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Worm Composting: Vermicomposting Basics For Beginners

by Helen
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Worm Composting – The Basics

What is vermicomposting or worm composting?  Vermicompost is the product of the decomposition process using various species of worms… While  “Vermi-” means “relating to a worm or worms.” from the Latin vermis' worm.'  Hence, vermicomposting means making compost using worms, and it's the craft of feeding worms your food leftovers.  The worms turn your food scraps into nutrient-rich organic fertilizer, commonly known as humus, worm manure, worm castings, or worm feces – excellent for gardens, lawns, and potted plants. 

Is Compost A Zero Waste?

I've been researching worm composting and more on zero waste living lately. It's incredible how much food waste we produce as a society and how much ends up in landfills. Worm composting is a great way to turn food scraps into nutrient-rich soil for plants. Plus, it's a zero waste solution since the worms eat the food scraps, and there's no need for any additional packaging or disposal methods. I'm excited to start my worm composting bin and do my part to reduce waste.  It's a simple and effective way to reduce your impact on the planet and move towards a zero waste lifestyle.

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Worm Composting

It might sound like a daunting undertaking, but it is pretty simple.  But you will need a few items: a worm composting bin, some organic waste, worm bedding materials, some worms, and the right mindset to care for these little wigglers.  

In this article, we will cover the basics, for example, what materials you need to start and where to get your worms.  Also, the pros and cons of vermicomposting, common mistakes beginners typically make, and how to avoid them!  We will give you all the details needed to be successful at vermicomposting.

My Experience My In-Ground Worm Compost

I've started eco gardening and working toward more sustainability by growing fruits and vegetables.  For the last year, I've also been in ground vermicomposting.  I have to say, and it is much easier than I initially thought it would be.  My worms survived the harsh winter ice storm we had this past winter.  Raising my worms where they can migrate into my Vego garden bed will also help keep them cool in the hot Texas heat.  I also have a compost bin to throw food scraps and other items into.  I used to think I couldn't have an urban worm farm, but I was mistaken.

Worm Composting Bins

Your worms will need a comfy, dark, and moist place to call home. Therefore, the first thing you need to start vermicomposting is a worm bin. Although not all worm bins are created equal, materials like plastic and wood are more suitable to house your worm farm.

It's crucial to mention that the bin cannot have any antimicrobial properties because bacteria and other beneficial microbes are required for the composting process to take place. You have a couple of options for your compost bin. First, purchase commercial bins or build your own bin.

Whichever route you decide to go, there are some attributes a suitable worm bin should have:

  • A lid to keep out the rain and deter predators
  • Drainage holes at the bottom
  • Numerous holes on the sides
  • There is enough room to fit sufficient bedding, so all the worms can move about.
  • Sufficient space above the bedding for air to circulate and let the bedding and fertilizer mix grow

Type Of Bins To Use For Outdoor or Indoor Worm Farms

The Traditional One (Plastic Bins)

You don't need a particular bin type when making a worm bin.  Although, you can use any plastic bin if it can hold more than 3 gallons.

For example, suitable bins like buckets, trash cans, tubs, and other similar items are typically used by people who do not want to spend much money when starting their vermicomposting journey.  You will need to poke holes through the plastic bins to aerate and allow air to flow through the worm bin for the worm's access to oxygen.

27 Gal. Tough Storage Tote in Black with Yellow Lid

Worm Composting

Stacked Trays

Trays are one of the better options for vermin, making them easier to maintain during harvesting. Since they don't get very heavy, they can be moved if needed, and they'll be easy to lift. Stacked bins are a prevalent choice if you prefer to keep an indoor vermicomposting system. They are built for space saving by directly stacking bins with holes in the bottom, allowing the worms to travel up and leave castings and bedding behind, which is more accessible than traditional options.

The moisture retention is terrific because the trays nestle on each other and are sealed with a tight-fitting lid. The system's base typically comes with a drain or spigot, which allows for draining liquid quickly and collecting worm tea.

VermiHut Plus 5-Tray Worm Composting Bin – Easy Setup and Sustainable Design

vermicomposting

Flow-Through Bin Syste

Some worms prefer to live near the top; the flow-through worm bin was designed to address some of the weaknesses and problems associated with traditional worm bins. Using this method, you add the organic materials and worms to the top of the container while collecting worm casting – worm poop from the bottom. There are bars or wires in the middle which prevent everything from falling out. Since they are rather messy, flow-through bins are more suited for outdoor compost bins.

Worm Farm Compost Bin

  • Continuous Flow Through Vermi Composter for Worm Castings; 
  • Worm Tea Maker;
  • Indoor/Outdoor;

In Ground Worm Composting Bin

The best worm composting bin I have found – Vego Garden In-Ground Worm Composter makes sustainable eco gardening and more efficient gardening much easier by turning your organic food scraps into rich, nutrient-dense garden bed material. Getting set up is simple: dig a hole in the ground of your Vego Garden, raised garden bed, or flower bed, and bury the Worm Composting Bin. Fill the worm compost bin with organic waste and some worms, and watch nature do the work. It is that simple!

Pro Tips

Bury the composter bin 11 inches deep and fill it with about 5 gallons until the small holes in the top are uncovered, which are essential for airflow, circulation, and odor control. Make a mound of the soil around the sides of the composter so that it is higher above the rest of the bed. Use more than 1 composter for more extensive beds to produce enough worm castings.

