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Everything you wanted to know about composting with worms, but were afraid to ask:

 

Sharon McLachlan is the owner/operator of Sharon's Worm World in Romona, California and can be contacted by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by phone at (760) 788-4423.

Worm composting systems are neat, easy, fun and odorless. They work well for people living in apartments, condo’s or just about anywhere. This method of composting is also practical for people whose physical activity is limited or impaired. This is a great family project and works well in classrooms. Busy redworms turn food scrapes into some of the best organic fertilizer on earth, called worm castings. Composting with worms is called vermiculture and is relatively effortless.Setting up the bin the first time and periodically harvesting the castings is all that is required. 

CHOOSE A CONTAINER

If you choose to use wood, you must not use wood that has been treated with chemicals or paint. This could be toxic to your worms. Other than that wood is a very good container, although, unless you already have the wood on hand, it could be very costly. You can always use an old dresser drawer, oak barrel or anything else just laying around. Recycle. If you choose plastic, I feel you have many more options. Trash cans, Rubbermaid containers , (my personal favorite), buckets and more. Your container should be at least 12" inches deep. The rule of thumb for a bin size is two square feet of surface area per person. An average two person home would need a bin about 2'x2' which would equal 4 square feet.  

PREPARING THE CONTAINER

Regardless what you choose, the basics are the same. Make sure that your container has plenty of holes drilled in it for aeration, oxygen for your worms. Drill holes in the bottom, sides and the top, if you have one. Then you need a covering for the bottom of your container. You can use, an old sheet, fiberglass screen or week block fabric cloth. Place this inside your container. Now you are ready to add “SHARON’S BAG OF WORMS”. The amount of bags you need to add depends on how large your container is. This object is to fill the container half full.  

FEEDING YOUR WORMS

About a quart of food scrapes per square foot of surface area per week. Be careful not to overfeed during the first two weeks. The worms will need time to adjust to their new home and won’t eat as much as they normally would.

Worms eat fruit and vegetable scrapes, pasta, bread, cooked beans and other kitchen leftovers. Worms love coffee grounds and filters, tea bags with the staple removed, paper towels and napkins. Egg shells are a real favorite and the hard particles help them digest their food. Be sure to grind up the egg shells. And speaking of grinding. Worms to not have teeth. So, if you would like your vermicomposting to go quickly, I suggest that you use your blender or food processor to grind up the food the worms. Once you have prepared the food for the worms, go to one of the corners of your container and gently pull back some of the bedding and make a pocket for the food. Then just pour the food into the pocket and then gently put the bedding back over the food. You will alternate corners every time that you feed. If you have a really large container, just go about 8" inches away and make a pocket. Before you feed again, make sure the worms have consumed what you have already given them. It helps to cover the bedding with a folded newspaper and then cover the bin. If a lid did not come with your container, just make one up. By using a lid over your container, you are discouraging other critters from eating the food.

You must keep your worms moist, not flooded, but moist like a wrung out sponge. Worms are almost 80% water and they need the moisture to survive. Always keep your worms in a cool spot and never in the sun in a container.  

HARVESTING YOUR REDWORMS AND CASTINGS

You will be able to tell when you are ready to harvest when your bedding looks more like dirt than the bedding you started with. The worms will eat their weight a day in waste. The end result will be pure worm castings which contain 5 times more nitrogen,7 times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil. The worm castings are extremely rich in humic acid and improve the structure of your soil. Redworms don’t like living in their own waste, so they will be anxious to move up into the new bedding.

The best way to harvest is to use another bin the same size with holes drilled in the bottom. You place the new bin inside the old bin and place the new bedding and food in it. Please make sure and have holes drilled in the bottom of the bin that you place on top. The redworms will migrate from the bottom bin into the top bin with the new bedding and food. I suggest using shredded newspaper or computer paper for your new bedding. The worms are grown in composted horse manure.

You can use your harvested worm castings on your plants inside or out. You can also make a worm tea for your plants. Just soak 1 cup of worm castings in a gallon container overnight and pour on your plants, it may also be sprayed on the leaves.

If all this is too much for you, we sell the worm bin already set up with worms, bedding and directions for $50.00. Please feel free to call with any questions or problems you might have.

TROUBLE SHOOTING GUIDE FOR WORM COMPOSTING

 Symptom  Cause  Solution
Unpleasant Odor Food Overload Stop Feeding and Gently Stir the Bin
  Not Enough Air Circulation Add Fresh Bedding
  Unsuitable Materials Check for Wrong Feed
Worms Leaving Too Acidic (too many citrus peels and coffee grounds) Add Some Crushed Egg Shells and Cut Back on the Citrus
Fruit Flies Overfeeding Cover Your Feed with Newspaper
Worms Dying Not Enough Food Feed More
  Not Enough Air Flip Bedding From the Bottom to the Top
  Too Dry Sprinkle Lightly
  Too Wet Add Dry Bedding
  Time to Harvest Follow Harvest Instructions
Mold Growing Too Much Food and Bin is Too Warm

Stop Feeding Too Much, Add Bedding and Move Bin to a Cooler Spot. 

 

 

About the Author
Sharon McLachlan

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