Worms at work.

Worm Composting

Looking to turn trash into treasure; set up a worm bin. Worm composting is a great way to recycle kitchen scraps, yard waste, paper, cardboard, cotton fabrics, and manure turning it into biological rich compost. If you live in an apartment or small urban lot it is especially valuable. Worm bins can be kept on a porch, balcony, or even inside the house. Worm composting creates three products: Worm castings, worm tea, and fishing worms. Making your own is cheap and easy.

We found this old tub in the woods.
We found this old tub in the woods.

Worm castings – Worms eat the bacteria and particles of the organic material put in the bed. As the material passes through its body, beneficial bacterial from the worms gut are added. After digestion, a worm casting is excreted from the worm’s body. Worm castings have an earthy smell and have been shown to make plant resist disease, grow faster, and produce more food.

Worm tea – While worm tea can be made by simply adding a handful of worm castings in a watering jug filled with rain water, I prefer a different approach. I put a handful of worm compost in a fine mesh bag and hang in a 5 gallon bucket full of rain water and a couple tablespoons of molasses. I then use an aquarium aerator to add oxygen to the water at a high rate. The bacteria in the worm compost will multiply in the water with high oxygen and sugar content. I let the tea brew for 24 hrs, after which, I foliar spray on plant within 24 hrs of being brewed. If you use tap water instead of rain water, let it sit uncovered for 24 hrs prior to starting to let the chlorine in the water gas off. Worm tea can also be made by catching the liquid that drains out of the bottom of the worm bin, using the same technique.

Fishing worms – There are thousands of different types of worms in the world. Only a few types of worms are suitable for a worm bin. Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) are commonly used for worm composting. Other common names are panfish worm, trout worm, tiger worm, and red wiggler. They are vigorous eaters and multiple rapidly. Red worms live longer under water allowing them to wiggle on the hook for up to ½ an hour. Night Crawlers can also be used in a worm bin but will not compost material as fast.

This tub of worm breaks down 4 inches of rabbit manure a week.
This tub of worm breaks down 4 inches of rabbit manure a week.

Worm compost bins can be purchased commercially or made from Rubbermaid bins, 5 gallon buckets, old sinks, or tubs. I have used a commercial bin, The Worm Factory Tower, which works great but it is expensive. The good thing about it is they catch the liquid as it drains out, have adequate ventilation and are designed with flow through systems that allow you to harvest castings without separating the worms from them.

For a thrifty worm farmer, 5 gallon buckets can be used to create a similar setup. Just drill ¼ inch holes in the bottom of every bucket stacked. Do not drill holes in the bottom bucket, as you will want the liquid to have a place to collect after draining. Sinks and tubs are used to create systems where a container can be placed under the bin to catch the liquid run off. The down side is you must manually sort the worms from the compost unless you make a tumbler to do it for you. An easy way to separate worms from vermicompost is to dump the bin out on a tarp. The worms will move away from the light and into the compost. This allows you to remove the top few inches of castings every 10 minutes or so as they continue to migrate towards the center.

Our catchment under tub for worm liquid.
Our catchment under tub for worm liquid.

Setting up a worm composting bin – Start by giving the worms a habitat to live in. Bedding can be peat moss, coconut coir, or shredded newspaper. We chose to use coconut coir because it is a byproduct of the coconut industry, where as peat moss is usually taken from natural eco systems. Shredded newspaper is hard to keep from matting down, creating an anaerobic environment that is hostile to the beneficial bacteria. Make sure whatever you choose, is moist but not soaking wet. If bedding is allowed to dry, the worms will dry out and die. Adding a handful of soil to the bedding material, will add bacteria to the worm bin and give the worms some grit to eat. They use the soil in their body to help them breakdown organic matter. Now is the time to add the worms. Most people start by adding 1 pound of worms but you can add more if you want your bed to handle more waste sooner. The biggest mistake people make is adding material to fast for the worms to eat.

After the worm compost bin is set up, begin adding waste in one corner of the bin at a time. Put the waste under the surface of the bedding, not on top. Make sure the previous material is almost gone before adding more.

What not to put in worm bin

Meat, fish, Dairy, Citrus, Dog or Cat Feces, Twigs or Braches, or any yard waste that has been treated with chemicals.

What to put in your worm bin

Raw vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grinds and filters, tea bags (remove staple), egg shells, rabbit manure, leaves, grass clippings, cover crops, hay.

Worms at work.
Worms at work.

The smaller the material the faster they eat it. Worms love pulp from making juice (except citrus).

We have found worm composting to be a low cost low input way to create a great soil amendment for our plants.

 

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