Many organic gardeners rely on compost to sustain their gardens, but more are turning towards vermicomposting as a more affordable alternative.
How Vermicomposting Works
Vermicompost is a type of compost created by adding worms to organic matter in a protected container, known as a worm bin.
Much like traditional compost, vermicompost requires heat (though not as much) and moisture to properly break down efficiently.
As organinc matter is introduced to the worm bin, worms actively eat and digest this material, producing waste. This waste is called “worm castings”, and is high in nutrient content as well.
Compared to traditional composting, vermicomposting is, by nature, more organic. Most traditional compost requires the addition of certain nutrients that are not present in a substantial amount, such as nitrogen or phospherous.
Because worm castings naturally contain these components, compost amendments are usually not needed.
Worms For Vermicomposting
Certain worms produce optimal vermicompost. The most common species of worms include:
- Red Wigglers
- White Worms
- European Nightcrawlers
Red worms are natural surface-dwelling worms, which makes them optimal canidates for the top level of a worm bin.
Materials Suitable for Vermicomposting
Most organinc material is suitable for vermicomposting bins. It is advisable to cut or puree any material that is to be added to avoid fruit flies and mold. Appropriate materials include:
- fruit peels
- fruit (including citrus)
- egg shells
- nut shells
- grass (not treated with any chemicals, such as pesticides, herbicides, etc)
- non-colored newspaper
- tea bags
- coffee grounds
- bread (fresh or moldy)
Do not add any meat products. Worms can not digest this and meat does not decompose into useable material.
Steps to Create a Balanced Worm Bin
- Choose a location for the worm bin. This will determine what type of material the bin can be made of. For example, if the bin will be inside a home, a medium-sized plastic shoe box with a few holes punched out on top and bottom, with a tray to collect excess moisture, will do.
- Collect a substantial number of worms (the exact number depends on the bin’s size. Typically, the scraps produced by a family of four requires about two pounds of worms). Most species of worms used for vermicomposting can be purchased at bait shops, collected in the garden, or ordered online.
- Line the bottom of the bin with some form of bedding. Most individuals use non-colored newspaper or straw. This layer is very important because it aids in wicking away excess moisture from the compost.
- Water the compost. As with traditional compost, water is needed to aid in decomposition. It is also needed to provide worms with oxygen. Any excess water that is drained out can be used in the garden as well. This is called “worm tea” or “compost tea”. This liquid contains the same nutrients as vermicompost, and many plants benefit from it as well.
- Collect and add organic matter to “feed” the worms.
As the worms become more acclimated to their new environment, they will consume more organic matter. Gradually increase the amount of organic material added on a weekly basis.
When adding organic material, it is important to rotate the compost. This ensures balanced decomposition and good aeration. If the compost seems a bit dry, add a little water. If it seems too moist, add some more bedding.
After a few weeks, the first batch of compost will be ready for the garden. Apply it as any other compost would be added – either on top of the soil, at the base of the plant, or in the hole when a new plant is sown.