Post by Ask Jan on Oct 3, 2011 19:51:19 GMT -8
Vermicompost-Worm Composting and Vermiculture-Worm Managing
Vermes is Latin for worms and Vermicompsting is essentially composting with worms.
In nature all organic matter eventually decomposes. In Vermicomposting you speed up the process of decomposition and get a richer end product called "worm castings." Vermicomposting has the added advantage of allowing you to create compost all year; indoors during the winter and outdoors during the summer.
The consumption of organic wastes by earthworms is an ecologically safe method to natually convert many of our organic wastes into an extremely environmentally beneficial product.
Vermicompost is the product or process of composting, utilizing various species of worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Vermicast, similarly known as worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end product of the breakdown of organic matter by a species of earthworm.
Containing water-soluble nutrients, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. The process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting.
Two types of earthworms have consistently been domesticated for commerical use due to their relative insensitivity to environmental changes.
The worms used in vermicomposting are called redworms (Eisenia foetida or Eisenia andrei) also know as red wigglers, manure worms, red hybrid or tiger worms. European nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) may also be used. The only simple way of distinguishing the two species is that E. foetida is lighter in color. Molecular analyses have confirmed their identity as separate species and breeding experiments have shown that they do not produce hybrids.
As with other earthworm species, Eisenia foetida is hermaphroditic. However, two worms are still required for reproduction. The two worms join clitellums, the large orangeish bands which contain the worms' reproductive organs, and which are only visible during the reproduction process. The two worms exchange sperm. Both worms then secrete cocoons which contain several eggs each. These cocoons are lemon-shaped and are pale yellow at first, becoming more brownish as the worms inside become mature. These cocoons are clearly visible to the naked eye.
Blueworms (Perionyx excavatus) may be used in the tropics. However, P. excavatus worms are not suitable for worm compost bins in most of the contiguous United States.
Redworms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin. The temperature of the bedding should not be allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees.
Eisenia fetida (older spelling: foetida), known under various common names such as redworm, brandling worm, tiger worm and red wiggler worm, and red californian earth worm, is a species of earthworm adapted to decaying organic material. These worms thrive in rotting vegetation, compost, and manure; they are epigeal. They are rarely found in soil, instead preferring conditions that are inimical to some other worms. In this trait they resemble the Lumbricus rubellus.
Eisenia fetida worms are used for vermicomposting. They are native to Europe, but have been introduced (both intentionally and unintentionally) to every other continent except Antarctica, occasionally threatening native species.
The Red Wiggler ingests waste at the front, through a soft mouth with a lip that can seize or grasp whatever the worm is trying to eat. The throat, or "phraynx"can be pushed forward to help pull matter in. They have no teeth so they coat their food with saliva, which makes it softer and easier to digest. After the food is swallowed, it passes through the esophagus to the crop and then to the gizzard, where small stones grind it up. The food is passed into the intestine (ehich) which is almost as long as the worm itself. At the end of the intestine is the anus, for passing out the castings. When roughly handled, an eisenia fetida exudes a pungent liquid, thus the specific name foetida meaning foul-smelling. This is presumably an anti-predator adaptation.
Worms have a brain and five hearts. They have neither eyes nor ears but are extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. They have a well founded hereditary aversion to bright lights. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are very harmful to earthworms. One hour's exposure to strong sunlight causes partial-to-complete paralysis and several hours are fatal. A worm breathes when oxygen from the air or water passes through its moist skin into the blood capillaries. If the body covering dries up, the worm suffocates.
A worm's reproductive system is quite complex. Worms are hermaphroditic--that is, each worm is both male and female and each can produce eggs and fertilize the eggs produced by another worm. Under perfect conditions, a mature breeder will produce a cocoon every seven to ten days. During mating, any two adult worms join together to fertilize each other's eggs. Then a mucous tube secreted by the clitellum (the band 1/4 of the way down the worm's body) slips over its head into the soil as an egg case or cocoon. These cocoons are about the size of a match head and change colour as the baby worms develop, starting out as pale yellow and when the hatchlings are ready to emerge, cocoons are a reddish-brown. It is possible by observing with a good lens to not only see a baby worm, but to see the pumping of its bright red blood vessel. The blood of a worm is amazingly similar to ours, having the same function of carrying oxygen, and having iron-rich hemoglobin at its base.
It takes about three weeks development in the cocoon for one to several baby worms to hatch. These newly emerged worms look just like the grown-ups, only lighter in color and much smaller. They will mature to breeding age in approximately sixty to ninety days.
