If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would ever use worms to compost my food scraps, I would have looked at you like you were you crazy.
I’ve always had an inherent love for gardening.
Ask my mom.
Did you mean gray shoes that I wore once and she couldn’t get clean again?
Put clothes on? You meant take my clothes off and play in mud puddles, right?
Don’t go play outside, Sarah!
You mean, GO play outside and bring you bugs and dandelions.
My mom even told me and my siblings that she was “allergic” to dandelions when we were little. Why? Because we brought her so many dang bouquets of them ha!
Gotta love her 😉
It’s in my genetic code to love gardening and desire to constantly be outdoors.
From both sides of my parents, gardening was a prevalent way of life.
My dad’s side even more so.
I have an uncle that holds a degree in Horticulture, (like myself), my dad and mom own and run an Organic Gardening Operation, my grandmother has one of the most greenest thumbs I’ve ever seen, and my great grandma was an incredible gardener herself.
I could go on and on about my families history with gardening.
I always liked being outdoors, and even as a junior in high school wrote in my journal about homesteading and making everything I could from scratch. (8 years ago…yikes)
I was a senior in college when I heard about Worm Composting, or Vermiculture for the first time.
When my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I moved into a town house in the city I knew composting and growing plants would have to wait.
It’s hard to tell a Horticulturist that they can’t grow plants… But for Christmas that year, one of my siblings got me an Odorless Year Round Worm Composting system.
Best. Christmas. Ever.
My journey with Vermiculture began!!
Composting in itself is beneficial to our Planet. It reduces paper and food waste and gives us compost to help fertilize our gardens.
So why choose worm composting over regular composting?
In conventional composting your pile of scraps needs to be aerated. This requires someone to turn the pile, or in closed systems, to turn the bins. With worm composting the worms aerate the soil for you.
The fertilizer that comes from composting is great, but the fertilzier from worm castings is EVEN BETTER. Worm castings actually have the most nutrients out of all the different composts on the market! You can also use the liquids that are produced during worm composting. The liquid can be diluted and used as a compost tea for plants! (JUST BECAUSE IT’S CALLED TEA, DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD DRINK IT)
Most compost piles also require heat to start the break-down process. With worm composting, those little guys will eat it all, whenever and wherever.
So how does someone start worm composting?
Let me tell you with 6 steps how.
1) Find/Buy Your Container
There are A TON of DIY worm composters online (especially Pinterest). You can make your own, for outdoor use, or you can buy the type of system I have.
If you’re just starting out, but really want to get into worm composting (or reducing your food waste) I would highly recommend getting The Worm Factory, from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm.
This system is first and foremost extremely easy to use. It is also virtually odorless so you can keep it inside, allowing for year round use.
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve actually smelled my worm composter (I keep mine inside year round), and that was because I hadn’t cleaned it out in awhile. This was my own fault, not a design flaw in the composter.
2) Buy the Book “How to Start a Worm Bin: Your Guide to Getting Started with Worm Composting”
by Henry Owen
It might seem counter productive for me to tell you to buy a “How to” book, on a “How to” blog article. But this book is the holy grail for worm composting. I couldn’t begin to go into the kind of detail he does in this book.
He goes into extreme detail on everything from where to place outside bins, to bedding, to what to feed your worms.
3) Order Your Worms
Unfortunately you can not go out to your garden and pull up a bunch of worms and expect them to eat your food waste. Worms are some of the least studied creatures on our planet, and they all have different habits and jobs in the soil. There are specific worms for breaking down debri. Those worms are “Epigeic” and live in the “organic matter” layer of earth. These worms are adapted to crowding and living all together. Worms from your garden tend to be more solitary and dig burrows, opposed to living close to the surface.
The most common worms for compost bins are “Red Worms”. Eisenia Foetida and Lumbricus Rebellus are the red worm varieties to use in a worm bin. I purchased mine through Jim’s Worm Farm. On their website they state, “Your Worm order my contain several different compost worm species. Not to worry! Diversity in worm species is superior because they work all layers of the compost not just the top few inches. Giving you a better compost faster.”
