Vermiculture, or worm composting, allows you to compost your food rapidly, while also producing high quality compost and fertilizing liquid. Here are six easy steps to follow to create a compost system with worms:
1. Obtain a worm bin
This can be done by purchasing a bin from online venders or hardware stores; however, you can build your own compost bin using storage totes, galvanized tubs, wood, or plastic.
Material: Rubber is cheap, easy to use, and durable. Galvanized tubs cost more but will outlast rubber totes. If you choose to use wood, make sure the wood has not been chemically-treated. This can be harmful and dangerous to the worms, and potentially leach harmful chemicals into the compost. Five-gallon plastic buckets, sold at most hardware stores, can be used. Make sure to clean the bucket thoroughly and let it sit for at least a day before using it as a worm bin.
Ventilation: Your bin should be well-ventilated. Several 1/8 inch holes 4 inches from the bottom should be drilled into the bin; otherwise the worms will stay at the bottom of the bin and potentially drown.
Size: The larger the container, the more worms it can hold. Follow this equation for determining how many worms should be in your container: 1 pound of worms for every square foot of surface area. The maximum productive depth for the bin should be 24 inches deep, because composting worms will not go further down than that.
Cover: It is important to have a cover on the composting bin to prevent light from getting in and drying out the compost. The lid should be removable in case the compost gets too wet.
2. Prepare the bin for worms
Fill your compost bin with thin strips of unbleached corrugated cardboard or shredded newspaper, straw, dry grass, or the like. This material will provide a source of fiber to the worms, while also keeping the bin well-ventilated. Place a handful of dirt on top of the material and thoroughly moisten. Allow the water to soak in for a day or so before adding the worms.
3. Obtain the worms
There are several varieties of worms that are bred and sold for vermicomposting and it is not recommended to dig up earthworms from your own backyard. Try searching the internet or a local gardening club for finding a worm vender. The most common used worm, Eisenia foetida (Red Wigglers), grows to be about 4 inches long, are mainly red, and have a yellow tail. Another variety of worm is known as the “European Night crawlers,” with their latin name being Eisenia hortensis. This variety does not reproduce at the same rate as the red wigglers, but they grow to be larger, eat coarser paper and cardboard better, and seem to be heartier overall. Remember: if you are bringing in non-native species, it is imperative to not let them reach the wild.
4. Maintain your compost bin
Try keeping the compost bin elevated off the ground, which will help speed up composting and keep the worms content. If the worms are kept fed and the compost is kept properly damp, the worms will not try to escape.
Sprinkle the surface of the compost with water each day. Try feeding the worms vegetable scraps at least once per week. About once a month, add more cardboard, shredded newspaper, hay, or other fibrous material.
5. Harvest the compost
There are a variety of techniques used to harvest your compost:
One technique involves moving any large un-composted vegetable matter to one side, and gently scooping a section of worms and compost mixture onto a brightly lit piece of newspaper or plastic wrap. Slowly scrape off the compost in layers, giving the worms time to burrow into the center of the mound. Eventually, a pile of compost will form next to a pile of worms. Return the worms to the bin.
If you prefer not to take on a hands-on approach to gathering the compost, you could use a separator. Barrel separators may be expensive and can be bought on the internet. It is also possible to make your own home-made shaker box.
6. Make use of your compost
You now have your own compost to be used on plants, in gardens, or wherever you choose!