Three basic conditions control the size of a worm population:
1. availability of food
2. size of the container
3. fouling of their environment
When food and waste is regularly fed to worms in a limited space, the worms and associated organisms break down this waste. They use what they can and excrete the rest. As the worms reproduce, the voracious young worms compete with their parents and all the other worms in the culture for the limited food available. Additionally, all the worms excrete castings ( which is toxic to members of their own species). As time goes on, more worms compete for the limited food, and more and more of the bedding becomes converted to castings. The density of the worms may exceed the limits of their favorable environment. Soon cocoon production, and reproduction slow down. The controls you exert over your worm population will affect this whole process. If you keep feeding your worms and they overpopulate, you will need to expand their environment. Otherwise they will begin to die back. No one knows for sure the life span of a worm. Some authorities believe that, under ideal conditions, worms may live as long as ten years.
Harvesting Your Compost
Harvest your bin every three months for a healthy worm supply and a good mixture of castings and vermicompost.
When you are ready to harvest, you will notice that the volume of material has dropped substantially and the original bedding is no longer recognizable. The contents will now be brown and earthy-looking. There are several ways to harvest:
1. Move the contents of the bin over to one side. Add fresh bedding to the vacant side. Put food waste in the new bedding. The red wigglers will gradually move over in search of food. After one or two weeks the finished compost can be removed.
2. Prepare new bedding. Dump the contents of the bin onto a large plastice sheet, and separate into small cone-shaped piles. Place a bright light above the piles. The worms will move down away from the light. Remove the compost from the top. Repeat this four or five times until a small pile of worms and compost remain. Place the worms and the compost in the bin with fresh bedding.
3. Remove the entire contents of the bin. Put in fresh bedding and food. Place a large piece of damp burlap over the bin ensuring that the burlap overhangs the edges of the bin. Place one inch of vermicompost on the burlap. With a bright light over the bin, the worms will move through the burlap and you can remove the finished compost.
You must start all over again with fresh bedding and fresh food for your bins.
Suitable bedding materials include
• shredded or mulched paper such as newspaper (no color)
• computer paper and cardboard
• shredded fall leaves
• chopped up straw
• dried grass clippings
• peat moss
• Fibrous garden matter such as corn husks
Vary the bedding in the bin to provide more nutrients for the red wigglers and to create a richer compost. The quantities of each are not important.
When worms expel their manure there is a bit of mucus surrounding each granule. This hardens when it is exposed to air. When granular castings are mixed into garden or houseplant soils there is a slow "time release" of nutrients to feed the plants. Almost as if the nutrients are chelated. However, the hardened particles of mucus do not break down readily, and they act to break up soils providing aeration and drainage, creating an organic soil conditioner as well as rich fertilizer.
Castings vs Soil
5 times the nitrate
7 times the phosphorus
3 times the exchangeable magnesium
11 times the potash
1.5 times the calcium
Worms are odorless and free from disease. It is common to use earthworms to aerate, sanitize and deodorize.
Large-scale vermicomposting is practised in Canada, Italy, Japan, the Philippines, and the United States. The vermicompost may be used for farming, landscaping, to create compost tea, or for sale. Some of these operations produce worms for bait and/or home vermicomposting.
There are two main methods of large-scale vermiculture. Some systems use a windrow, which consists of bedding materials piled in long rows on a dirt or concrete floor. Organic material is continually added to it. The windrow has no physical barriers to prevent worms from escaping.
Movement of castings through a worm bed.
The second type of large-scale vermicomposting system is the raised bed or flow-through system. Here the worms are fed an inch of "worm chow" across the top of the bed, and an inch of castings are harvested from below by pulling a breaker bar across the large mesh screen which forms the base of the bed.
Because red worms are surface dwellers constantly moving towards the new food source, the flow-through system eliminates the need to separate worms from the castings before packaging. Flow-through systems are well suited to indoor facilities, making them the preferred choice for operations in colder climates.
For home vermicomposting, a large variety of bins are commercially available, or a variety of adapted containers may be used. They may be made of old plastic containers, wood, Styrofoam, or metal containers. The design of a small bin usually depends on where an individual wishes to store the bin and how they wish to feed the worms.
Some materials are less desirable than others in worm bin construction. Metal containers often conduct heat too readily, are prone to rusting, and may release heavy metals into the vermicompost. Some cedars, Yellow cedar, and Redwood contain resinous oils that may harm worms, although Western Red Cedar has excellent longevity in composting conditions. Hemlock is another inexpensive and fairly rot-resistant wood species that may be used to build worm bins.
Bins need holes or mesh for aeration. Some people add a spout or holes in the bottom for excess liquid to drain into a tray for collection. Worm compost bins made from recycled or semi-recycled plastic are ideal, but require more drainage than wooden ones because they are non-absorbent. However, wooden bins will eventually decay and need to be replaced.
Small-scale vermicomposting is well-suited to turn kitchen waste into high-quality soil amendments, where space is limited. Worms can decompose organic matter without the additional human physical effort (turning the bin) that bin composting requires.
