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The Art of Vermicomposting

By Joe Romm on January 22, 2011 at 7:50 am

"The Art of Vermicomposting"

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We all know how beneficial composting can be for the environment. The Environmental Protection Agency even tells us so. But who knew worms could help out so much in the process?

Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is full of benefits. For starters, it speeds up the composting process, as worms eat up to 50 percent of their body weight in food daily. Vermicompost also serves as a nutrient-rich fertilizer and, as demonstrated by South Africa’s Mount Nelson Hotel, vermicomposting can even play a part in the fight against climate change.

The first step to vermicomposting is having a proper compost bin. For optimal temperature and moisture levels, it’s best to start with a wooden bin. You can also take a plastic tub, however, and poke holes in it. Once you find a bin, the next step is adding good bedding, which can consist of leaves and shredded paper. The bedding should be moist, but not too damp, because the worms can drown if the bin gets too wet.

Once you’ve prepared your bin you should figure out the best place to keep it. It should be a place that’s safe from other animals as well as extreme temperatures. A sufficient temperature for the bin is anywhere between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Bathrooms, patios, and even kitchens make for good storage areas.

After your bin is set up, though, the real fun begins: adding the worms! When preparing your compost bin you’ll want to employ the help of red wigglers. These worms live well together in close, dense areas, and they don’t burrow underground. It’s best to get your worms from a reputable worm farm online since they sell worms by the pound. And knowing the weight of your worms is important for knowing how much compost you can add to the bin. On average, you can get a pound of red wigglers for $20 plus shipping.

One important thing to remember is that your worm population will probably double around every three months. Be ready to build more compost bins and transfer some of the worms if they get too crowded in one bin. But there’s no need to make sure you have an equal number of male and female worms in order to have maximum reproduction. Worms are hermaphroditic, meaning they have both male and female sex organs, so any two worms can reproduce together.

Finally, it’s essential to know what to put in your bin for composting. If you’re not sure, HowStuffWorks explains what makes for good “worm food.” And if you think you’re an expert on what to feed your worms, take our own composting quiz and see just how compost-savvy you are.

This is a Center for American Progress repost.  Image via yelmworms.com.

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13 Responses to The Art of Vermicomposting

  1. Publius2012 says:

    Great Post! Vermicomposting is the shit!!! Red Wigglers are my favorite Annelids!

    The best resource is Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up & Maintain a Worm Composting System ($5-13 on Amazon).

    There may be more species of beetle, but there are more individual worms in the world than any other type of creature. Charles Darwin said, “It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly creatures.” There are 3,000 species of earthworms, ranging from two inches to eleven feet long. A typical earthworm has no lungs, teeth, or eyes but it has ten hearts, arranged in five pairs. Their skin detects changes in light.

    Earthworms are essential to life, because they aerate the soil, enabling plants to grow—without them, we’d all starve in short order. Cleopatra declared earthworms sacred: removing one from Egypt was an offense punishable by death.

    Earthworms are excellent composters. They can compost organic material faster than any composting system. Approximately 70% of the material we sent to landfills, including kitchen wastes, farmyard manures, and yard wastes, can be used to feed worms. If we did feed this material to the worms, the worms could give us 60% of the volume back as vermicompost fertilizer.

  2. adelady says:

    For novices to the game who don’t want to buy one of the commercial worm farm gizmos, this idea with polystyrene veg boxes is a great introduction.

    http://www.abc.net.au/creaturefeatures/make/wormfarm.htm

  3. monkeys says:

    It’s a scam. Natural worms work just as well.

  4. Nancy says:

    We’ve been worm composting for a few years with great results. The worms multiply like crazy. The compost is a great garden soil additive and can be used in your houseplants, too. It’s a great family project and kids will enjoy handling the worms and watching the process. The worm pee is a valuable byproduct and can be used as a pesticide and fertilizer.

  5. Peter Bellin says:

    I tried a worm composter (subsidized by the local solid waste agency), but it did not work. My worms died, probably from too much rain water getting in the bin one rainstorm. I have not tried it again.

    However, we do have two compost bins, and we constantly add our appropriate food waste and garden clippings there. The stuff magically turns into compost, and worms have found the compost bins. All we do is turn the compost when adding material, and clean it out (i.e. harvest compost) once or twice a years.

    We even put the dreaded citrus in the bins, but thet worms don’t seem to mind. Worms are supposed to hate citrus.

    Anyway, this is a good idea, to vermiculture or compost your kitchen waste, sans meat products.

  6. GFW says:

    Worms are definitely a good part of the composting process … but don’t buy worms. Let the worms in your backyard find the compost – they will in a hurry, if the contents are to their liking.

    Interesting question … I guess that if you get some “hot composting” going (where the microbes can drive the core of the compost up to 140F) that would kill worms? I’m not too worried because only occasionally, and only in a small central region do I get that sort of heat going.

    I guess “all worm” composting is for compost heaps not large enough to have any hot composting going on. My heap seems to have some worms, some beetles, sow bugs, and even slugs. (Slugs seem attracted to coffee grounds.) I put citrus scraps in. The only things I won’t put in are seriously invasive plants.

  7. PurpleOzone says:

    You can mine your compost heap for worms to use as fishing bait.

  8. PurpleOzone says:

    Raw manure, well covered, speeds up composting.

  9. adelady says:

    GFW A hot compost pile will just be unattractive to worms – they’ll turn in another direction, go deeper in the soil, whatever they usually do to avoid uncomfortable temperatures. But a hot composting heap is only ‘that’ hot for a very short period. Once it moves onto the maturing stage, worms will move in and make the most of it.

  10. GFW says:

    Thanks Adelady, that’s about what I’d guessed.

  11. Vic says:

    WARNING !

    Oxygen depletion within a compost heap gives rise to anaerobic digestion, liberating methane gas into the atmosphere. If you’re not prepared to thoroughly aerate your entire compost heap at least every 2-3 days, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.

  12. Bryan S says:

    I would discourage anybody in northern Minnesota from doing this. Introducing worms to a place that has no natural earth worms destroys our forests by eliminating the duff layer that protects small tree seedlings that might otherwise not survive in the cold winters here. The duff layer also hides them and protects them from deer browse. It will take longer to compost without worms… but earthworms are already proving to be a problem in many localized areas where fishermen have dropped them. Luckily they tend to migrate only 1 mile every 100 years so it’ll be a long time before they’re ubiquitous.

  13. adelady says:

    Thanks Bryan.

    I’d thought of the fact that the US has forest areas that can be damaged by earthworms, I’d just not remembered exactly where. (I initially thought the east coast.)