How to Compost With Red Worms
Composting with red worms, also known as vermicomposting, is an easy and environmentally-friendly way to transform food scraps and other organic materials into a rich fertilizer and soil conditioner right in your own home.
Red worms, or red wigglers, are excellent composters that can eat up to half their body weight each day. Their castings (worm poop) contain nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that plants thrive on.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover everything you need to know about composting with red worms, including:
Choosing a Worm Bin
The first step is selecting an appropriate worm bin to house your worm colony. Here are some popular options:
- Made of untreated wood like pine or cedar
- Often have slatted sides and removable lids
- Hold 1-2 pounds of worms per cubic foot
- Made of opaque or translucent plastic
- Stackable for small spaces
- Must have ventilation holes
- Hold up to 1 pound per cubic foot
- Have upper and lower sections
- Worms migrate from top to bottom as they finish compost
- Allow continuous harvesting
Considerations: indoor/outdoor use, capacity, ventilation, drainage, and ease of access. Aim for at least 1 square foot of surface area per person in the household.
Obtaining Red Worms
Once you have your bin, it’s time to acquire some worms! Here’s where to find red wigglers:
- From a friend who vermicomposts
- At a bait shop or local garden store
- Ordered online from a worm supplier
You’ll want 1 pound of worms (approx. 1000 worms) per 1 square foot of surface area in your bin. It’s best to start with young, healthy adult worms about 4-6 inches long.
Avoid earthworms and nightcrawlers, as they are not well-suited for indoor composting.
Red worms need bedding with the right moisture content and pH to thrive. Good options include:
- Shredded newspaper – avoids inks
- Coconut coir – holds moisture well
- Compost – adds microorganisms
- Shredded cardboard – cheap and effective
Aim for 2-3 inches of moist bedding in the bin. The bedding should feel like a wrung-out sponge.
Feeding Your Worms
Red worms aren’t picky eaters! They consume a wide variety of organic materials:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Crushed eggshells
- Shredded newspaper
- Dead leaves
- Meat, bones, or dairy
- Oily or greasy foods
- Pet waste
- Diseased plants
Bury food 2-3 inches below the surface every few days. Don’t overload – overfeeding can cause odors, mites, and other problems.
Maintaining Ideal Conditions
Red worms need the right environment to process food efficiently. Ideal conditions include:
- Temperature between 55-77°F
- Moisture level like a wrung-out sponge
- pH around neutral or slightly acidic
- Aeration via ventilation holes
- Bedding replenished as needed
- Darkness – worms avoid light
Check conditions weekly and make adjustments as needed.
After 2-3 months, the bottom section of the bin will contain dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling vermicompost. Here’s how to harvest:
- Push compost to one side of the bin
- Add fresh bedding to the empty side
- Over 2-4 weeks, worms will migrate to the new bedding
- Scoop out finished compost from the first side
Vermicompost is an excellent organic fertilizer. Bury it in gardens or houseplants, or brew vermicompost tea.
The remaining worms can stay in the bin to start composting a new batch!
Troubleshooting Common Issues
- Cause: Too much food, anaerobic conditions
- Solution: Remove excess food, aerate bedding
- Cause: Too dry, acidic conditions
- Solution: Add water, crush eggshells
- Cause: Unfavorable conditions
- Solution: Improve ventilation, reduce light/vibrations
- Cause: Excess moisture
- Solution: Add more bedding, leave lid ajar
Composting with red worms is an easy, eco-friendly way to recycle organic waste into nutritious fertilizer for your plants.
With the right bin setup, bedding materials, and feeding habits, your worm colony will thrive and provide you with endless vermicompost for gardening. Monitor conditions closely and troubleshoot any issues promptly.
Vermicomposting keeps waste out of landfills, improves your soil, and gives you beautiful, healthy plants. I hope this guide provides you with the key steps to get started composting with worms right at home. Let me know if you have any other questions!