Fear my multitude of Evil Minions!
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.
- There are over 4000 different species of earthworms alive today.
- The largest earthworm can grow up to 22 feet long! (Luckily only found in South America… unless you are Kevin Bacon or Reba McEntire.)
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
- 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.
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.
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
- Coffee grounds & (natural) filters
- Breads (in small amounts)
What not to feed:
- Onions, garlic, similar (not harmful to the worms, they’ll just make your bin smell until consumed)
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.
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.
Does anyone else vermicompost? Any tips or tricks to share?