How to Compost using Worms

How to Compost using Worms

How to Compost using Worms

Why Compost with Worms?

Composting with worms, also known as vermicomposting, has many benefits compared to traditional composting methods. Here are some of the main reasons I use worms to compost:

  • Faster breakdown – Worms can break down organic materials much faster than conventional composting. Their digestive system accelerates the decomposition process.
  • Less work – A worm composting bin is very low maintenance compared to having a traditional compost pile. I just have to occasionally feed the worms and harvest the finished compost.
  • No turning or aerating – Worm bins do not require any turning or aerating like standard compost piles. The worms aerate the compost for me as they move around.
  • Little space needed – Worm composting can be done in small bins that fit conveniently in garages, basements, or under sinks. Bins can even be kept indoors.
  • Reduced odor – Properly maintained worm bins produce little to no unpleasant smells. The worms help reduce odors.
  • Valuable compost – The vermicompost produced by worms is extremely rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. It’s like supercharged soil for my plants!

For these reasons, I find that composting with worms is easy, efficient, and produces excellent compost for my garden.

Choosing a Worm Bin

The worm bin is the enclosed container where you keep your worms and add food waste for them to consume. There are many options for worm bins to choose from:

  • Wooden bins – Simple wooden boxes of varying shapes and sizes. Easy to build myself or purchase pre-made.
  • Plastic bins – Round or rectangular plastic containers, often with lids. Easy to find and transport.
  • Flow-through bins – Multi-level bins with drainage holes allowing excess liquid to flow out. Prevent soggy conditions.
  • Indoor bins – Small bins designed to be kept conveniently indoors, like under the sink. Odor-blocking features.
  • DIY bins – Any waterproof container like a plastic storage tote can be drilled with holes and turned into a worm bin!

The main criteria I look for in choosing a bin are good ventilation and adequate drainage to prevent mold, mildew and anaerobic conditions. I also make sure it’s opaque or in a dark area since worms prefer darkness. The ideal size depends on how much food waste you generate. I started with a small 20 gallon bin.

Selecting Worm Species

The worms best suited for composting are not earthworms you’d dig up in your garden, but rather specific composting worm species adapted to thrive in organic waste. Here are top options:

  • Red wigglersEisenia fetida. The most popular composting worm. Hardy and fast reproducing.
  • European nightcrawlersEisenia hortensis. Slightly larger and tolerate more extremes than red wigglers.
  • Indian bluesPerionyx excavatus. Grow fast and tolerate warmer weather. Useful for outdoor bins.

I prefer red wigglers since they are readily available, affordable, and efficiently break down waste. For a small indoor bin, I’d recommend starting with at least 1 pound of worms, which is around 1000 worms. This helps establish a healthy population fast.

Feeding and Maintaining Worms

Feeding the worms a proper diet and maintaining ideal conditions is crucial for their health and productivity:

  • What to feed – Vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and filters, crushed eggshells, tea bags, shredded paper/cardboard. 75-90% of their diet should be “greens”.
  • What to avoid – Meat, oily foods, spicy or processed foods, citrus peels. These cause odor and acidity issues.
  • Moisture balance – The bin should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Add bedding like shredded paper if too wet. Mist with water if too dry.
  • Aeration – Fluff up and rotate bedding weekly to circulate air. Worms need oxygen!
  • Temperature control – Keep bin between 55-77°F. Move indoors or use insulation if outdoors.
  • Avoid light – Light drives worms deeper into bedding. Keep bin in complete darkness.

I feed my worms around 1 cup of food scraps per pound of worms per week. Too much can cause rotting and odors. I bury scraps in different sections to distribute worms and prevent overfeeding in one area.

Harvesting Vermicompost

Finished vermicompost is ready to harvest when the material is dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling and no longer contains any recognizable food scraps. Here is the process I follow:

  • Stop feeding part of bin to encourage migration.
  • Push new bedding and scraps to opposite side.
  • After 2-4 weeks, remove finished section and screen out worms.
  • Extract worm castings and compost by sifting through a wire mesh screen.
  • Return worms to bin with fresh bedding and food.
  • Cure castings for 2-4 weeks before using in garden.

I harvest every 2-4 months once a section of the bin is finished. Too frequent harvesting can disturb the worms and disrupt the decomposition process. With proper harvesting techniques, the worms provide continuous vermicompost production!

Using Vermicompost in the Garden

The nutrient-packed vermicompost harvested from a worm bin has amazing benefits when added to gardens and houseplants:

  • Rich in nutrients – Contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and more. Provides nutrients plants need to thrive.
  • Increases nutrient retention – The porous structure helps soil retain water and nutrients longer.
  • Improves soil texture – Adds beneficial humus that improves soil structure and texture for better root growth.
  • Promotes plant growth – The microorganisms help stimulate plant growth and yields.
  • Repels pests – Worm castings contain pest deterring compounds to reduce pest issues in garden.

I like to mix about 20-30% vermicompost into potting mixes for houseplants and seed starting. For gardens, I mix 1-2 inches into beds before planting or side-dress established plants. The “black gold” really boosts my plants and soil health!

Composting with worms truly is an easy, sustainable way to recycle food waste into an amazing soil amendment. I hope these steps give you a better understanding of the vermicomposting process so you can get started composting with worms too! Let me know if you have any other questions.