Composting worms which are detritivorous (eaters of trash), such as the red wiggler Eisenia fetidae, are epigeic (surface dwellers) together with symbiotic associated microbes are the ideal vectors for decomposing food waste. Common earthworms such as Lumbricus terrestris are anecic(deep burrowing) species and hence unsuitable for use in a closed system. Other soil species that contribute include insects, other worms and molds.
Climate and temperature
The most common worms used in composting systems, redworms (Eisenia foetida, Eisenia andrei, and Lumbricus rubellus) feed most rapidly at temperatures of 15–25 °C (59-77 °F). They can survive at 10 °C (50 °F). Temperatures above 30 °C (86 °F) may harm them. This temperature range means that indoor vermicomposting with redworms is suitable in all but tropical climates. (Other worms like Perionyx excavatus are suitable for warmer climates. If a worm bin is outside, it should be placed in a sheltered position away from direct sunlight and insulated against frost in winter.
It is necessary to monitor the temperatures of large-scale bin systems. Certain foods (green) can heat the bin up to high temperatures and kill the worms.
Small-scale or home systems
These systems use red worms and feed them garden and kitchen scraps to create a nutrient rich soil conditioner (vermicompost).
1. All fruits and vegetables (including citrus and other "high acid" foods)
2. Vegetable and fruit peels and ends
3. Coffee grounds and filters
4. Tea bags (even those with high tannin levels)
5. Grains such as bread, cracker and cereal (including moldy and stale)
6. Eggshells (rinsed off)
7. Leaves and grass clippings (no pesticides)
Large-scale or commercial
Such vermicomposting systems need reliable sources of large quantities of food. Systems presently operating use:
1. Dairy cow or pig manure
2. Sewage sludge
3. Agricultural waste
4. Food processing and grocery waste
5. Cafeteria waste
6. Grass clippings and wood chips
Vermicompost is ready for harvest when it contains few-to-no scraps of uneaten food or bedding. There are several methods of harvesting from small-scale systems:
• dump and hand sort
• let worms do sorting
• alternate containers
• divide and dump
These differ on the amount of time and labor involved and whether the vermicomposter wants to save as many worms as possible from being trapped in the harvested compost.
While harvesting, it is a good idea to try to pick out as many (eggs/cocoons) as possible and return them to the bin. Eggs are small, lemon-shaped yellowish objects that can usually be seen pretty easily with the naked eye and picked out.
Vermicompost has been shown to be richer in many nutrients than compost produced by other composting methods. The more variation in food you supply the better the finished product.
It is rich in microbial life which converts nutrients already present in the soil into plant-available forms.
Unlike other compost, worm castings also contain worm mucus which helps prevent nutrients from washing away and worm compost (castings) hold moisture better than plain soil.
Benefits of Wormcompost (Worm Castings)
Improves its physical structure
Enriches soil with micro-organisms (adding enzymes such as phosphate and cellulose)
Microbial activity in worm castings is 10 to 20 times higher than in the soil and organic matter that the worm ingests
Attracts deep-burrowing earthworms already present in the soil
Improves water holding capacity
Enhances germination, plant growth, and crop yield
Improves root growth and structure
Enriches soil with micro-organisms (adding plant hormones such as auxins and gibberellic acid)
Biowastes conversion reduces waste flow to landfills
Elimination of biowastes from the waste stream reduces contamination of other recyclables collected in a single bin (a common problem in communities practicing single-stream recycling)
Creates low-skill jobs at local level
Low capital investment and relatively simple technologies make vermicomposting practical for less-developed agricultural regions
Helps to close the "metabolic gap" through recycling waste on-site
Large systems often use temperature control and mechanized harvesting, however other equipment is relatively simple and does not wear out quickly
Production reduces greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitric oxide (produced in landfills or incinerators)
Vermicompost can be mixed directly into the soil, or steeped in water and made into a worm tea. Mix one part wormcompost to three parts clear water. Use an aerating pump to get more O2 into the tea.
The microbial activity of the compost is greater if it is aerated during this period. The resulting liquid is used as a fertilizer or sprayed (foliar fed) on plants.
The best approach is prevention. Always bury the food waste. This will discourage fruit flies. Keep a tight lid on the container you use to store waste before adding them to the bin. This will prevent flies from laying eggs in the scraps. This does not help if your kitchen is infested with fruit flies because all the scraps will have fruit fly eggs on them.
It is unlikely that your worm bin will have an unpleasant odor. There are a number of possible causes and steps you can take to remedy the problem.
1. You have overloaded your bin with too much food waste. Solution: Don't add any more food for a week or two.
2. The bedding is too wet and compacted. Solution: (a) gently stir the entire contents to allow more air in and stop adding food waste for a week or so. Make sure that your food waste is still buried. (b) The lid can be removed or left slightly ajar to allow the contents to dry out.
3. Your bin is too acidic. Solution: Add some calcium carbonate and cut down on the amount of citrus peel and other acidic food waste.
