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Vermicomposting Essentials - What you need to know about composting with worms!

Whether you live in an apartment in the city or an expansive yard or farm in the country, we can all make an effort to compost our organic waste. Composting in our urban and suburban areas is becoming more common, with local government councils getting on board with organic waste collection. Small-scale worm farming is becoming more accessible to city dwellers. There is no excuse for not disposing of your organic waste more responsibly. Adapting your behavior to reduce waste takes perseverance but habits change quickly. Once you commit to change, you will find that thinking twice before you throw your organic waste into the trash becomes second nature. This simple and rewarding positive change will leave the planet a cleaner, greener, and better place!

 

Getting Started with Red composting worms

Composting Worms

 

Worm composting (or vermicomposting), consists of transforming organic waste using worms. This creates fine black compost known as worm “castings” or worm compost. Rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, many vital nutrients and trace minerals, castings are an excellent all round organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. Castings are also a great source of water soluble, slow-release nutrients for your garden, houseplants or lawn.  Composting is a SIMPLE and natural process. It can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Don’t get too hung up on “what the C:N ratio is” or “What is the PH of my bin?”, unless you find a need or *really* want to know. Just remember that… “Compost Happens!”

 

 

Biggest Challenges for the Newbie Worm Wrangler:

 

Over feeding: This is *The* number one problem for beginning worm wranglers. Remember that, too much of a good thing, is still too much of a good thing” and “Less is more” when choosing menu items for your squirms. 

     

Moisture:  Too much moisture is also a leading problem, especially for composters using plastic bins indoors (without sufficient drainage in most cases). Adding bedding is one of the answers for this situation. The others are, drainage and aeration (poke more holes above for air, below for drainage or turn and mix the pile for aeration. Add more bedding to dry a bin). 

 

 

Key Elements:

However you decide to start vermicomposting (bin, tubs, Garden Towers, etc.), remember these basics:

 

Bedding: Other than temperature, feeding, & moisture… Bedding is the number one area of importance. 99% of questions about different problematic issues are solved by looking at the bedding\food ratio. Build your pile with one part grass clippings, salad or kitchen leftovers, or other green matter to two to three parts dried leaves, grasses, cardboard and\or other brown matter to get the right mix. This is probably the most important factor of all, inside the worm composting bins. Bedding can make or break the farm. Bedding increases air flow, provides plenty of carbon rich supplements. It helps soak up nitrogen rich acids and brings balance to the system. It also helps to hold in moisture and increases your cocoon production (think, baby squirms, Yea!). The browner (more organic) the cardboard is, the better it is for the worms.  If you want truly organic compost, Stay away from bleached/processed whites and don't forget that you cannot add too much bedding.

 

Proper temperature range: Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40 to 80°F. Red Wigglers generally prefer temperatures in the 55 to 77 degree range (4.5 C – 26.5 C).  Most worm bin systems do not provide significant insulation or thermal mass to buffer temperature changes like a Garden Tower does.  If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you'll need to move your bin inside during the winter months, compost on a seasonal basis or you may add protection through burying, mounding or applying a heater of some sort.

 

 

What’s on the Menu?

Worms do not actually eat the veggies. Worms exist on the (aerobic) bacteria that break down the food in the bin. Food can be broken or cut up into 1” chunks. Smaller is better to increase surface area to benefit the bacteria and encourage good growth, which will help the process along. Blending or chopping it to mush has diminishing returns as it prevents air circulation. Overfeeding pulp has been known to attract fruit flies, compacting and contributing to anaerobic conditions. Bedding eventually becomes food. Do not add more food if you see a lot of un-processed food.  Allow your squirms time to work through the food they have, before giving them more.

 Browns:

• Straw - It is thought to have less viable seeds than hay

• Grasses - Lawn clippings or grasses (well dried)

• Leaves - Dried, brown & shredded are best. Full leaves can be used but they tend to compact 

• Cardboard/Paper - Torn into squares, strips or shredded in a paper shredder

• Sawdust -  Tends to compact when used in excess

• Wood chips - small amounts act to hold moisture in the soil

Greens:

• Kitchen scraps (vegetable and fruit scraps)

• Coffee, filters & Teabags

• Yard & garden waste - Old vegetables, flowers, or trimmings from trees and shrubs

 

Manures:

NO dog, cat, pig, or human manure should be used (risk of pathogens).

Rabbit manure can be added as is, as long as it is mostly urine free. Horse, cow and other manures should only be added in relatively small amounts unless composted first to avoid overheating the bin.

 

Supplements:

Worms need Grit in their gizzards. Sand or eggshells (finely crushed or ground) provides grit for the worms. This keeps them healthy and digesting well and helps with reproduction (Babies again, Yea!) Diatomaceous Earth (DE) can be used for pest control for mites and also add some needed minerals and grit for diet as well.

 

What not to add: Items that don't belong in your compost pile. While hot compost piles will kill many diseases, weed seeds, and insects, the temperature does not get high enough in vermicomposting and some of these nasty guests may survive to invade your garden. Certain materials can also invite unwanted critters to the pile or spread human diseases.

Avoid adding the following to your compost bin:

• Kitchen scraps like meats, oils, fish, dairy products, and bones.

• Weeds that have gone to seed or that spread by their roots

• Diseased or insect-infested vegetable or flowers

• Herbicide-treated grass clippings or weeds

• Dog, cat, pig or human feces.

• Beware of pesticide laden fruits and vegetables as they can harm

  your worms and leave undesirable residue in the castings

 

Websites: wormfarmingrevealed.com - unclejimswormfarm.com - redwormcomposting.com

     natureslittlerecyclers.com - Wikipedia on Vermicomposting

 

Facebook: Vermicomposting - Wormfarming - Red Worm Composting - UncleJims

      Garden Tower Project - GardenTrainingProject