Who doesn’t like worms? They are wonderfully simple creatures that serve as food for birds and other animals, and they create wonderfully rich soil with their poop! If you use worms to help your compost pile to become compost, you will find that these segmented, sinuous creatures contribute richly to wonderful organic gardens. How does this work? Very simply. The worms live in your compost bin with biodegradable bedding. They are fed your table scraps, and they give you compost in return. By the way, composting with worms is called vermicomposting.
Here’s how to start your vermicomposting project:
You need a worm bin – It can be a wooden box, or a metal or plastic tub or basin. Make sure there is good air circulation, or the compost will start to smell bad. The bin should be large enough to hold the amount of kitchen scraps you create in the span of one week. Usually, the bin needs to only be about 18 inches deep, and about two feet square, maybe larger if you have a large family. You need more surface area than depth.
If using a wooden box, make certain that the wood is untreated – no chemicals or preservatives. If you are using metal or plastic, clean it thoroughly with soap and water before using it. Cut or drill drainage holes in the bottom, and for good air circulation, place it on blocks.
Place the bin in a convenient spot, but not where the worms are subjected to extremes in temperature. Worms are happiest where it is between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Basements or heated garages are good.
Now it’s time to put the bedding in the bin. Worms will take to shredded paper or newspaper (no glossy or colored stuff), shredded cardboard or leaves. Make certain that the bedding has not been exposed to pesticides or chemicals of any kind. You can add a bit of peat moss, sterilized soil or sand to the bedding to make it extra comfortable for the worms. The also like crushed eggshells and ground calcium.
Once the bedding is ready, it’s time to add the worms! Nightcrawlers and garden worms don’t do well in bins, but fortunately, red worms are very happy in bins. The scientific name is Eisenis foetida or Lumbricu rubellus, and they are commonly known as: red wigglers, manure worms, red hybrids, striped worms or fish worms. They manage to reproduce themselves pretty abundantly, so expect wormlets. The population won’t get out of hand though; it will stabilize with the amount of space and food available. Start with about 1 pound of worms for a 2-foot square bin. Worms can be purchased from growers, bait shops, garden centers or by mail. All you have to do now is lightly moisten the bedding (it should feel like a wrung out sponge), start adding your food scraps and let the worms do their work. In about 2 and a half months, you will have compost. Most or all of the bedding will be gone. It’s important to separate the worms from the finished compost or they will die. You can move the completed compost to one side and refresh the bedding, placing new food scraps with the new bedding. The worms will make their way to this more comfortable new spot. Then you can use your finished compost while they create more.
One last thing: The right kinds of food scraps are vegetable peelings and scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, fruit peelings and scraps and crushed eggshells. Do not put meat, oily foods, or grains in the bin – you will end up with a very smelly bin and rummaging rodents and flies. When you put the food scraps in the bin, cover with a bit of bedding and mix new scraps in this way. This mixes air, moisture and worms with the scraps for the best result. Have fun!