Worm composting is also known as vermicomposting. There are primarily two worm species that vermicomposters use:
- Red Worms (Eisenia fetida) – a.k.a: Red Wigglers, Brandling Worms, Manure Worms, Trout Worms, Tiger Worms
- European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) – a.k.a: Belgian Nightcrawlers, Euros, ENCs
The mission of CompostScoop is to grow the composting community and worm composting is something anyone can do regardless of their environment. Worm composting reduces waste and can eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers. If you have never tried worm castings (worm poo) on your house plants, garden vegetables, flowers, or lawn you are missing out. The amount of garbage a healthy worm can consume is amazing.
How do we plan to grow the vermicomposting community? Let’s all share our tips to grow and maintain a healthy worm bin. We will help connect experienced worm composting enthusiasts with newer folks. Support the worm farms and share worms with neighbors. Finding a local worm farm or a neighbor with some extra worms is all you need to start.
Here’s the basic worm composting guide:
Getting Started With Worm Composting
This is the ultimate beginners guide to starting a worm composting bin. The goal of this article is simple worm composting. Keep it simple from the start and explore as you gain experience. Getting started with vermicomposting is easy and you don’t need anything elaborate. Here is what you will need:
- A container to house the worms
- Bedding for the container
- Food for the worms
- And finally some composting worms
There are many options for your first worm bin. For starters, you could buy a worm bin from a retailer, build a nice wooden worm box, or find some plastic containers. I generally use plastic bins. The 10-gallon Rubbermaid container is a great size, but any smaller or larger bin is good too. A plastic bin is easy to find and setup, light weight and easy to move, and simple to use indoors.
Worm Bin Bedding
The worm bedding is what the worms will live in and eat. Bedding helps hold in moisture and provides a place to bury the worm food. Shred some newspaper, cardboard or fall leaves and toss in and small handful of sand.
Worm Food (aka Garbage)
Most worm farmers begin with the intention of composting kitchen scraps. A common mistake is overfeeding your worms. Add food slowly and always bury it in the bedding. Rotten material is better than fresh. As you grow your bins and gain experience you will learn that you can add many different things.
Here are the items to begin with:
- Fruit and Vegetable scraps
- Bread, pasta, rice
- Coffee grounds, tea bags
- Egg shells (crush them if possible)
Never add meat, dairy, pet waste, human waste, oil, grease, or chemicals. They can kill your worms and it will smell awful!
Worms – Red Wigglers (Eisena Fetida)
Now that you have a lot of bedding and a little food in your worm bin, it is time to get some worms. Well, it is almost time. Let the bin sit for a few days or more. This will allow the micro organisms to start their job.
Ok, now it is time to get the worms. Don’t assume that you can dig up worms in the back yard or pick some up on a rainy day. These common earthworms will not survive in your worm bin. You need Eisena Fetida (Red Wiggler) worms. There are other worms, such as European Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis), but since we are just beginning the Red Wiggler is your best bet. So, where do you get worms and how many do you need?
Where to get worms:
- Find a friend with worms and ask nicely
- Find a local worm distributor
- Order worms online
How many worms will you need?
There are various calculations to determine the number of worms per surface area — remember we are starting simply here. I always start a worm bin with 1 pound of worms. The worms will increase and find their optimal population quickly. Besides, if something goes wrong you only lost 1 pound of worms instead of several.
Check and Feed your worms regularly
Now that your worms are settling in, give them food on a regular basis. If the bin seems dry then add a little water. It should be damp, not soaked. I have found that the food waste provides enough moisture and water is not necessary very often. Larger, wooden boxes will require more moisture than the standard plastic containers.
Worm Composting Bins
There are many options for your first worm composting bin. You could buy a worm bin from a retailer, build a nice wooden worm box, or find some plastic containers. Before you choose the type of bin you will make or buy you need to answer a few questions.
Where will you keep the bin?
Bins can be kept indoors or outdoors. Each option requires a some special considerations.
Indoor Worm Bins need:
- A way to collect drainage. The moisture in a bin may leak. Adding a catch pan or setting a bin inside a bin will control any water and keep your floor dry.
- To be easy to lift and move. There is a good chance you will need to move your bin. If you clean your house or rearrange as much as my wife your bin could move on a frequent basis.
Outdoor Worm Bins need:
- Protection from the weather.
- Protection from critters.
How large should your bin be?