Starting out with around 500 worms will be enough. Unless you’re doing something incredibly wrong, worms will more than triple in population after 90 days. If you have an extra large surplus of food waste, you can calculate how many worms to start out with.
Worm Composting Headquarters says:
“Collect a day’s worth of vegetable food waste that could have been fed to your Small Kitchen Scaleworm farm.
Be sure to only collect the types of food waste that worms can eat.
At the end of the collection day, place all veggies scraps in a plastic bag and weigh it. A small kitchen scale or fish scale works well.
Repeat each day for one week, then average the results together.
You now have your daily average food waste.
Red Wiggler composting worms eat roughly half their weight every day!
So, if your daily average food waste is 2 lbs, you will need roughly 4 lbs of composting worms to eat that amount each day.
In this scenario, 4 lbs of worms is the optimal number you need.”
4) Get the Bedding Ready
If you order your worms from where I got mine (Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm), they will send you a starter for bedding (shredded newspaper, some coconut coir, and a gravel like substance for grit). I used half of the starting ingredients, and half when I added a tray to my bin. If you decided to order your worms from somewhere else, here is what you’ll need:
Shredded newspaper or cardboard is a great bedding for worms. Both absorb moisture, while keeping airflow moving, and giving your worms room to maneuver. Plus it’s free. You can’t get much better than that. Don’t use glossy paper from magazines or shred the plastic windows on some letters/bills. Your worms can not digest either of these materials.
Also a moisture absorber, but you’ll need to pay for this one. Worms LOVE coconut coir. It offers the worms grit as well as sustaining an almost perfect moisture balance in the worm bin.
Another free option. Although shredded leaves offer good air movement through the bin, they do not hold moisture very well. More draw backs to using shredded leaves are preexisting diseases and pests on the leaves. They may or may not bother your worms but the bugs especially will get inside your home (if you’re keeping your worm bin inside).
Mixed in with the bedding, you will want something gritty — a bit of potting soil, sand, or finely ground egg shells work. Worms do not have teeth so the grit allows them to grind up the paper and scraps you place in the bin and digest it resulting in lovely compost.
5) Worm Bin Placement
The beautiful thing about using Red Wigglers, is they can withstand a variety of temperatures. They will die though if the bedding or compost they are in freezes. 40 degrees F is about the lowest temperature a Red Wiggler can withstand. I keep my bin inside because I compost year round. This also keeps my bedding from drying out, keeps my worms from dying from heat or cold, and I can literally move it anywhere in my house. Although my husband said no to our bedroom ha!
If you are going to have your worm bin outside, you’ll want to pick out a sheltered location.
You don’t want your worms getting drenched with rain, or scorched by the sun.
Placing your worm bin under an overhang or sheltering them somehow is the best solution.
6) Harvesting Compost
My favorite part.
You’ll want to buy some disposable gloves because yours will never be the same and you will never wash the smell away!
The wonderful things about Uncle Jim’s Worms Bins are 1) There’s a spout on the bottom that lets you drain the lovely smelling “worm juice” away from your compost. 2) The compost is in stackable layers, and you can harvest a layer at a time. 3) The layered system makes worms move upwards and feed on the new scraps, opposed to be all over the place in one giant bin.
I have a 5 layer system, and usually harvest the bottom 3 at one time. You’ll know when to harvest because if you lift each layer you’ll see it full of compost and no food debris.
There might be some worms living in the bottom layer(s) of your bin. This is what the gloves are for.
You’ll want to try and separate them out of the compost and put them on the top layer with the rest of your worms. My worms are my nature-children, and none get left behind. If you do happen to leave a few, that’s alright too…They’ll just be going into the soil with your compost.
And it’s never a bad thing to add more worms to your soil.