There’s been a lot of buzz about worm composting – and for good reason. Worm composting produces 100% natural, nutrient-rich compost and concentrated soil conditioner. It’s easy to do, has minimal cost, requires minimal space, safe, educational and fun!
The average household has 3 lbs. of food waste a week that gets thrown into the trash. That works out to 156 lbs. a year per household going to the landfill. That’s 156 lbs. dragged to the curb, 156 lbs. being lifted and tossed by the garbage man and 156 lbs being hauled to the dump by a gas guzzling truck. So, let's get started!
Types of worms:
Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida), nicknamed for the way the react to sunlight, are the best worms for composting. The white worms typically found in the soil, night crawlers, are great for aerating the soil but do not compost as well as their red relatives.
Perfect house for worms:
Wood is best, but plastic works if it has air-holes. An ideal bin is about 4 cubic feet (2’x2’x1’), but any bin will work! Lids are nice additions to keep critters from digging for food – or to keep kitty’s from leaving unwelcome buried presents. If using a plastic bin, allow for drainage by drilling 8 - 14 pencil-width holes in the bottom, depending upon box size.
General guidelines for bin size and the amount of compost, allow for approximately one square foot of surface area for every pound of waste to be composted. Most bins are typically between 8 to 12 inches in depth.
Initial bedding can be a mixture of leaves, shredded newspaper, sawdust, dead plant material, compost and/or peat-moss with the addition of a few handfuls of dirt. Water the mixture enough so that it feels like wrung-out sponge. Then, lift the bedding material carefully to create pockets of air. This helps to control odors and aids in ventilation.
Although red wigglers flourish between 50 - 77 degrees, they can be fairly tolerant. In hotter weather make sure to keep the soil moist and give the box shade. When it freezes, if you have a smaller mobile box, bring it into the garage.
What to feed your worms:
Fruit/peels, baked beans, cooked/uncooked vegetable matter, cereal, coffee grounds/filters, bread items, tea leaves/bags, grains, shredded newspaper, ground egg shells, garden clippings, etc.
What NOT to feed your worms:
Meat wastes, bones, pet feces, too much fat/diary, non-organic materials such as metal, plastic, etc.
How much do they eat?
Worms eat their own body weight each day. One pound of worms will eat in a 2’ x 2’ x 1’ bin, in good living conditions, will eat 4 pounds of kitchen waste each week. Like people, worms need a balance diet of lots of fruit, vegetables and grains with much smaller amounts of proteins, dairy products and fat.
Troubleshooting: Odors and Bugs:
If your bin is yucky, then there is a problem. Odors come from organic matter exposed to the air and rotting. When feeding your worms, be sure to cover food scraps in soil – having a trusty little cultivator on hand is nice (that’s the hand-tool with the three-pronged fork).
Bugs also will show up if organic matter is exposed. Burying food keeps other critters out and makes the worm’s job easier. For additional protection you can lay a burlap bag, old rug or piece of material over the soil. Just be sure that the weave is not so tight that there is no air-flow. Worms have to breathe too!
Using the compost:
Because worm castings (worm poop) is so incredibly rich in phosphorous and nitrogen the compost can and should be used sparingly. Sprinkle a thin layer on the top of the soil, without touching the plant stems. When you water the nutrients will be washed into the soil and be distributed evenly, feeding your plants. This is great for all types of plants, your vegetable garden and indoor/outdoor potted plants.
After a period of 8 to 10 weeks has passed, you will notice that most of the original bedding material as disappeared. In its place, you will find a rich and earthy layer of worm castings, which comprise the bulk of the compost. A good way to tell when you've reached these point is by looking at the volume of your material. Compost tends to take up much less room than bedding material, so you can expect the overall level of your compost to have decreased significantly.
Another way of retreiving compost without worms, is by alternating the side of the bin that you feed. Feed on one side of the bin for a couple weeks, then start feeding on the other side. The worms will migrate towards the food.
Shop & Support!
Official Worm Tea Tester Coffee/Tea Mug
Display your love of worm composting with this humorous mug while supporting Placer Nature Center's programming. Great conversation starter! Share your knowledge about worm composting and all the healthy effects!
Front: Official Worm Tea Tester
Back: Retro Placer Nature Center logo
Buy a mug for yourself or as a gift here!