Worms hate light and prefer to remain in the dark of their bin. If you put a light near the bin, it will encourage the worms to go deeper. They will not leave their home. They are very sensitive to vibrations. Try not to disturb them unnecessarily.
Worms are living creatures with their own unique needs, so it is important to create and maintain a healthy habitat for them to do their work. If you supply the right ingredients and care, your worms will thrive and make compost for you.
When closed, a well-maintained bin is odorless; when opened, it should have little smell - if any, the smell is earthy. Worms require gaseous oxygen. Oxygen can be provided by airholes in the bin, occasional stirring of bin contents, and removal of some bin contents if they become too deep or too wet. If decomposition becomes anaerobic (no oxygen) from excess feedstock added to the bin in wet conditions, or if layers of food waste have become too deep, the bin will begin to smell like ammonia. That is bad.
If decomposition has become anaerobic, to restore healthy conditions and prevent the worms from dying, the smelly, excess waste water must be removed and the bin returned to a normal moisture level. Reduce food scraps with a high moisture content and add fresh dry bedding such as shredded newspaper to your bin, mixing it in well.
Pests such as rodents and flies are attracted by certain materials and odors, usually from large amounts of kitchen waste, particularly meat. By eliminating the use of meat or dairy product in your worm bin you decrease the possibility of pests. No meat or dairy products should be added at all.
In warm weather, fruit and vinegar flies will breed in the bins if fruit and vegetable waste is not thoroughly covered with bedding. This problem can be avoided by thoroughly covering the waste by at least 2 inches of bedding. Maintaining the correct: pH (7) and water content of the bin (enough water so bedding only drips a couple of drops) can help avoid these pests as well.
Having worms escape is one of the most feared outcomes for many new vermicomposters. Worms generally stay in the bin, but may try to leave the bin when first introduced, or often after a rainstorm when outside humidity is high. Maintaining adequate conditions in the worm bin and putting a light over the bin when first introducing worms should eliminate this problem.
Commercial vermicomposters test, and may amend their products to produce consistent quality and results. Because the small-scale and home systems use a varied mix of feedstocks, the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus content of the resulting vermicompost will also be inconsistent. NPK testing may be helpful before the vermicompost or tea is applied to the garden.
In order to avoid over-fertilization issues, such as nitrogen burn, vermicompost can be diluted as a tea 50:50 with water, or as a solid can be mixed in 50:50 with potting soil.
Sources claim that the mucus creates a natural time release fertilizer which cannot burn plants.
Let worms eat your organic waste! They will happily turn it into some of the best fertilizer on earth – worm compost, otherwise known as “worm castings” or “vermicompost.”
Only a few things are needed to make good worm compost: a bin, bedding, worms and worm food. By following the steps listed below, you will learn to make, maintain and use your own worm compost.
Worm Bin Needs
The bin needs to be solid enough to hold the worms in, so plastic or wood is a good choice. Mesh
screening would not work, and you cannot put holes into glass. Wood will eventually rot but plastic lasts
very well. Also, the bin must be light-proof. The ultraviolet rays in sunlight will kill worms, so they must be
kept in the dark. They need an air supply. Drill holes five to six inches higher on one side of bin. This
allows warm air to rise and escape out the higher holes while cool air flows in the lower holes, keeping the worm bin at an optimum temperature. Glue mesh screen over each hole to keep flies out.
Your bin needs to be only ten to sixteen inches deep, since compost worms are surface feeders. You can build your own bin by using a washtub, dish pan, used shipping crate or a commercially available worm bin. Just be sure your bin has a lid to keep out flies and rodents. It also needs holes in the bottom (a quarter inch or smaller), for ventilation and drainage.
The rule of thumb for bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. Because worms like moderate temperatures, place your bin in a shady location where it will not freeze or overheat. Some good locations include:
• Kitchen corner
• Outside the back door
• Laundry room
Black and white newspaper is the most readily available and easy-to-use bedding material. Tear it into strips about one inch wide and moisten so it is as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Cow or horse manure can also be used to lighten bedding and absorb excess moisture.
A handful or two of soil, ground limestone or well-crushed eggshells every few months are good for providing grit and calcium. Fill your bin with moistened bedding, toss in a few handfuls of soil, and you are ready to add the worms and food. Over time, the bedding and food are eaten by the worms and turned into dark worm compost.
The best kind of worms for composting are “red worms” or “red wigglers.” They are often found in old compost piles, but are different from the earthworms you would normally find in the ground. These worms have a big appetite, reproduce quickly and thrive in confinement. They can eat more than their own weight in food every day! When purchasing red worms, one pound is all you need to get started.
Feeding Your Worms
Worms like to eat many of the same things we eat, only they aren’t so picky. Some of their favorite foods include:
• Stale bread
• Apple cores
• Orange peels
• Lettuce trimmings
• Coffee grounds
• Non-greasy leftovers
• Vegetable scraps
Begin feeding your worms only a little at a time. As they multiply, you can add larger quantities of food waste. Bury the waste into the bedding regularly, rotating around the bin as you go. When you return to the first spot, most of the food you buried there should be gone (eaten). If not, do not worry. Just feed the worms less for a while.
