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Vermicomposting For Beginners

Posted by Alice Moon on Mar.20, 2009

©iStockPhoto.com - LisaInGlasses

©iStockPhoto.com - LisaInGlasses

Red Wigglers: The Cadillac of Worms…It’s true! Redworms breed quickly and they love to eat. When they eat, they create worm castings, a potent natural yard and garden fertilizer. Raising worms for  their castings, called vermicomposting, is an easy and economical alternative to the traditional compost pile, and works faster.

Basically, all that is required to begin is a bin and starter worms. Two pounds of worms will be needed for each single pound of daily scraps. We got our worms from Rising Mist Organic Farm, home of Sammy the cartoon worm. It is possible to buy worms locally, but often easier to order them by mail. They arrive alive, nicely packed in a box with bedding and moisture. Be sure to have their new home ready for their arrival.

A 2×2′ bin will house one pound of worms, while a 2×3′ bin would be preferable for two pounds of worms. Each bin should be approximately 18” deep. The worms need air, moisture, food, darkness and warmth. To go even more green, reuse an old plastic storage tub or build your own wooden bin from scrap lumber. Line wooden bins with plastic before adding the bedding. Rinse all other types of bins before use or wash with a mild detergent.

Solid tubs will need drainage holes. They are easily bored with a hand drill. Form several rows of holes. For us, six inches apart was too far; four inches of separation would be better. Leave the lid loose. Shredded paper, a day’s worth of food waste, and a sprinkling of water will be enough to get the worms started.

What can worms eat? Veggie waste, peels, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and bags. Avoid dairy, meat, bones, grease, oil, citrus rinds, pet feces, and pet litter. Any paper that recycles should break down well for use in your bin- old cardboard boxes, newspaper, junk mail. Leaves can be problematic. The worms love them, but they can mat easily, so if you use them, mix them liberally with other food. Yard waste is also a great addition.

Worms require a bit of grit, so add a handful or so of sand when you add fresh bedding. Egg shells and limestone are also good additions. They serve as grit, plus donate some of their nutrients.

The process can be a bit smelly and a bit messy. The bin is best located away from the house. Drainage holes will leak onto a deck or patio. Despite the best efforts to avoid them, insects will be attracted to the bins. A shady corner of the garden would be a good home, with the compost and castings housed right where you’ll use them.

Worms take 3-5 months to process a full bin. When harvest time nears, don’t feed the worms for a couple of weeks. Dump the bin onto a tarp and separate out the worms. Guides say the worms will crawl down into smaller piles, which makes sorting easier. You scoop off a layer, then wait for the worms to move further down. My experience says that at some point, you’ll give in and end up taking some to the garden after finding most of them to replenish the bin.

An alternate method involves dividing the bin in half, pushing finished compost to one side and adding fresh bedding to the other. With only the new side covered, wait 2-3 weeks for the worms to migrate across. I haven’t tried this method, but worm farming has taught me that the little beasties don’t always act as they are expected to do.

Keep the bin out of direct sunlight and protect it from bitter winter temperatures. Some suggest storing the bin in a basement or garage, but my experience has shown that between the leakage, the occasional odor, and the attraction of pests, the bin is best kept away from the house in a sheltered area of the yard or garden.

The tub can be wrapped in plastic or insulated with bales of hay. The breakdown of waste should generate enough heat to keep the worms alive. Our worms made it through subzero temperatures and harsh, windy conditions in this way. They simply crawled to the middle of the bin when the cold was the worst.

Creating compost is a great feeling. It is a fun process, occasionally a bit gross, but fascinating to watch. Adding worms to the mix produces not only compost, but valuable worm castings (their waste). This combination is one of the best soil improvements out there due to the rich nutrient content.

Resources for worm farming and composting with worms:
http://www.wormwoman.com/acatalog/index.html
http://www.cityfarmer.org/wormcomp61.html
http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/org/caer/ce/eek/earth/recycle/compost2.htm
http://www.css.cornell.edu/compost/worms/basics.html

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Posted under Home Environment, Organic Garden.

Article By: Alice Moon

Alice Moon

Profile: Alice holds a degree in Political Science and the four highest awards in Girl Scouting. Once an intern at the prestigious Smithsonian Institute and the National Zoo in Washington DC, she now makes her living as a writer. A gluten free vegan, she can frequently be found foraging in the countryside or at the local farmer’s market. In her free time, she enjoys keeping fit through yoga, martial arts, biking and hiking. Alice lives in the rural Indiana countryside where the cows can observe her antics. She is frequently chased by farm dogs as she runs the back roads. My new online dating advice site is INDATE http://jamestwohats.com/indate/

Website: http://jamestwohats.com/quartremoon/

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