The standard formula for choosing a bin size requires that you weigh a weeks worth of kitchen scraps. For each pound of food per week, you should have one square foot of surface area. A family that produces 4 pounds of worm food in a week will need a 2 foot X 2 foot container. The container depth should be between 8 to 12 inches. A deeper container is OK, but it should not be completely filled since the worms will stay in the upper layer of the bin and the weight will compress the bedding material.
My personal opinion is to find a bin that works for you. The size matters, but don’t try to find a single bin to accommodate all 30 pounds of food waste your family generates. Start small and compost a portion of your kitchen waste. As your worm bin grows you can add bins or upgrade to a multilayer bin.
Get your worms locally. This helps you connect with another person that has worms and saves you from having them shipped.
They do ship fine through the mail, but weather can change things quickly. So, seasonal ordering is common.
It is not difficult to raise worms in a compost bin. In fact, raising worms is easy! Healthy worms eat more, breed more, and poop more. Let’s face it, we care about our little worms, but the ultimate output of our efforts is the worm poo.
There are a few important requirements for growing healthy composting worms. Simply put, worms require oxygen, moisture, food, warmth, and a dark place.
- Worms need oxygen
- Your worm bin should have plenty of oxygen. Using
- Worms need moisture
- Worms need food
- Worms need warmth
- Worms need a dark place
Harvesting Worm Bins
Harvesting is simply separating the worms from the composted material. There are several methods to harvest the worms and the worm castings. I think there are so many methods because this is one of the tasks that most don’t appreciate. Many worm composters are still searching for best worm harvesting method. Just remember, the fruits of the labor are worth it.
After a few months, the worm bin bedding will be composted and the worms will be ready for some new material. When the worm bin looks ready to harvest it is time to prepare. The following method is one of the simplest harvesting methods to try with minimal materials and effort.
- Stop feeding the worms for 1 or 2 weeks. This gives them a chance to digest some of the remaining material and makes them a little hungry for food.
- Place some sweet yummy worm food in an onion sack or other mesh bag. Place the bag in one corner of the bin and let everything sit for 3 to 5 days. Your hungry worms will migrate to the bag.
- Remove the bag of worms and harvest your vermicompost. Place the bag of worms in a newly prepared worm bin. If you don’t have a second bin, place the worms in a worm-friendly container that is dark and well ventilated.
- Remove small amounts of compost material while watching for worms. Put any stray worms in the worm bag. Put the compost in a good compost storage container.
- Once the material is removed, prepare the bin with bedding and food and empty the bag of worms in the worm bin.
- Save the onion sack. In a few months, you’ll start this process again.
There are several common problems that you might encounter when starting a worm bin. Over time you will find the perfect balance to maintain a healthy worm bin. Here are a few things I have learned that keep the worms happy and healthy.
When the worm bin has a foul odor the worms will escape. There are a few possible reasons for a foul odor.
- Lack of oxygen: Stir the bin.
- Too much food: Stop adding food.
- Too much moisture: Check the drain holes.
- A stray piece of meat: Get that out of your bin.
Worms need oxygen to survive. Often times a smelly worm bin is from the combination of a lack of oxygen, too much food and too much moisture. First of all you should stop adding food. Allow more air in the bin by stirring the contents to loosen up the material. Most times it will be compressed and feel heavy rather than light and fluffy. While stirring the bin check the drain holes and keep an eye out for that random smelly object such as meat. If the holes are not plugged then you may want to add more holes. Add some extra bedding and make sure there is sufficient bedding covering the food. Stirring some bedding into the material may allow for more air flow too.
Worms Escaping (Crawling out)
If there is not a strong odor and the worms are crawling out of the container, then the soil may be improperly balanced. If the soil is not too wet you should check the PH levels. Adding too may citrus peels can be harmful and you will need to reduce the acid level of the bin. Add fewer items that fall into the acidic category and put in a little lime.
The top cause of fruit flies is uncovered food. If you always keep plenty of bedding over your food material you should not have a fruit fly problem. If you are burying the food and do find flies you can cover the bin with a few sheets of newspaper or some carpet. I usually keep a single sheet of newspaper over the top of the bin, under the lid and tucked in like a bed sheet. You can think of it as tucking your worms in. If the flies just won’t go away, you may need to move the bin somewhere else.
Red Wiggler (Eisenia Fetida)
- Lifespan: 2-5 years
- Each worm can create 2-5 cocoons each week with 2-3 worms hatching from each cocoon
- Cocoons take 45 days to hatch
- It takes only 6 weeks from a hatchling worm to an adult breeder
- Each worm is 2 to 3 inches long
- 2000 red worms eat 1 pound of garbage per week