Vermiculture is the management of worms.
It defines the thrilling potential for waste reduction, fertilizer production, as well as an assortment of possible uses for the future. Vermiculture enhances the growth of plants that provide food along with producing prosperous and financially rewarding fertilizer.
The earthworm is one of nature's pinnacle "soil scientists." Earthworms are liberated, cost effective farm relief. The worms are accountable for a variety of elements including turning common soil into superior quality. Worms facilitate the amount of air and water that travels into soil. They break down organic matter and when they eat, they leave behind castings that are an exceptionally valuable type of fertilizer.
Charles Darwin's primal struggle to survive and reproduce entailed the terminal disappearance called extinction (extinction being the death of the species and so the death of deaths). Darwin was haunted by irredeemable loss and studied the benefits of worms over one hundred years ago. Today, his foresight on the topic of Vermiculture (worms) has influenced the profit margin for many farmers across the country.
Building or Obtaining a Worm Bin for Composting
These can be purchased from many online vendors or your local gardening or farm supply store.
You can build your own. Use rubber storage totes, galvanized tubs, wood, or plastic.
A wooden bin.
Material: Rubber is cheap, easy to use and durable. Galvanized tubs are somewhat costly but will last forever. Wood will eventually be eaten, and plastic cracks easily, but either will do in a pinch. Some people prefer wooden compost worm bins because they may breathe better and absorb excess moisture, which can be hazardous to the worms. Just do not use chemically-treated wood, which may be dangerous to worms or leach harmful chemicals into your compost. 5-gallon plastic buckets now for sale by most hardware stores can be used - especially if you live in an apartment. Clean the big 5-gallon soap buckets thoroughly and let them sit for a day or so filled with clean water before using as a worm bin.
Drilling holes to ventilate a rubber tub.
Ventilation: Your bin should be well-ventilated, with several 1/8 inch (3mm) holes 4 inches (100mm) from the bottom (otherwise the worms will stay at the bottom of the bin and you may drown your worms). For example, you can build a worm bin out of a large plastic tub with several dozen small holes drilled out on the bottom and sides. Untreated wooden bins are naturally ventilated because of structure of wood.
Size: The larger you make the container, the more worms it can sustain. Estimate 1 pound (0.45kg) of worms (1,200) for every square foot of surface area. The maximum productive depth for your bin is 24 inches (61cm) deep because composting worms will not go further down than that.
Cover: The bin should have a cover to prevent light from getting in and to prevent the compost from drying out. Choose or make a lid that can be removed if your compost is too wet. Use 4 old car tires: To make a four-tire wormery, create a base from old bricks or flagstones (must be flat and with as few cracks as possible). Place a layer of heavy newspaper on top of the bricks. Stuff four old tires with newspapers. Pile the tires on top of each other, with the first tire on the Sunday newspaper. Put some scrunched up paper or cardboard in the bottom to soak up any excess liquid. Fill the entire wormery with organic material (semi-composted is best). Add the composting worms. Use a piece of board weighed down with bricks as a lid. The lid must be big enough to stop rain getting in. Harvest a tire's worth of fertilizer roughly every 8 weeks (during warm months).
The bulk of the material in your worm bin is called bedding. In nature, red worms live in
the upper layers of the soil where there is a large percentage of organic matter such as
dead leaves and pieces of grass. In your bin, the bulk of the bedding will be some woody
organic material. Newspaper is the easiest bedding to find. Shred the newspaper (by hand or with a shredder). Use plain newsprint not the glossy pieces. Most newspapers now use ink made from soy oil and black carbon. The colored ink can have heavy metals in it which are bad for both worms and humans.
If you use newspaper, rip it into 1 or 2 inch wide strips. Newspaper rips easily by hand
from top to bottom. To keep the layers of paper from sticking together, separate the strips
once you have ripped them, and loosely crumple them up. This creates air pockets for the
Coconut fiber: Coconut fiber(coir) can also be used. You can buy compressed blocks
of the fiber at any garden store. It absorbs water very well and is very good for
maintaining moisture in your worm bin. Mary Appelhof, the foremost worm composting
specialist, recommends using bedding that is no more than 1/3 to ½ coconut fiber.
Wood chips: You can also mix in wood chips. They are good because they help create
air spaces. Just be sure to use raw wood, not painted or arsenic-treated wood chips.
Hardwoods like cherry or alder or oak are better than pine or fir, which are more acidic.
Dirt: You need to mix in some dirt. You can add it by the handful or the shovelful. Dirt
has lots of good bacteria for your worm bin. The dirt also provides grit for the worms.
