Worm farms. How to compost with worms.

Photo courtesy of maudieshah at Flickr.com.

Farming with worms is a simple way to turn food scraps into organic fertilizer. Worms are quick workers, and they don’t sleep. They work 24 hours a day, and don’t take any holidays. Worms breed faster than rabbits, plus their birth rate is boosted even further because there’s no need to kill them to harvest their work. As worms eat vegetable scraps and fruit rinds, they turn trash into soil. Their worm castings are rich in healthy bacteria, as well as worm cocoons that each contain 2-50 baby worms. Worm castings can be harvested simply by sifting the soil from a worm bin.

When composting with worms, you can use either a compost trench or a compost bin. Compost trenches are simply holes in the ground full of compost. These compost middens can be difficult to dig, especially if you make them deep enough to keep animals from burrowing into the trash. To control odor, compost trenches should be dug at least 6 feet into the ground. This is the perfect depth for Nightcrawler worms (which are also known as Common European Earthworms, Tiger Worms, or Angleworms). A hole that’s one-foot in diameter will hold about 5 gallons of compost, and a 12 ounce tub of earthworms will be able to process that compost in 1-2 months. A shallow trench can also be used within a fenced garden or any area protected from rats, badgers, and other scavengers. Dig the trench 6-8 inches deep, and then add Red Wiggler worms. These worms work close to the surface and will generally stick to the area that you’ve dug up for them, because the loose turned soil is easy to tunnel through.

Digging compost trenches is hard work, and compost bins are an easier alternative. Instead of digging a new hole every time you have compost, you can simply lift the lid and add compost to your vermicomposting bin. Worm farms will not only protect your worms from predators (such as birds and snakes) but they will also keep the worms from wandering away into your neighbor’s yard. Worm bins come in many different sizes and designs; you can make one yourself, or buy one and protect your thumbs from stray hammer blows.

When choosing a bin, the size you pick often depends on the number of people that live at your house. An average person produces about 2 square foot of organic waste per week, so your worm bin should have at least that much space per person living with you. Choose a bin with enough capacity to meet your peak needs, and maybe a little bit more. For example, if you have 2 people living in an apartment, an ideal size for a worm bin would be 4 or 5 square feet. If you often host relatives at your house for Thanksgiving dinner, there’s no need to count them towards your total, but if you have guests over for dinner every wednesday, you may want to get a slightly larger worm bin.

After you’ve picked out a worm bin, it’s important to put a biodegradeable lining into it. Worms don’t like the feel of plastic, wood, or metal against their skin, and extreme temperatures can stress them out. So, you should insulate your worm bin with shredded paper, strips of cardboard, peat moss, or coconut fiber. These materials will soak up water and help maintain a steady humidity level. They are also rich in carbon, while most food scraps have high levels of nitrogen. When worms need to snack on some carbon rich materials, they will nibble at the lining of the worm bin and choose a diet that meets their needs.

It’s important to add a thick layer of soil to your worm composting bin along with food scraps. Worms need soil in the same way that fish need water. They need it to ‘swim’ through, and it makes them feel comfortable. Soil will help buffer the acidity of any organic waste that you add, and it also provides a pathway for worms to burrow through. Soil also contains healthy organisms that will help the worms digest food scraps.


Photo courtesy of mdelemos at Flickr.com.

Vermicomposting in worm bins


Photo courtesy of oddivy at Flickr.com.

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.


Photo courtesy of phatpatmtn at Flickr.com.

Garden Composting to improve your soil


Photo courtesy of geo rich at Flickr.com.

Does your yard have terrible soil? If even mesquite trees and tumbleweeds struggle to survive, it’s still possible to save the ground and restore life to the most barren patch of dust. Instead of bringing in bags and bags of topsoil from somewhere else (where they were probably needed!), have you considered composting?

A compost pile or compost bin does 2 good things at once. Composting helps reduce the amount of garbage that you send to a landfill, and it produces nutrient rich soil that can be used to improve the health, water retention, and elasticity of your yard.

Compost is made from organic material and contains many of the elements that plants need in just the right balance. It also contains millions of good bacteria – the very bacteria that spread out into the surrounding earth and restart the cycle of life. Compost holds water very well, which can come in handy if your yard floods easily or has a runoff problem that depletes the soil. Compost is also light and fluffy, which means that it can be used to fill cracks in the ground and it will loosen up compacted soil.


Photo courtesy of CleanAirGardening at Flickr.com.