!) become a nutritious organic soil amendment.
Worm composting is easy enough that children can manage their own bin, you know, in case you get squirmy around worms.
Benefits of worm composting:
* It is rich in slow-release nutrients.
* It is high in beneficial micro-organisms.
* It helps plants fight disease.
* It helps plants retain water.
How to create a worm composting bin
1. Gather your supplies
A 4-12 cubic foot plastic bin, compost or organic soil, 1-3 pounds of worms, shredded newspaper, and food scraps.
Worms can be purchased online or at most garden supply stores. An Internet search will lead you to worm farmers selling worms by the pound. Also, anyone who is currently composting with worms may offer to share a couple handfuls from their bin if you tell them about your endeavor. Check out your local farmers market or community garden for possible “friends with worm benefits.”
2. Place a few inches of shredded newspaper in the bottom of the bin.
Add a few inches of compost or organic soil on top of the newspaper. Feel the material in the bin. If the compost or soil is dry then moisten with a bit of water. Worms like a moderately damp habitat.
Now, put the worms in their new home along with two cups of food scraps. Worms like the food scraps that you usually put in a compost bin–fruits and vegetable peels and cores, pasta (without sauce), beans, and coffee grounds. Worms do not like onions, garlic, citrus fruits, meat, or oil.
Although raw scraps can go in the bin, freezing and then thawing helps to break them down faster.
After a few days it will be obvious how quickly the worms are processing the food. Use this to guide how often you feed them. If the bin does not have any visible food, add more. If there are still chunks of food laying around then check again in a few days.
Many guides to worm composting say that a lid on the bin is not necessary. But anecdotal information suggests that one is often helpful to keep rogue worms inside and also to keep other pests out of the bin. If using a lid, be sure that it has many holes to aid air circulation.
3. Keep the bin in an area where it will not freeze.
It can be outside in temperatures above 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, but you will want to secure the top so that neighborhood cats or raccoons can’t get into it.
A basement, closet, or under the sink are also good places for the bin. It should not stink. Rather, it should have a pleasant, earthy smell.
A functioning worm bin requires little attention. Of course, kitchen scraps need to be added from time to time. Also, be aware of the moisture level in the bin. If it is too wet then add more shredded newspaper. If it is too dry then moisten with water.
Harvesting the compost is messy but richly rewarding. Take out as many worms as you can and set them aside in another container. Then scoop out the compost, which should look like wet coffee grounds, and place into your garden. The worms that were removed can be used to start a new bin.
Some gardeners harvest compost every few months and others only twice a year.
Worms aren’t the only critters who may live in your compost bin; fruit flies may hang around. Burying the food scraps deeper in the bin or adding a layer of shredded newspaper on top should discourage the flies. Placing a fly strip on top of the bin also helps eradicate them.
If the bin develops a foul odor then it is too wet, isn’t getting enough air circulation, or the food is not buried deep enough. Again, adding a layer of shredded newspaper should help absorb moisture. More holes in the lid will encourage air circulation and burying the food scraps deeper will also help reduce odor.
Bugs like spring-tails and isopods won’t harm the worm bin. Mold is a natural part of the decomposition process and is fine in the bin.
Trial and error is your best teacher for a thriving worm composting bin. If you aren’t successful then dump your bin and try again. If you are successful then your worm population will double in 90 days.
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Composting image via Shutterstock