They don’t have teeth, but they swallow dirt and the little particles of rock grind against
the food in a special part of the digestive tract called the gizzard. You can also add in a
handful or two of sand for grit, if you wish.
Calcium: Worms need a source of calcium. Eggshells are easy for most people to use.
However, eggs often have salmonella bacteria on them, which can infect your worms, so
I recommend sterilizing them before you add them to your bin. Rinse the eggshells out
and place them on a cookie sheet. Bake them in the oven at 350° for 10-15 minutes. When
they are cool, crush them and add them to your worm bin. You can also add powdered
limestone (calcium carbonate - CaCO3). Feed stores sometimes sell powdered limestone.
(Note: powdered limestone is NOT the same thing as “lime”. (Lime has a very high pH
and it will kill your worms if you add it to your bin.)
Prepare the box for worms. Fill your bin with thin strips of unbleached corrugated cardboard or shredded newspaper, straw, dry grass, or some similar material. This provides a source of fiber to the worms and keeps the bin well ventilated. Sprinkle a handful of dirt on top, and thoroughly moisten. Allow the water to soak in for at least a day before adding worms. You can also use Canadian peat moss, which is more expensive but yields a loamier vermicompost.
Assemble the Bedding
To assemble your worm bin bedding, mix together the newspaper, dirt, and whatever else you are
using. Fill the bin about 80% full. If you are using just newspaper, fill it close to the top
(it should be very fluffy). If you are using coconut (coir) fiber, soak it in water before mixing
it in. Once it is mixed, you need to wet it down. Worms do not have lungs—they absorb O2
through their skin. But they cannot absorb oxygen unless their skin is moist. They must
be in a moist environment at all times. Add water to your worm bin. Pour water over
the bedding until it is quite wet. The rule of thumb is three times the weight of water
to the weight of your bedding. That is about 6 cups of water per pound of bedding. If you
do not know how much your bedding weighs, that is okay. Just keep adding water until it is all
wet. If you are using coir, just add water to the weight of the dry bedding. The presoaked
coir is already wet.
I recommend letting the bin sit a day or two before adding in worms. This lets little dry
pockets absorb water and excess water to drip out of the bottom. It also allows bacteria
from the dirt to start multiplying. It also allows the bin to come to a stable temperature. To
make a really good home for your worms, add some finely chopped kitchen greens (maybe a bit of pureed cantaloupe) to the bedding.
Maintain your bin. Keeping your bin elevated off the ground, using bricks, cinder blocks, or whatever is convenient will help speed composting and keep your worms happy. Worms are capable of escaping almost anything, but if you keep your worms fed and properly damp, they should not try to escape. A light in the same area will ensure your worms stay put. Sprinkle the surface with water every other day. Feed your worms vegetable scraps at least once a week. Feeding lightly and often will produce more worms (which is good when starting a new bin) and large amounts fed less often will fatten your worms. Add more cardboard, shredded newspaper, hay, or other fibrous material once a month, or as needed. Your worms will reduce everything in your bin quickly. You will start with a full bin of compost or paper/cardboard, and soon it will be only half full. This is the time to add more fibrous material.
Harvest the compost, using one of the following techniques.
Pull back the top layers of bedding to harvest the compost or check progress.
Put on rubber gloves, and move any large un-composted vegetable matter to one side. Then, with your gloved hands, gently scoop a section of worms and compost mixture onto a brightly lit piece of newspaper or plastic wrap. Scrape off the compost in layers. Wait a while giving the worms time to burrow into the center of the mound. Eventually you will end up with a pile of compost next to a pile of worms. After harvesting, you should replace the bedding and then return the worms to the bin, do whatever you want with the compost, and repeat.
If you prefer a hands-off technique, simply push the contents of the bin all to one side and add fresh food, water, dirt, and bedding to the empty space. The worms will slowly migrate over on their own. This method requires much more patience.
The last technique is to use a separator. Barrel separators are expensive but readily available on the internet. You may want to make your own shaker box. Plastic tub with a wire mesh bottom.
Apply the harvested compost to plants, or use it to make worm castings tea.
If you have two bins, it can be a bit easier to get at your compost. Fill one bin and start the next. When you want to get at the compost, move the uncomposted matter from bin one to bin two and use all the finished compost. Bin two, the now-active bin, becomes full and then bin one becomes the active bin again.
If you would like to collect the water (liquid fertilizer) produced by watering your worms, place a tray under the compost bin. Otherwise, the ground under the bin will become terrifically fertile. An elevated bin (either on bricks, or a bin with built-in legs) sitting in a tray of water will also prevent ants and other unwanted critters from getting into the bin.
Remember that a worm bin is a tiny ecosystem. Do not attempt to remove the other critters living in your worm bin, they are helpers. However, do remove centipedes: Centipedes are carnivores, and eat baby worms and worm eggs.
