Compost Making at Home, With Worms

composting worms

It’s easy to make compost at home. You can start a compost pile outside and put 3-6 months of back breaking labor into sorting and stirring your organic garbage with a rake. Or, you can outsource the hard work. No, I’m not talking about kidnapping Oompa Loompas — there are better workers who don’t sing and are less likely to cause headaches with OSHA. They’re even available at the local bait shop and pet store. I’m talking about composting with worms.

Turning your kitchen scraps into compost is what worms enjoy doing. They dream of finding big piles of banana peels and coffee grounds! Give them exactly what they want, and you’ll have a happy workforce. To start your sweat shop, all you need is a worm bin.

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Vermicomposting in worm bins

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There are thousands of different worms in the average backyard. They come in about 2,700 different varieties, and many of these species are rarely seen. Some worms are camouflaged to hide in plain sight, and others live deep underground and come to the surface only when they have to. After it rains, worms are easy to find because they breathe through their skin and are driven up to the surface and often climb onto concrete driveways and sidewalks. It’s easy to collect these worms for a compost bin, but there are important differences between the worm species you will encounter.

The Common European Earthworm (which is also called the nightcrawler) lives deep underground, with vertical burrows that go about 6 feet down. Night crawlers are commonly found in gardens or near compost piles, but this worm is ill-suited for compost bins. The nightcrawler’s scientific name is Lumbricus terrestris, and it is an anecic worm that doesn’t like to stay near the surface. If you put nightcrawlers in a compost bin, they will constantly try to escape through the bottom of the worm bin, and they will die from exhaustion instead of breeding or working the soil. Nightcrawlers are also sometimes called “tiger worms” because they have alternating red and buff stripes – those stripes make Nightcrawlers easy to identify.

For a vermicomposting bin, Red Wigglers are the best type of worm because they prefer to live near the surface. There are two very similar worms that are both called Red Wrigglers: Eisena fetida and Eisena andrei. Both species look very similar, and they can live side by side without any problems. As red wigglers eat organic waste, they blend it with soil in the bin. Compared to the original soil levels, their worm castings contain approximately 40% more humus, 150% more calcium, 300% more magnesium, 500% more nitrogen, 700% more phosphates, and 1100% more potash.

Here’s a pictorial worm guide that you can use to identify species in your garden. There are many endangered species of earthworm, and if you find a rare one, you can really help improve our knowledge of the species!

After you collect red wigglers, put them to work around your house! All it takes is a sheltered bin, scrap paper, some healthy soil, and your food scraps. Shredded paper goes along the bottom of the compost bin – this acts as a fence to keep worms inside and it also buffers to moisture of the bin. Since paper soaks up water, the layer of paper will help maintain a constant level of moisture similar to a wrung out sponge. Add a layer of soil to the shredded paper, and then bury food scraps under the soil. The soil acts like a highway for worms, and it also introduces healthy bacteria that will accelerate the breakdown of vegetable rinds and fruit pulp.

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Worm Composting: How to vermicompost with a worm bin

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Worms are nature’s own garbage disposal. They work quickly and turn shreds of garbage into smaller and smaller pieces. Soil passes through a worm about 5 times before reaching a well-balanced and stable form. Vermicomposting quickly turns fruit and vegetable scraps into nutrient-rich compost.

Worms make excellent pets, but they need a comfortable home to live in. Just like dogs need a doghouse to protect them from the rain, worms need a snug home that has just the right conditions. Worms need to be protected from sunlight, excess moisture, and predators. Worm bins offer all of this and more. The lid keeps rain and birds away, and a well constructed worm bin allows liquid to drain from the main compartment into a holding cell. This plant friendly liquid is called compost tea, and many worm bins have a spigot you can use to drain the compost tea for watering houseplants.

After you choose a worm bin with the right size and features, the first step is to put a layer of shredded paper, cardboard pieces, or coir in the main compartment. This “brown compost” is rich in carbon, and the worms will eat it slowly to supplement “green compost” food scraps (which are rich in nitrogen). It will also keep baby worms from falling through the gaps. Once this lining is in place, you should put in several shovelfuls of healthy soil. The amount of soil will depend on the size of the worm compost bin, but the ideal amount will produce a pile 3-6 inches deep. When you add scraps to the compost bin, it’s important to bury the worm food underneath this soil but above the lining.

There are foods that worms like and foods that are no good for them. The best foods are kitchen scraps, such as fruit scraps and vegetable peels. Tea bags, coffee grounds, and filters also work well. It’s best not to use meats, oils or dairy products, because those scraps can attract flies and other pests. Foods that have been cooked with oil or butter should also be avoided.

After the ingredients are ready, it’s time to get some worms! There are many different varieties of worm, but red wrigglers are the most popular. They’re also widely available at bait shops and pet stores (check the live food section). Red Wigglers are also called brown nosed worms, and their scientific name is Eisenia foetida. Unlike other worms, they like to stay close to the surface and will be happy in a shallow vermicompost bin.

After that, there’s not much to do. Add worm food regularly, and remember to drain the compost tea before the holding cell gets full. There is usually plenty of water in kitchen scraps to supply the worm’s needs, but if you live in a very dry or warm area, it may be necessary to occasionally add a little bit of water. When the worm composter gets full, or when the worms eat all of the lining material, then it’s time to empty out the vermicomposter and start again.

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