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Vermicomposting Essentials

Red composting worms
GARDEN TOWER PROJECT > Gardening > Vermicomposting Essentials

Getting Started With Composting Worms

Whether you live in an apartment in the city or a 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 can 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!

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, consists of transforming organic waste using worms. This creates a fine black compost known as “worm castings”. Rich in phosphorus, nitrogen, vital nutrients, and trace minerals, castings are an excellent all-around 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”!

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 Beginning Worm Wrangler

Overfeeding

This is the number one problem for new worm wranglers. Remember that too much of a good thing, is still too much. “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, which often lack sufficient drainage. To correct this, there are a number of options. * Add bedding (this will dry a bin) * Increased air (poke more holes above) * Drainage (poke more holes below) * Aeration (turn and mix pile)

The Key Elements of Composting

However you decide to start vermicomposting, whether using bins, tubs, or the Garden Tower 2, remember these basics.

Bedding

Other than temperature, feeding, and moisture, bedding is the number one area of importance. Ninety-nine percent of questions about different issues are solved by looking at the bedding-to-food ratio. Build your pile with one part grass clippings, salad or kitchen leftovers, or other green matter. Add to this two to three parts dried leaves, grasses, cardboard, or other brown matter to get the right mix.

Bedding is probably the most important factor of all inside the worm composting bins. Bedding can make or break your compost. Bedding increases air flow, and provides plenty of carbon rich supplements. It helps soak up nitrogen-rich acids, which brings balance to the system. It also helps to hold in moisture and increases your cocoon production, which creates baby worms. Brown cardboard is better for the worms.  If you want truly organic compost, avoid bleached or processed white bedding materials. Don’t forget, you can’t add too much bedding!

Bedding is probably the most important factor of all inside the worm composting bins. Bedding can make or break your compost. Bedding increases air flow, and provides plenty of carbon rich supplements.

Proper Temperature

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° range.  Most worm bin systems do not provide significant insulation or thermal mass to buffer temperature changes like a Garden Tower 2™ does.  If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you have a few options.You can move your bin inside during the winter months, compost on a seasonal basis only, 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 vegetables. Worms subsist on the aerobic bacteria that break down the food in the compost bin. Food can be broken or cut up into 1” chunks. Smaller pieces are better, since they increase surface area which benefits the bacteria by encouraging good growth. Blending or chopping it to mush is not recommended, since it prevents air circulation. Overfeeding pulp has been known to attract fruit flies. It can also become compact and contribute to anaerobic conditions. Bedding eventually becomes food. Avoid adding more food if you see a lot of unprocessed food.  Allow your worms time to work through the food they have before giving them more.

Types of Foods
  1. Brown

    • Straw – Thought to have less viable seeds than hay.
    • Grasses – Dried lawn clippings or grasses.
    • Leaves – Dried, brown & shredded are best. Full leaves can be used but they tend to compact. 
    • Cardboard and 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
  2. Greens

    • Kitchen scraps – vegetable and fruit.
    • Coffee – grounds, coffee filters, and teabags.
    • Yard and garden waste – old vegetables, flowers, or trimmings from trees and shrubs.
  3. Manures:

    • No dog, cat, pig, or human manure should be used, since they may contain pathogens.
    • Rabbit – can be added as is, as long as it is mostly urine free.
    • Horse, cow, and other – Only add in small amounts unless composted first to avoid overheating the bin.
Supplements

Worms need grit in their gizzards. Finely crushed or ground sand or eggshells are a great source of grit for the worms. Grit keeps them healthy and digesting well and helps with reproduction. Diatomaceous earth can be used to control the amount of mites,as well as add some needed minerals and grit.

Do not 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. Some of these nasty guests may survive to invade your garden. Certain materials can tempt unwanted critters to the pile or spread human diseases.

Here are a few items to avoid.

  • Kitchen scraps containing 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.
  • Pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables.

Have fun, and happy vermicomposting!

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