Shredded paper junk mail, egg cartons, cereal boxes, and pizza boxes all make excellent bedding (avoid glossy paper). Always soak household paper waste bedding for at least 12 hours before adding it to the bin, and thoroughly squeeze out the water first. Do not shred junk mail envelopes unless you remove the plastic windows! Worms will not eat plastic, and picking hundreds of shredded plastic window panes out of otherwise beautiful compost is a vermiculturist's nightmare.
Pre-composted cow manure is a great food for worms. Just be sure to bury it at least 3 inches deep. Look at the warnings before you start adding any type of manure. I found aged horse manure to be one of their favorites.
Green food increases nitrogen in your finished compost. Examples are: green grass, beet tops, carrot tops, philodendron leaves, fresh cut clover or alfalfa.
Brown food increases carbon and phosphate in your finished product. Examples are: paper, cardboard, wood chips, leaves, bread. If adding fresh lawn grass, be certain chemicals have not been added to the lawn. Lawn chemicals are deadly to the ecosystem in the bin.
Worms need food to eat as well as a place to live. As they move through the contents of the bin,
they swallow some of the bedding material. They digest the bacteria and fungi that are growing on
the material they swallow, and also get some nutrition from tiny pieces of organic matter. They have
bacteria in their guts that further decompose the woody material. Worm droppings (worm castings)
are rich in organic matter and nutrients. Some favorite worm foods are fruits and in particular melons.
Since they don’t have teeth, they suck up juice and little bits ofr soft particles. Pour the juice left after cutting your piece of fruit open. Worms love it. Bread is okay, but it is also more attractive to pests.
Do not add too much citrus, tomato scraps, or grape pulp. These wastes are acidic and can lower the pH too much. This might throw your bin out of harmony by killing the good bacteria. Add acidic scraps in small amounts only.
A balanced diet makes for a healthy bin, healthy worms and a great finished product. Red wigglers will eat most of your kitchen waste. Any vegetable waste that you generate during food preparation can be used such as potato peels, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, celery, apples, banana peels, grapefruit and orange rinds, tea leaves, tea bags, coffee grounds, pulverized egg shells (slow release calcium), and paper filters.
Some wastes compost faster than others. Banana peels will take about a week, while orange peels will take about a month to decompose.
Cutting the waste to be composted results in faster composting. I put my wastes through the blender first. The smaller the pieces the faster the moisture and bacteria will break them down for worm consumption. Pureeing is most ideal.
Egg shells or calcium carbonate are needed to maintain the bedding at a safe pH level and act like a vitamin to the worms. Let the shells dry out, crush them and sprinkle at least one tablespoon in the bin every week. You can also add a bit of calcium carbonate (CaCO3 95%). This keeps the pH correct (worms can take the pH anywhere from 5-9). Worms need calcium and will reproduce much faster with it in their diet.
Note: Avoid feeding your red wigglers meats, dairy products, eggs, oily foods, salt and vinegar.
Red wigglers will eat their own weight every day. This also includes their bedding so for every pound of red wigglers or part thereof, feed half that weight in food waste. Feeding twice a week or weekly is fine. Be careful not to over feed your red wigglers. Bury the food waste by pulling aside some of the bedding, dumping the waste, and then covering it up with some of the bedding. Each time you feed your worms, choose a different location.
Finely ground and moistened grains (flour, oatmeal, etc.) are eaten the fastest, followed by fruits, grass, leaves, cardboard, paperboard (cereal boxes), white paper, cotton products, and magazines (slick paper). Wood takes the longest (up to a year or more).
Calcium carbonate works well to solve most problems. Be sure to use calcium carbonate (e.g., powdered limestone) and not quicklime (calcium oxide).
Do not feed your worms meat, dairy products, eggs, or oily foods.
Go easy on the citrus rinds. You can add them, but remember that they're acidic. If possible, add only a little at a time with plenty of other matter. They take a month to decompose while a banana takes only a week.
Don't allow your bin to dry out. If there are enough holes at the bottom, your worms are not likely to drown, but they will die without water.
Some varieties of worms may be sensitive to the oils or pH of your skin. Extremes of temperatures are deadly for worms- about 50 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Do not place a worm bin in direct sunlight or out in the cold. Sustained frosts will kill your worms. If this is an issue in your area, move outdoor bins into a garage or shed during winter. If bringing your worm bin indoors during the winter is not possible add a small heating pad as follows: push the matter away from one side, place the pad up against that side, then backfill onto the pad. Run the wire out to an extension plug and leave the pad set on low. This will prevent freezing in winter.
Do not allow your worm bin to heat up past 90 degrees. You will cook your worms.
Large amounts of green feeds (grass, alfalfa, etc.) heat up quickly so add lightly.
Fresh (uncomposted) cow manure contains harmful pathogens and should not be used. It will also heat the bin to deadly levels and kill your worms. However, worms love aged horse manure.
