How to Compost with Red Wiggler Worms

How to Compost with Red Wiggler Worms

How to Compost with Red Wiggler Worms

Introduction

Composting with red wiggler worms, also known as Eisenia fetida, is an easy and environmentally-friendly way to recycle food scraps and other organic matter into a rich fertilizer called vermicompost. Red wiggler worms are ideal for vermicomposting because they eat a wide variety of organic materials, tolerate a broad temperature range, and thrive in confined spaces. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about composting with red wiggler worms, including setting up a worm bin, maintaining optimal conditions, feeding your worms, and harvesting the finished compost.

Choosing a Worm Bin

The first step in vermicomposting is setting up the right housing for your worms. There are several options to consider:

Plastic Bins

Plastic storage bins or rolling bins work well for indoor worm composting. Look for a bin that is opaque, has a lid, and holds at least 10 gallons. Drill about twenty 1/4-inch holes in the top and sides for ventilation.

Wooden Bins

For outdoor composting, a wooden bin is more aesthetically pleasing. Use untreated wood and include a lid. Add drilled holes for airflow. Bins with slatted sides will have better ventilation.

Flow-Through Bins

Flow-through, multi-level bins allow you to harvest finished compost from the bottom while adding new materials to the top. This creates an ongoing vermicomposting system.

Commercial Worm Bins

Many gardening supply companies sell ready-made worm composting bins. These include useful features like drainage trays and ventilation holes.

Preparing Bedding

Red wigglers need bedding that provides moisture retention and aeration. Create bedding by shredding and dampening carbon-rich materials:

  • Shredded cardboard and newspaper
  • Coconut coir or peat moss
  • Untreated hardwood leaves and sawdust
  • Straw or hay

Mix the bedding materials and moisten everything until it feels like a wrung-out sponge. Fluff the bedding to create air pockets. Aim for 70-80% moisture content.

Adding the Worms

Once your bin is ready, it’s time to add the worms! You can buy red wigglers online or from bait shops and garden stores. Start with about 1 pound of worms per square foot of surface area. Gently place your worms on top of the bedding and let them burrow down on their own.

Feeding Your Worms

Red wigglers are voracious eaters and can consume up to half their body weight daily. Feed them a varied diet:

Fruits and Vegetables

Worms relish most fresh produce, especially melons, berries, leafy greens, and peppers. Remove any stickers first.

Grains and Pasta

Bread, cereal, rice, and noodles provide beneficial carbs.

Coffee Grounds and Tea Leaves

Caffeine and tannins make great worm food.

Crushed Eggshells

For grit and calcium carbonate.

Chop or puree feed into small pieces so it’s easier for the worms to eat. Bury new food under the bedding.

Maintaining Ideal Conditions

Red wigglers thrive when conditions are just right:

  • Temperature: Between 55-77°F. Avoid extreme heat or cold.

  • Moisture: Bedding should feel like a wrung-out sponge.

  • Ventilation: Fresh airflow prevents odor and mold.

  • pH: Worms prefer a neutral to slightly acidic environment, around 6.5-7.5 pH.

  • Bedding: Fluff regularly and add fresh bedding as needed.

  • Population: Do not overcrowd. Cull excess worms if needed.

Harvesting Vermicompost

After several months, the worms will produce dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling vermicompost! To harvest:

  • Push new food and bedding to one side of the bin. The worms will migrate there.

  • Scoop out the finished compost from the other side.

  • Screen the compost to separate any worms and eggs.

  • Apply thin layers of vermicompost to potted plants or garden beds.

  • Store extra compost in buckets or bags.

Troubleshooting Issues

Escaping Worms

Make sure your bin has a lid and adequate ventilation. Reduce feeding if the population gets too high.

Odors

Stir more often and add fresh bedding to aerate. Leave the lid ajar to air it out.

Molds

Improve airflow. Reduce food scraps and increase bedding.

Pests

Ants and fruit flies are attracted to worm bins. Bury food, avoid overfeeding, and fix any drainage issues.

Conclusion

Composting with red wiggler worms is an easy, eco-friendly way to recycle organic waste and produce a nutritious soil amendment right at home. With the right bin setup, bedding, and feeding, your worms will thrive and provide you with vermicompost for houseplants and gardens in just a few months. Monitor your worm bin conditions, troubleshoot any issues promptly, and enjoy the rewarding process of turning trash into treasure with red wigglers!