How to Use Worms to Make Organic Compost
How to Do Worm Farm Composting
Have you ever wondered how to do worm farm composting? It can be a very rewarding and organic way to add vital nutrients to your garden and houseplants, plus it is much easier than you might think!
I have long been an advocate of composting our leftover vegetable and fruit scraps along with chopped leaves in our big composter in our backyard. The process of decomposition is amazing to me. If you have a working composter in your yard, more than likely you will have a healthy colony of earthworms that are happily leaving behind worm castings while decomposing the contents into organic compost. The earthworm can produce its weight daily in amazing and very nutrient rich castings. These little guys live to eat, procreate, and convert your waste products into what is commonly referred to as black gold!
In this article, we will look at some things you will need to consider to get started with worm farming and I'll share some great resources as well for you to do further research.
Vermiculture is the raising of different types of earthworms and the production of their by-products known as castings.
The red wiggler earthworm is the type of worm most commonly used in vermicomposting. You can find red wigglers in bait shops or order online from gardening supply companies, Amazon, and even eBay. I've listed links further down to help you find some online.
The earthworms you find crawling around in your yard are not the same kind of worms as composting worms. They have different tasks to accomplish than the red wiggler.
Just How Many Worms Do You Need?
Red wiggler worms propagate very quickly. The babies reach sexual maturity in as little as four to six weeks! Technically you could start with a few dozen and in six months to a year you could have a box full of worms.
To determine just how many to invest in, you will need to consider how much kitchen and garden waste you need converted into black gold. Since you want them to consume most or all of your waste, you can start with two pounds of worms for each pound of garbage you will put in your worm box on a daily basis.
If you average about seven pounds of compostable garbage a week, then that averages to about one pound a day. You would need to start with about two pounds of worms.
Each pound of worms needs three or four cubic feet of bedding. Or, one cubic foot of worm bin can digest about one pound of kitchen waste a week without going stinky on you. There will be about 1000 mature breeders to the pound. Some stores only sell larger and more mature sizes of red worms and in that case there would only be about 600 to 700 to the pound.
Do You Think You Will Give Worm Farming A Shot?
How to Make Your Own Worm Bin
You can purchase many different types of bins for your worm farm which can range from the frugal to the elaborate. Of course the size of the system will depend on how deeply you want to get into vermiculture.
Many people fall in love with the whole process and start a business selling their red wigglers to other worm farmers. I love learning how to make my own with most projects I undertake.
You can read more about how to make your own worm farm in this great article. This site is a great resource with many useful links.
Bedding for Your Worm Factory
If you simply wish to create a small worm farm in your home or office, here are some ingredients to consider using when making the bedding.
- Shredded papers from newspapers, junk mail, office paper, etc. are all good. This is a great way to recycle and dispose of your sensitive and personal documents! I recently went through our mail and shredded old statements and such from the past years and got a huge bag of bedding for our composter.
- Keep the print as black and white as possible as the worms do not care as much for the dyes in colored print and ads.
- Each layer needs to be slightly moist with water and can be sprayed with a mister. Worms like things to be moist as in damp but not soaking wet, as they won't be able to breathe.
- Your layers need to be 'fluffy' and not compact. You will need to add a few handfuls of garden soil mixed with crushed eggshells and mix this in with your layers of dry bedding.
Feeding Your Wiggly Workers
The best thing to keep in mind is to balance what you feed your wiggly worms.
- They love shredded paper, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and eggshells.
- Remember to put a balance of ingredients versus one or two items. Too much coffee grounds for instance will make the whole batch too acidic. You can put very small amounts of starchy foods but keep this to a minimum.
- Make sure to never put meat, dairy products, or salty foods like chips in your bin, as these food items tend to rot and cause odors. If you are growing your worms outside, these last items also draw rodents.
- If you will be using an outdoor composter, consider layering in chopped leaves and grass clippings. These layers add a nice healthy 'brown' balance to the vegetables and fruits and help hold down on odors.
- Also, keep in mind that your little worm workers will eat their body weight in compost each day! If you have a thousand red wigglers or so to feed, they can go through the food quickly if you have a well balanced composting bin.
Other Things to Consider
- When worm farm composting, your little guys require oxygen so make sure the lid to your bin is either slightly ajar or you have breathing holes.
- You will also need to turn the composting ingredients from time to time to keep things nice and aerated. If you don't want to have to turn your compost, consider using a Tumbler Composting System.
- Thriving temperatures are between 40 and 85 degrees F so most indoor temperatures will be comfortable.
- Red worms will reproduce often so take care that their home is big enough to accommodate them. If you find you have too many for your bin size, consider sharing with neighbors and friends. Or, you can set up another bin!
Uses For Your Compost
You can use your compost pretty much as you would any mulch or soil amendment. Here are a few suggestions to help you think of some uses for your black gold.
- Soil Amendment - Mix in some of your compost a few inches down around your established plants with your potting soil. This will help any plant growing to thrive.
- Mulch - Layer your compost around your plants in a nice even layer to help hold in moisture as well as allow the nutrients to slowly seep down to the roots of the plant for nourishment.
- Use on House Plants - I like mixing in a big scoop of my compost when I take out my houseplants to repot them. They love it!
- Use on Garden, Herb, or Flower Plants in the Yard - Once my plants start to burst forth, I like to put some compost around them as a mulch and/or soil amendment.
- Spread on Your Lawn - You can use a spreader or shovel to add a nice rich layer of compost. Usually one to three inches will suffice. Take a rake and spread around more evenly if needed. Water and watch your lawn be very grateful.
- Make Compost Tea - Put a shovel full of compost in a five-gallon bucket and fill with water. Let it steep for a few days and then you can pour the whole 'tea' onto and around your plants. You may also use burlap, cotton, cheesecloth or any other fabric to put the compost in to keep it separate from the liquid.
Worm Farm Composting Helpful Information - Worm Farming Links
- Compost Critters: Vermicomposting Made Easy
Don't let the name (or the worms) scare you. Vermicomposting is easy and creates nutrient rich organic matter for all your gardening endeavors. Here's how.
- Setting Up A Small Scale Worm Farm
Has several good tips and resources on this site. There is a very helpful partial list of food items on which worms thrive.
- Vermiculture Info
Lots of useful videos and info at this site about vermiculture.
- Cheat Sheet for Composting
This site gives several instances of green matter and brown matter that you can add to your composter. It also explains the phases that the average compost bin goes through while breaking down matter into usable compost.
What are your thoughts about worm composting?