Why throw away your food scraps in landfills if you can get something beneficial from them? Did you know that you can pet worms to transform your trash into nutrient-rich soil? The tiny creatures feed on kitchen scraps and produce the compost gold for you!
Worm composting is easy to start, but you need to consider a few things. This article will help you grow a worm farm if you are new to vermicomposting. We will cover almost everything from compost bins to bedding material, worms’ types, feed, and compost harvesting.
So let’s dive right into it!
Firstly, What is Vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is a technique that uses the worm’s ecosystem to decompose and humidify the organic waste. As a result, it forms soil rich in nutrients, like carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus, which act as a fertilizer for your plants.
Vermicomposting occurs all the time in nature. The nematodes clear the garbage and wastes from the earth, making it inhabitable for humans. They are essential for us as scientists say humans may not survive if earthworms cease to exist. But you can also set up such an ecosystem in your home and make fertilizer from the decomposing kitchen and food waste.
This method produces nutrient-dense soil in 2 months versus the natural method that requires almost six months.
What Materials Will You Need?
Worm farm kits or compost bins usually contain the materials required for vermicomposting. In addition, such kits may include learning resources and live worms. But if you buy equipment that has just the farm/bin, you have to purchase the extras on your own.
Let’s go through the essential requirements of vermicomposting.
- Compost Bins
A compost bin is a container for your composting worms and food scraps. A suitable compost bin is simple and easy to use.
- Size – The bigger the bin, the better; it can hold more worms. An average size compost bin holds up to 4,000 worms at total capacity. It should not be tall but instead wide and 12-18 inches (30-45cm) deep.
- The attached tap – It allows you to drain the worm farm from time to time and prevents moisture build-up.
- Design and Style – So the compost bin fits where you decide to place it.
Several compost bins are available in the market, from simple ventilated containers to stacked trays. You can also make bins at home from dust bins and buckets. Wood or plastic material is quite suitable, but you need to choose a dark and opaque material as worms do not like light.
Also, do not tightly place the cover but still make sure to close the top to prevent the moisture from escaping.
- Bedding Material
You need to add the bedding material to your compost bins. Ensure to dampen the bedding material as worms thrive in a moist environment. You can make the bedding from any of the following:
- Strips of newspaper
- Shredded grocery bags
- Egg cartons
- Composted manure
- Old leaves
- Coconut coir
- A mixture of any of these substances
Loosely fill half of the compost bin with bedding material. Adding some sand and dirt into the container is also good, as it will prevent bad odor from the bin.
Unfortunately, any worm from your garden is not going to cut it.
Remember the first rule of vermicomposting for beginners – not every worm is suitable.
Only certain worms can do the job, such as red worms or red wigglers; these are proven to be the best for composting.
They reproduce and grow better in the worm farm environment.
Red worms are not only the cheapest to procure, but they are also tolerant to a wide range of temperatures.
Similarly, European nightcrawlers also work well in a compost bin but be patient as they reproduce a little more slowly.
Indian or Malaysian Blue Worm (perionyx excavatus) and African Nightcrawler (eudrilus eugeniae) are other worm species commonly employed for vermicomposting, but these are often used by worm farmers with more experience as they present different challenges.
So, make sure to get the right worm for the job, or consider yourself farmless.
How many worms will you need to start vermicomposting?
This will depend on the size of your worm bin or worm farm.
A good rule of thumb is, one to two pounds (approximately 1,000 red wigglers) for every pound of food scraps.
But keep in mind, they multiply like rabbits if given good food and environment, so it is best to start with fewer worms.
In most cases, you can begin your worm farm with a minimum of 500 worms.
What to Feed Them?
The worms will feed on anything, but they love fruits (excluding citrus fruits). So fruit scraps, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags are all okay to go.
But avoid dairy products and oily foods.
Similarly, do not add meat, as such foods attract pests making vermicomposting that much more challenging.
Finally, make sure the bedding you add is nontoxic; these humble creatures will even feed on that and while they are known to be able to process many toxins, it’s best to keep them healthy and therefore, happy and productive.
Do not overfill your compost bin with excess food scraps that the worms cannot finish, thereby creating odor or even pests.
Instead, chop your food or add more worms if you see such a problem. It’s best to feed them once a week.
Worms are living beings, so keep them in a place where they can easily live.
These are sensitive to light and noise; therefore, designate a quiet and shaded area for your worms.
Small worm farm kits are compact and can easily be placed in your small kitchen.
You can also keep them outdoors but keep in mind to put them under a tree where minimum light reaches them.
Extreme temperatures disturb the worms’ activity.
They thrive in moderate temperatures between 55°-77°F (13°-25°C).
But if you reside in a place with harsh environmental conditions, then take good care of your worm farm.
Keep the bins indoors in the cold and windy season.
Vermicomposting is not just a one-time task. You have to look after these little beings properly.
Maintain your worm farm at least once a week. Keep on checking that it is moist and away from the sun.
But too much moisture is also a problem.
Do not worry! We have a solution; you can keep the bin on blocks to drain the excess moisture from the pores or holes at the bottom of your worm bin.
Add the food scraps periodically and when the worms multiply in number, add more trays to help them migrate upward.
Flush out the topsoil once a week. Acidity can also develop, so tackle it with a teaspoon of garden lime or worm farm soil conditioner once a week.
How to Collect Worm Castings and Compost
When the contents of your bin turn into brown earth-looking material, called castings, it’s time to harvest.
You can harvest worm castings any time from every two-and-a-half months to every six months, depending on the number of worms you have and how much food you’ve been giving them.
Collecting the worm castings depends on whether you want to continue the operation year-round or shut it down for the summer.
You can collect the castings in more than one way, but the common one involves the following steps:
- Move the contents to one side of the bin.
- Push the partially composted food to the middle and add additional food scraps.
- Place the lid for at least two weeks.
- The worms will head towards the middle for the new food.
- Once they’ve shifted to the food pile, put on a pair of gloves and take out the worm castings without removing any worms.
- Set new bedding after harvesting.
- If you have a multi-story worm bin, you can simply put new food scraps into the bin below and let the worms migrate through the holes to the new bin with the food, leaving their castings behind. An easy harvest.
Vermicomposting for beginners has several dos and don’ts but fear not! You have a reasonable margin of error if you follow this simple guide.
Just make sure not to forget your common sense.
Worms are living beings and do not always meet our expectations, so be patient. If you plan to start vermicomposting, feel free to share your problems and hurdles in the comments section.