How to Vermicompost
Vermicomposting is a great choice for those who want to avoid synthetic chemical-based fertilizers, are looking for an alternative to the strong smell of anaerobic composting and don’t want the daily chore of turning aerobic composting. Choosing vermicomposting allows you to compost in a small and convenient little container letting the worms do the mixing and turning so you don’t have to.
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What is Vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is composting with worms and food waste to create richly-fertilized compost. Through their waste production, harmful pathogens are destroyed and highly beneficial micro-organisms are produced. The excreta (worm castings) contains high levels of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus which are beneficial to plants.
To start your own vermicomposting, you will need a container, the worms and food waste.
First, you will need a plastic or wooden container for your vermicompost. Most worm bins are made of plastic. However, a wooden vermicomposter is more porous and better ventilated. The bottom of your container must have holes for drainage and aeration. You may also want to place a tray under the container to capture any drained liquid, which can be used as fertilizer as well.
The size of your worm bin depends on how much food waste you produce per week. You will want one square foot of surface area for 1 pound of food waste. Therefore, if you produce 7 pounds of food waste per week, then choose a 7 square foot container.
How to Vermicompost
Add fluffy bedding to your container that will retain moisture and allow for air circulation. You can use shredded paper or cardboard, sawdust, shredded old leaves, or dead plant material or manure. Adding soil or sand will provide a more hospitable environment. Moisten the bedding until it contains 75% moisture. The bedding should provide a moist habitat loose enough for the worms to burrow and wriggle about.
There are two common types of earthworms used for vermicomposting: the Lumbricus rubellusand the Eisenia foetida, both are red worms or red wigglers. These worms are not the usual garden varieties. The earthworms found in your yard will not likely survive in active composting. Composting worms are generally sold by the pound. 1 pound is approximately 1,000 worms.
Since worms can eat their body weight in food per day, a pound of worms can consume a pound of organic waste. On average, people produce approximately two to four pounds of food waste suitable for vermicomposting per week. If you produce 7 pounds of food waste per week, or 1 pound per day, you will want approximately 1 pound or 1,000 worms.
Also consider that the worms will eat their bedding, so this will affect the consumption rate. Worms also double in population every month. In a healthy environment, every pound of worms can increase by 35 pounds a year. The worm population will reduce to compensate for food shortages and overabundance of castings in the bin. Starting a new composting container will allow the worms to continue to thrive and reproduce.
After your worms have two or three days to settle, start adding food. Organic food wastes, cut in small chunks, include fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags and stale bread. Use caution if adding small quantities of dairy, meat products or vegetable oil as these products can introduce a host of problems. Add food every couple of days burying them in different corners of the bedding to give the worms a chance to clear them.
Your worms will create compost in three to six months. Allow the compost to sit for an extra week or two before adding to your landscape. To continue utilizing the worms, choose a bin that will separate the worms from the mature compost. Non-continuous bins require manual sifting, continuous horizontal flow types use horizontal migration separating the old and new materials side by side, and vertical flow types use a mesh screen for vertical migration.
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(2010) Composting With Red Wiggler Worms. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
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(2001) Chapter 1, The Decomposition Process. Retrieved August 20, 2010.