Vermicompost – I’m a Worm Overlord

Fear my multitude of Evil Minions!

worms

I took a big first step with my last post on the importance of (and how to) compost traditionally.  Yeah, I admitted I might have a problem.

Case in point…

I’m saddened to say things have gotten worse and those large pallet bins were apparently just a gateway.  Unfortunately for my skeeved out wife, I’ve progressed.  That means working smarter, not harder.  You see, I’ve outsourced additional composting to a few thousand slimy, spineless garbage eaters.

Hi, my name is Mike and I’m a Vermicomposter.

Yep.  We’re the proud parents of composting worms.  Indoor composting worms.

Joanna was thrilled.

Before I show you their de-luxe rubbermaid apartment and how to best care for your subterranean underlings, here are a few fun facts I learned about worms along this journey.

  1. There are over 4000 different species of earthworms alive today.
  2. The largest earthworm can grow up to 22 feet long! (Luckily only found in South America… unless you are Kevin Bacon or Reba McEntire.)
  3. Out of those 4000, only four worms are suitable for composting kitchen scraps.  So don’t just go to your driveway on a rainy day and start collecting.

The specific worm you want for this type of work is the Red Wiggler.  If you want to be all snooty about it and impress your friends – call them Eisenia fetida.

There are a bunch of outlets that specialize in Red Wigglers.  I placed an order through Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, and in just a few days had 2000 hungry dudes in a burlap sack delivered straight to the ol’ homestead.

Now what?

None of the plastic totes we had laying around were large enough considering how quickly these suckers can reproduce, so I went and purchased this guy on sale.

bin

Pretty much any container will do.  Go for surface area over depth though.  Red Wigglers only live in the top three inches of soil or bedding.  Opaque is a bonus as worms (obviously) prefer the dark.

Wormies need their oxygen too, even though they have no lungs and absorb it through their skin… so drill a few air holes on each side.

binHole1

binHole2

I had plans to attach some window screen or something over those holes, but in the two months our tote has been wormy, we haven’t had any escapees, nor any uninvited guests.  A happy, balanced worm bin keeps everyone wanting to stay inside, does not attract unwelcome pests like fruit flies, and has no odor.

Next, Let’s fill up that container with something comfy.

bedding1

See that plastic trash bag?  It’s full of years of shredded bills and other documents my wife apparently brought to the new house.  It’s like she knew we were future worm farmers!

The bedding can be made of many materials, and a mix is best.

  • Shredded paper (nothing glossy)
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Dry Leaves
  • Paper egg cartons

Note that dirt is not on that list.  While you do want a small handful of dirt or finished compost sprinkled throughout to give the wormies a little grit, you don’t just fill up a tub with Mother Earth.  That’s a vermicomposting no-no.

Everything needs to be moist.  Tear it all up and let it soak in water for a few minutes.

water

bedding2

bedding3

 

Then dump all the water out.

Wring out your bedding.  Perfect stuff is when you squeeze it and produce just a drop or two.  If you still get a stream, it’s too wet.

Fluff it all up to make it nice and airy, then add your one and only handful of garden soil.

compost

 

Nestle in your garbage eating babies.  Then pull back the bedding, give them a little food, and cover everything up.

What to feed:

  • Most fruits
  • Veggies
  • Coffee grounds & (natural) filters
  • Breads (in small amounts)

What not to feed:

  • Citrus
  • Onions, garlic, similar (not harmful to the worms, they’ll just make your bin smell until consumed)
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy

How much to feed:

Red Wigglers can eat up to 50% of their weight each day.  1000 worms weigh approximately one pound.  So theoretically, my initial 2000 worms could convert one pound of scraps per day.  There are some variables of course, such as temperature, that come into play.

Things will start off slowly at first and you don’t want to feed them more until the previous meal is gone. Spread the food around and always feed in a new spot.  I mark my covered food pile with a rock so I know where to feed next.  Every few feedings, add additional bedding and always keep it slightly moist.

How to harvest the compost:

The worms consume the bedding and scraps, and their manure (called castings) is some of the absolute best plant food and soil amendment possible.  Seriously, go Google how much a few pounds of organic worm castings will cost you.

There are several ways to mine your black gold.  After a few months for this size of a bin, you can stop feeding on one side of the bin.  All of your wormy workers will travel to the side with food, allowing you to harvest the other side and replace it with fresh bedding.

Or, you can set up a multi-level bin where you drill holes in the bottom of a second tote, fill it with bedding and food, and set it on top of your original (now bottom) tote.  When the worms run out of food there, they’ll travel up through the holes into the top tote.  Repeat and rotate every few months.

Easy peasy.

There you go.  That’s everything you need to become a Worm Overlord for yourself.  Trust me, your spouse will love it and this falls right into my personal food protection mantra of designing systems that work harder than I do.

–Mike

Does anyone else vermicompost?  Any tips or tricks to share?

Posted in Compost, Vermicompost Tagged with: , ,
8 comments on “Vermicompost – I’m a Worm Overlord
  1. Carol says:

    Delighted to find your blog. I learned so much reading this tonight. I will ask my husband for red wigglers for my birthday….

    • Mike says:

      Sounds like a wonderful birthday present to me! Let me know how your worm adventures go.

  2. Vickie says:

    My hubby and I gave each other worms for Christmas in 2012, so my worm farm has been going for a little over a year! I love them! They reside in my kitchen and have never, ever smelled! The worm tea I get and the composted “stuff” is like liquid gold for my plants! Glad to see you made your own bin!
    Vickie recently posted…Making Ground BeefMy Profile

  3. Mike says:

    Outstanding. Now that you’re a worm veteran, how much in scraps do you think you give them? How often? How many wigglers did you start with?

    Our bin lived in the garage all year, but when temps started dipping in the fall, they moved into my heated Man Cave area off the garage. Wife is supportive of a lot of my wacky projects, but not anything creepy indoors. 🙂

    • Vickie says:

      I started out with a pound of the red wigglers, but a few weeks into the project I had a mass exodus – I think because it was just too wet for the little wigglers. 🙁 When my hubby and I came home from a long weekend, the poor little ones were scattered about on the floor – stiff as nails and looking like little itty-bitty strips of jerky! We probably lost half of the worms. But, never fear, I trooped on and wanted to see if the rest of them would survive and repopulate the farm, and that’s exactly what they did! Now I know to keep several trays going at one time, so the worms can crawl to either wetter or dryer trays as needed.
      Vickie recently posted…Making Ground BeefMy Profile

  4. I have always refused to go out to the compost pile after dark, just in case there were “guests” out there… but my husband took the compost out the other night, met a “guest”, made an extremely unmasculine noise, and insisted that we find some other way to compost.
    I think this will be it. It sounds like a good project for the Boy, anyway! 😉
    Christine @ Once Upon a Time in a Bed of Wildflowers recently posted…My Week on Wednesday… May 21My Profile

    • Mike says:

      Uh oh. What kind of guest? There are some things you can do to protect a large outdoor compost pile from some guests like raccoons. But mice are wily little buggers that thwart my every attempt.

      You won’t get as much finished compost out of a worm bin, but what you do get is so much more potent and beneficial than from a typical pile. A little goes a long way and is great for seedlings and transplanting.

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We are located in the Dayton, OH area. Our goal for this space is an informative companion to our primary passions - the Workshops we facilitate on various topics and the Private Consultation given to clients as Homestead and Regenerative Agriculture Design Consultants.

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