Monday, March 17, 2014

Worm Composting

Vermicomposting (worm composting) is a great way to compost at home.  Red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) can eat over half of their body weight per day and create a substance called worm castings... aka. worm poop.  Castings contain beneficial bacteria, enzymes, minerals, and organic materials from plants.  They are a great soil amendment and home-made fertilizer. 
Red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida)

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden hosted a worm composting class last week and they had a few kits left over, so I decided to become a worm farmer!  I got a lot of great information from the presentation prepared by Karen Carter, Henrico agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Now, I have a confession to make- I have tried this before.  It was in my first apartment in Ambler, PA, and I was trying to worm farm in my hall closet.  I always woke up to dried out worms on the floor who had tried to traverse the desert of living room carpet, on their journey to who-knows-where.  I also had fruit flies... a very large number of fruit flies.  I had to tell my guests to put a coaster on top of their glasses of red wine so they didn't get floating fruit flies.  It wasn't pretty and I haven't tried worm farming for about 5 years, but I'm sure that this time will be better because I'm better educated!

I learned from Karen Carter that my problems were very common and it meant that my worm bin was unbalanced.  The worms were crawling out of the bin because there was too much moisture and the fruit fly population exploded because I was overfeeding and I didn't bury my food waste, I just dumped it on top. 

Here is Karen's materials list:
  • Bin with a lid, made of opaque, flexible plastic- 14 gallons(24" x 16" x 12")
  • Shredded newspaper- 4 lbs
  • Water- 1 gallon
  • Compost and coffee grounds
  • Worms-1/2 pound per cubic foot volume of bin
  • Drill with a 1/4-1/2" bit
First, I drilled holes in the upper 1/3 of the plastic bin and also in the lid, approximately 2-3" apart (the worms need good ventilation).  Then, I added moistened newspaper (squeezing out any excess water), compost, and coffee grounds to the bin and mixed everything around.  Then I added the worms under a layer of the newspaper.  It seemed pretty easy! 
14 gallon bin with holes drilled in the upper portion and lid.
Shredded newspaper and compost
As always, there is something that I would do differently next time- wear latex gloves when you are soaking and ringing out the newspaper or you will dye your hands like I did!
Mixing newspaper, compost, and coffee grounds.  This could probably be accomplished in a less messy way, with a shovel or stick, but hands work well too.
Adding red wigglers to the newspaper mix.  These were covered with a layer of newspaper.
I'm going to keep my worm bin in my basement and feed them tasty things like coffee grounds, banana peels, melon rinds, and lots of other things from the kitchen.  Lewis Ginter's Adult Education Coordinator, Phyllis Laslett, gave me a good rule of thumb for worm feeding- they are vegan- so I'll only feed them raw vegetable products.  She also said that they aren't fond of onions, so I'll put those peels in my regular compost bin.  I'll cover the scraps with layers of the newspaper so the compost won't smell and to keep the fruit flies down.  Wish me luck!

Keys to worm bin success:
  • Good ventilation and drainage
  • 70% moisture to breathe
  • Temperatures between 60-85 degrees F
  • Bedding and food supply
  • Darkness

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