My friend, Sue, who used to work at the garden center with me, gave me her worm farm a few weeks ago. I’ve never been a worm farmer before and by the looks of things so far, it’s not too hard! This is a super easy way to make your own organic, nutrient rich compost. The cool kids call it vermicomposting and you can do it yourself just about anywhere!
Some of you might be wondering just what exactly IS vermicomposting and why is it different from the compost pile in my backyard? Vermicomposting, to put it simply, is composting with worms. It can be done year round, inside and in small spaces too! With traditional composting you’re typically working with a large pile or a cool looking bin you can spin to turn – and you need heat. With vermicomposting there’s no heat or turning involved – the worms do all the work! They’re aerating and “turning” the soil for you! The best composting worms are Eisenia fetida, aka Red Wigglers or Eisenia hortensis, aka European nightcrawlers, also called bait worms. These guys are more surface dwellers unlike your typical earthworm who like to burrow deep into the earth. But be careful – these guys aren’t hardy here in the Mid-Atlantic area. It gets too cold in the winter for them to survive outside which is why you must keep your worm farm indoors – 59-77 degrees F is ideal.
So, wait, why have a worm farm if the worms die if it gets too hot or too cold? Easy, it’s actually the worm castings, or their POO we’re after! I know, sounds gross but it has great nutrients for our plants. And no, it doesn’t smell. My current set up is super clean and easy, and takes up hardly any room at all. It’s just a plastic storage bin and lid with small holes drilled in the top.
To make your own, start preparing the bedding by tearing newspaper into 1/2″-1″ strips. Stay away from colored print as it can be toxic to the worms. Dampen the newspaper strips and place into your bin – don’t flatten them though, keep them fluffy so they do not cut off air to your worms. If your newspaper ends up getting too wet you can always add some dry strips as well. Your bin should be about 3/4 full of fluffy, damp newspaper strips. Then add 2-4 cups of soil…pretty much any soil is acceptable (and depending on how large your bin is, you may want to add even more soil than this). Potting soil, soil from your back yard or garden, etc. Gritty soil is great for worms as they have no teeth and it aids in their digestive process.
Ok, now we’re ready for worms. Add your worms to the newspaper and bury food scraps under the bedding. Practically any type of kitchen scrap is acceptable…fruits, veggies, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc. Breaking it all up into smaller pieces makes it easier for the worms to eat. A few things to stay away from include bones and/or meats, oils and dairy. Also it’s important to limit the amount of citrus that goes into the bin. Some people are pretty scientific about the number or amount of worms they have and the amount of food they feed their worms. I’m not. I check on my worms about twice a week and if it looks like it’s low on scraps or newspaper, I’ll add some. I typically end up adding food about every 10 days or so and occasionally spray with water. It’s as easy as that!
Now to harvest. I’m still so new at this that I haven’t harvested any compost yet. Typically the time to start harvesting is 3-6 months after set up and the material in the bin should look like dark compost. There are a number of ways to harvest but the method I will probably do is a “hands on” method. Before harvesting it’s a good idea to stop feeding approximately two weeks prior. This method involves dumping the entire farm onto a tarp or a large area lined with newspaper. Separate the compost (which will also contain worms and possibly some unprocessed newspaper and food scraps) into a number of smaller, cone-shaped piles. Once the piles are exposed to light the worms will migrate to the bottom and you can remove the compost on the top – but you may have to also remove some of the unprocessed food and bedding. This process may have to be repeated a few times for each pile as the worms will migrate further down to the bottom of the piles the more they’re exposed to light. Finally you’ll be left with a pile of worms and a small amount of leftover scraps which you can then start a new farm!
Using your fresh compost is easy. Simply add it to your potting soil or bedding soil as a soil amendment or use it as a top dressing for house plants and bedding plants. And don’t feel like you have to use all your compost at one time. You can always save it as you would regular potting soil.
It’s as easy (and not smelly) as that! Happy New Year all and make a resolution to compost a little more and do something great for your plants. They’ll thank you for it.