17 April 2008

How to Set Up a Home Vermicompost System

Growing a garden has too many benefits to list. Even if you do not have time to dig in the yard, you can help the earth by feeding your food scraps to a bin of Organic material makes up two-thirds of the waste in any city. The food in that waste can be recycled through the use of worm composting.
Compost worm information and starter kits will be given away this Saturday when Muskogee Farmer’s Market celebrates Earth Day.
The primary benefits of worm composting include the production of “black gold” worm castings to add to potted plants or back the earth and a way to use up kitchen scraps without sending them to the landfill.

Build a compost worm bin for your home or apartment —
1) Buy a plastic or wooden box 10 to 18 inches deep and drill air holes around the sides about half way up and drainage holes in the bottom. Compost worms, red wigglers or Eisenia fetida, cannot function in light so do not use a clear or see-through container.
2) Compost worms need air to breathe through their skin so make sure the container is not closed with a tight lid. If the container came with a lid you can drill holes in it to use as a top or put it under the compost bin to catch any water that drips out.
3) Worms move by wiggling their muscles and they need loose bedding to crawl around so put moist torn newspaper and shredded leaves in the bin for bedding. They will eat the bedding so make sure it is free of insect spray. Other bedding choices include damp shredded office paper, straw, or moist shredded cardboard.
4) Put food in the container a few days before you add the worms because they have no teeth and have a hard time eating fresh fruits and vegetables. If you cut the food into small pieces it will be ready for them sooner.
5) Bury the food a few inches below the surface and change the feeding spot each time.
6) Food to add includes funny smelling leftovers from the refrigerator (no meat), bread - even if it is moldy or dry, spaghetti, fruit and vegetable trimmings - no matter what condition they are in, eggshells, oatmeal, leftover cooked cereal, cornmeal, teabags, coffee grounds with the filters, etc.
7) Do not feed them meat, fat or dairy.
8) Redworms do not live in soil; they live in leaf piles, manure and dead plants. Gather worms from under a pile of leaves not from under the soil level.
9) Add more bedding when the first bedding seems to have disappeared. Sprinkle a little water on the worm home to keep it as moist as a wrung out sponge but not wet.
10) If the bed is kept at around 70 to 80 degrees the worms will eat everything quickly. In fact, they eat their weight in food every two days. At 45 degrees they hibernate and eat nothing. At 30 degrees they freeze.
11) Lots of other critters could come to live in the worm bin including bacteria, fungi, springtails, sow bugs, fruit flies, and mites.
12) If you plan to keep the compost kit in the house and many people do, put a kitchen towel over the top to keep light off of the worms and to keep fruit flies away. Lots of compost worm bins are kept under the kitchen sink where it stays dark and warm and where food scraps can be easily added.
13) Be sure the bin is draining so it never smells bad. If it starts to smell, add dry shredded newspaper and check the drainage holes.
14) After three to five months dump the vermicompost bin onto a surface where you can provide a strong light. Make several small piles. The worms will wiggle down to the bottom leaving the compost on the top. Remove the compost, wait for the worms to go further down and remove compost again. Put the remaining worms and vermicompost back into the bin with clean bedding and food.
15) Use the compost you harvested. Add it to water to make compost tea, sprinkle it on top of houseplant soil or mix it with potting soil, vermiculite or perlite. Feed your plants with it.
For decades, back yard gardeners have piled yard waste to let it decompose and then put the resulting mulch into their vegetable and flower beds.

As cities around the United States look for ways to reduce the amount of garbage going into landfills, they set up recycling centers, yard waste shredding operations and public compost areas. In a state-wide program to dramatically reduce trash, CA distributed worm composting containers and compost worm vouchers to everyone on trash routes (www.zerowaste.ca.gov).

The red wrigglers for Earth Day at Muskogee Farmer’s Market came from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm in Pennsylvania, www.unclejimswormfarm.com, and Rising Mist Organics in Kansas, www.wackyworldsof.com.

Go green this Earth Day and start feeding your leftovers and scraps to a bin of compost worms to keep that garbage out of the landfills.