Vego Garden In-Ground Worm Composter

vermicomposting
vermicomposting

Composting Worms Need Bedding

Bedding Materials

Worms live in worm bin bedding. The bedding has to simulate the worms' natural habitat for them to thrive, and the bedding has to be added to the worm bin so worms can be set free. You can use different materials for bedding, including shredded brown cardboard, pure peat moss, or coconut coir; you can opt to use one type, but worms like various types of bedding.  

pH Neutrality

Maintaining a proper worm bin is essential and should maintain a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, an excellent value for many kinds of composting worms. A hydrometer purchased on Amazon or a hardware store can measure the pH in your worm bin. 

A poorly managed worm bin can be deadly to your worms, especially if there is a pH issue. Negligible pH problems can cause sour odors in your worm bin, odors similar to vinegar, and can ruin any worm compost already made.

If your worm population is crawling up and out of your worm bin for no apparent reason, check your worm composting bins' conditions, as there can be a problem.

Moisture Retention

Worm bin bedding must remain sufficiently moist to allow the worms to breathe.  If the bedding dries out, it will suffocate the worms and decrease their population.  On the other hand, excess moisture can cause the worm bin to smell and have the texture of mud.  Ideally, the bedding should be 80% moist and wet enough to the touch, but no water should come out when you squeeze it out.  We recommend the consistency of a wrung-out sponge!

Maintaining a proper worm bin is essential and should maintain a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, an excellent value for many kinds of composting worms.  A hydrometer purchased on Amazon or a hardware store can measure the pH in your worm bin. 

A poorly managed worm bin can be deadly to your worms, especially if there is a pH issue.  Negligible pH problems can cause sour odors in your worm bin, odors similar to vinegar, and can ruin any worm compost already made.

If your worm population is crawling up and out of your worm bin for no apparent reason, check your worm composting bins' conditions, as there can be a problem.

Oxygen Aeration

Since worms do not have lungs, they will breathe efficiently if they can access sufficient air and moist skin.  When worms eat, they tunnel through organic materials and soil.  These tunnels help create air holes, leading to a healthier vermicompost bin.

Most Common Worm Bedding Materials For Composting

The key to maintaining your worm bin beneficial is to mix various bedding materials and continue to add them to your worm bin regularly. Vermicomposters should refill their worm bins more often.

When the vermicomposting bin bedding is in good condition, your worms will thrive, and the production of valuable soil amendments will increase. To achieve the best results, be sure to mix the following materials in your worm boxes to acquire a good balance:

  • Shredded brown corrugated cardboard
  • Coconut coir
  • Shredded paper like newspaper – not bleached white office paper
  • Aged compost
  • Peat moss
  • Straw and hay
  • Fall leaves and other yard waste
  • Wood chips 

Worm Food – The Good and the Bad

It's a common misconception that you can throw all your kitchen waste into your worm composting bin, but that's not true. Specifically, worms eat a specific diet to make usable compost that aids plant growth.

The first thing to understand as a beginner vermicomposter is that worms do not eat fruit and vegetable scraps in the condition we put them in. Instead, they wait for microbial communities to cover the food waste and eat away.

The best food for worms comes from plants, including grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. The plant matter is loaded with nutrients and vitamins worms need to produce the much-coveted worm castings. 

Worms do not have teeth; therefore, it is easier for their little mouths to take in soft and small food. Thus, they can digest food faster if it is:

  • Soft
  • Cut into small pieces with a knife or food processor
  • Somewhat moist
  • Buried in the bin – just below the surface for red composting worms

The best worm composting bin food for worms are as follows:

  • Fruit scraps
  • Fruit peels
  • Vegetable waste
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Non-colored and shredded paper
  • Small chunks of bread and grains

Also, note there is also food with harmful chemicals that are toxic to our friend worms. First, avoid acidic foods because they destabilize the bin's pH, and worm bins require a neutral pH to thrive. If the worm container becomes too acidic, it will smell rotten and attract pests like fruit flies, threatening the worms inside the bin. 

The following are food waste that should NOT be put in a worm composting bin:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Citrus fruits
  • Spicy food
  • Salty food products
  • Sawdust
  • Carbon or bleached paper
  • Grass clippings from treated lawns 

Lastly, The Worms - The Wigglers!

Worms are usually considered disgusting and slimy animals by some, and worms supply agriculturists with the essential soil structure for proper plant growth.  Not all worms are fitted for the job, though. 

The Red Wiggler worm (Eisenia fetida) is the best and King of Composting.  They are known for their outstanding composting skills and the ability to multiply their population in months.  Besides these earth miracle workers, other compost worms work well in the composting system.

I got my worms through the mail from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm on Amazon because 1000 worms were not expensive, and it was easier than collecting them by digging.  Although, I needed red wigglers, not earthworms.

Worms Used for Vermicomposting

The most common and best-suited vermicomposting worm is the Epigeic Worm.  Vermicomposting is generally done with epigeic worms.  Since they prefer topsoil, it requires less burrowing and allows them to feed more efficiently on organic scraps.  Also, they flourish when placed in a worm composting bin or worm.  When you compost at home, you will have less waste, and better for the environment.

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