Vermiculture

Composting with Worms

vermiculture - composting with worms

by Penny Howard

Vermiculture. A big word that simply means composting with worms.

Worms are amazing little animals.  They are a gardener’s best friend.  When it comes to composting, worms are #1. As they eat and process the organic matter in the soil, their castings (poop) are rich in minerals and other food for the all-important microbes in your healthy soil. 

Most people use red wigglers for worm composting.  They are well known as composting worms.  Red wigglers are available online from several sources.  You can also find worms at a bait shop or even at Wal Mart in the fishing section.

Composting with Worms

Worm composting is a simple low maintenance activity.  Once you make your worm bin, they will require very little other than feeding about once a week.  After a few months, you should be able to harvest that black gold that is the worm castings. 

We have three grandsons, and several years ago we had a worm bin. They enjoyed visiting the worms and feeding them. At one point, we decided to move all the worms into the garden and shut down the bin.  Last year the middle grandson told us we needed to have a worm bin again.  So, we made a new worm bin.  The boys got to help by drilling the holes in the tote and tearing up the newspaper for the bedding.  They helped layer all the bedding materials and get everything ready for the worms.  They love putting the worms in and watching them disappear into their new home.  When they come to our house, they ask to feed the worms.  I try to time the feeding of the worms so that the boys can do it.

worm bin composting

Worm Bins

There are many options for your worm bin.  If you are the least little bit handy, you can build your worm bin out of plastic totes or a couple of 5-gallon buckets.  There are numerous videos available on building your worm bin.  Ours is a 15-gallon plastic tote with holes drilled for air circulation. There are also commercial worm bins you can order if you don’t want to make your own.

You will need to find a quiet place with moderate temperatures for your worms.  They will go dormant if the temperature is below 40 or above 80. They don’t like a lot of noise or commotion and don’t want a lot of light. An opaque bin with a lid is an easy solution to keep the worms in the dark.

Bedding

Your worms will need bedding in their new home.  There are several choices for bedding.  Shredded newspaper and small pieces of cardboard are the easiest to find and prepare.  Some people use coconut coir or peat moss.  Moisten the bedding so that it is wet, but not dripping.  Add some soil from your garden and then add your worms.  You can feed them a small amount as you put them into their new home.  Dig a small hole and put the food in and then cover it with a little of the bedding mixture. 

Feeding your worms

Your kitchen food scraps are the perfect food for your worms. Some people freeze their scraps before they feed them to the worms.  An advantage to that is that you hide your scraps in the freezer rather than using valuable counter space in your kitchen.  The frozen food is a little easier for the worms to break down and they can eat and process it more quickly. If you want, you can blend the food in your kitchen blender for the worms.  Blending breaks down the food even more and will make it even easier for the worms to consume. We haven’t done this, and it does take longer for the worms to eat our scraps, so I will be blending the scraps to encourage more eating and pooping.

Worms also need some grit in their diet.  Things like crushed eggshells, cornmeal, coffee grounds, or some sand will help the worms to grind up the kitchen scraps you feed them.  Add some of the grit mixed into the food material as you feed your worms.

Harvesting the castings

worm castings

After several months of feeding your worms, you are ready to harvest the precious castings and use it in your garden or container plants. A simple way to harvest is to feed your worms on alternate sides of the bin.  The worms will migrate to where the food is and leave the empty side.  If you feed once weekly, you can harvest from the empty side before you feed because most of the worms will be feasting on the food at the other end of the bin.  Of course, there will be a few stragglers cleaning up the last crumbs on the empty side, but you can pick them out or let them relocate to the garden.

Using the castings

You can spread the castings on the top of your soil around your plant. Gently work the castings into the very top of the soil or mix into the mulch around your plants. Water to help move the nutrients into the soil.

Worm tea

worm tea

One of the richest fertilizers you can feed your soil (which in turn will feed your plants) is worm tea.  Worm tea is simply worm castings that you soak in water. In a 5-gallon bucket add a couple of handfuls of worm castings.  Add water.  It is as simple as that.  If you want strained worm tea, you can put the worm castings in something like a cheesecloth square and tie it closed.  When the tea has steeped, remove the casting ball and add it to your compost pile or even into your garden beds or containers.  Use the tea as liquid fertilizer. Pour the nutrient-rich water on the soil and let the tea feed all those wonderful microbes in your soil.

A simple family hobby that pays big dividends

All in all, worm composting is a simple low cost, low-tech family activity that offers many benefits. You can recycle at least most of your kitchen scraps. The worms compost your kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich worm castings to feed the soil in your garden as well as potted plants.

So, gather your tools and supplies and order or buy your worms. Set up your worms and start making the beautiful worm castings.

Links and Resources

For more information about organic gardening, lifestyles, and living, visit our website at West Texas Organic Gardening.

If you found the information here helpful, you might also find these articles on our website of interest.

Organic Growing Myths

Toss Your Tiller

Mulch

If you have more specific questions or problems, you can contact us using the contact form on our website. You can also post your question to our community forum at this page; West Texas Organic Gardening Community Forum.

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