16 comments:

Ben said...

Composting with worms is great fun! I love feeding and caring for my 1000 worms that I bought after my parents gave me their worm farm that they were not using.

Be careful and make sure that when you put the worm castings in pots that they don't contain any worms or worm eggs. Worms are pot plants worst nightmare, as they break down the well drained potting mix into a heavy worm casting that does not aid plant growth, it's almost like growing your plants in fertile clay.

Martha said...

Hi Ben-
OK I have questions.
For starters how do you know you have 1,000 worms?
We sorted worms today for tomorrow's give-away and I have no idea how many are in there. We bought twice: $30 and $20 for a pound and a half-pound.

Then, how do you sort the eggs and tiny worms out of the compost part?
Thanks, Martha

Ben said...

Martha
I'm not really sure if I have 1000 worms, but the people I bought them off sold them in lots of 500, 1000, or 2000. I think they just grab a large handful and put them in the post. I think I got a bag with 500 grams in it.

Sorting eggs is a tough one and sometimes can't be avoided, but baby worms can be forced away if you leave your castings in the light, then scooping the top 2cm off and leaving it for another few minutes till they move down.

Martha said...

Ben -
Someone else said that they microwave or freeze foodstuff before they put it into the worm bin in order to reduce the number of other critters in there.
Would that help keep down the fruit fly and other insect population?
Martha

Chris tries Worm Composting said...

Hello there! I've been reading a good number of blog posts where the worm bins are kept under the kitchen sink. I think my concern is finding worms crawling around the kitchen. In your experience, do they crawl out through the drainage holes?

Martha said...

Hi - Nope they do not crawl away. However! Keeping the worm bin under the kitchen sink will bring fruit flies to your kitchen. We keep ours in the garage just outside the kitchen during the winter.
The worms burrow into the wet stuff and plenty of them live even when the temps outside go below freezing.
My brother has worm bins in New Mexico and leaves them outside all winter. They burrow deep inside and do OK.

Chris tries Vermicomposting said...

Well that certainly gives me something to think about. I've read though that covering the food scraps will keep the flies away. I haven't experienced any flies so far.

You know what? I also read that that we shouldn't mix up the food scraps or the bedding too much since it will heat the bin.

Martha said...

Keep the bin covered with dry, torn newsprint (tear from top to bottom into strips).
Heat comes from rotting food and the worms will move away from anything they don't like.
When you check the bin, lift a few layers of newspaper and compost to see how they are doing.
Mostly, there's nothing to worry about.

Chris tries Vermicomposting said...

Hi! So how's your worm bin now? Any new blog posts coming up? ;-)

Martha said...

The worms are doing their work very well, Chris. The tower is about ready to be dumped and cleaned for the fall. The bottom container is ful of castings.

Our weather is just now cooling so it will be a month or two before we move the bin into the garage for the winter.

How is your vermicomposting project going?

Chris said...

Well I hope to read more about your adventures.

I just did a worm count earlier. I'm still pretty excited because I'm new. In my small bin, I introduced about 8 worms just over a month ago. I counted 36 earlier, but that includes a lot of babies. Still, that's amazing!

Martha said...

When you separate the castings as you clean the bin, have you noticed the egg cases? They are light brown and about the size of the head of a straight pin.
And, each egg has a little tail (sort of like those cartoons of sperm).
I try to watch for them and put them back into the bin each time.

Chris said...

Strangely enough, I don't think I've seen worm eggs yet. I've read that they're supposed to be yellow. Maybe they're just mixed up with the other material. The worm count got to 48 before I disposed of the bin. ;-)

Martha said...

Disposed of the bin? Did you give up on vermicomposting?

Chris said...

Oops! Wrong word choice there. No, I'm still as addicted as ever. ;-)

Someone purchased the bin. I'm glad to part with it because it gave me a chance to make a new bin! I think making worm bins is therapeutic.

Martha said...

My poor wormies need their box emptied.
Fortunately, their hotel is 4 stories high - but that bottom bin is full of black gold ready to be put on my ever growing lettuce project.