Powdered limestone (calcium carbonate) will create carbon dioxide in your bins and suffocate your worms if the bins are not well ventilated. Use sparingly only if absolutely necessary and stir your bin every few days after adding the limestone.
Methods for Collecting Your Finished Worm Compost
After you have been feeding your worms for three to six months, you may notice the bedding has disappeared. You can now begin harvesting the brown, crumbly worm compost. Harvesting the compost and adding fresh bedding material at least twice a year is necessary to keep your worms healthy.
Move the contents of your worm bin to one side, place fresh bedding in the empty space and bury your food wastes there for a month or so. Harvest the other side after the worms have migrated to the new food and bedding.
Remove one-third to one-half of the contents of your bin, worms and all, and add the worm compost to your garden soil. Add fresh bedding and food to your bin.
Spread a sheet of plastic out under a bright light or in the sun. Dump the contents of the worm box into a number of piles on the sheet. The worms will crawl away from the light into the center of each pile and you can brush away the worm compost on the outside by hand. Soon you will have wriggling piles of worms surrounded by doughnut-shaped piles of worm compost.
Using Your Worm Compost
Worm compost is more concentrated than most other composts because worms are excellent at digesting food wastes and breaking them down into simple plant nutrients. Use it sparingly for best results.
Mulching and Amending Soil
To mulch with worm compost, apply a one-inch layer to the soil around plants. Be sure the worm compost is not piled against plant stems. To amend soil, worm compost can be spread one-half to two inches thick over garden soil and mixed in before planting, or mixed into the bottom of seeding trenches or transplanting holes. You can also mulch your worm compost into:
Houseplants: Sprinkle worm compost around the base of plants to fertilize. Each time you water, plant nutrients will seep into the soil.
Potting Mixes: For healthy seedlings, mix one part worm compost with three parts potting mix or three parts sand and soil combined. Peat moss, perlite and worm castings are also good ingredients to add.
Some symptoms that your worm composting is not doing well are:
Bin smells rotten and/or attracts flies
If worms are dying, there could be several causes:
It may be that they are not getting enough food, which means you should bury more food into the bedding.
They may be too dry, in which case you should moisten the box until it is slightly damp.
They may be too wet, in which case you should add bedding.
The worms may be too hot, in which case you should put the bin in the shade.
The bedding is eaten, and it is time to add fresh bedding.
Bin smells rotten and/or attracts flies, possible causes:
First, it may be that there is not enough air circulation. Add dry bedding under and over the worms, and do not feed them for about two weeks.
Second, there may be non-compostable items present such as meat, pet feces or greasy food. These should be removed immediately.
Third, there may be exposed food in the bin. Secure the lid, cover food scraps with bedding, and cover worms and bedding with a sheet of plastic.
Worm bins also need drainage. I put six holes in the bottom of mine, but I suggest putting in more like 10 or 12 for a worm bin (18” x 12”) in size.
The drainage holes in the bottom of the bin are a lot smaller than the air holes you put in the sides of the bin. Select the proper bit size and drill away. Worm bins need a bottom to catch the falling liquid. You can use two, three or four bins stacked on top of each other to accomplish this. The bottom bin does not have to have holes in it. Please note: it is not absolutely necessary to put in drainage holes and use a second catch bin. You can just make air holes in the sides and leave the bottom intact. However, drain holes in the bottom keep the worm compost from getting too soggy. The liquid that drains out of the worm bin is very high in nutrients. This liquid is called “worm tea”. And do not forget that it is highly concentrated. It is rich in nitrogen, phosphate, calcium and magnesium and many trace minerals. You will need to dilute it (50:50) with clear water.
First, and foremost, START SLOWLY. It will take time for the microorganisms (bacteria, etc) to become active and your bin can quickly become very smelly if you add too much food, too fast. In the beginning, add a very small amount of gritty material and a small amount of vegetable matter. Do not worry about the worms starving—they will not-- they will be eating their bedding as well. You can gradually increase the amount of food as the bin becomes established.
1. ^ "Paper on Invasive European Worms". southwoodsforestgardens.blogspot.com/2009/01/paper-on-invasive-european-worms.html. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
2. ^ Coyne, Kelly and Erik Knutzen. The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City. Port Townsend: Process Self Reliance Series, 2008.
3. ^ "Composting Worms for Hawaii". www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/HG-46.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
4. ^ "Paper on Invasive European Worms". southwoodsforestgardens.blogspot.com/2009/01/paper-on-invasive-european-worms.html. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
5. ^ "Great Lakes Worm Watch". www.nrri.umn.edu/worms/. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
6. ^ "Vermicomposting: A Better Option for Organic Solid Waste Management". www.krepublishers.com/02-Journals/JHE/JHE-24-0-000-000-2008-Web/JHE-24-1-000-000-2008-Abst-PDF/JHE-24-1-059-08-1636-%20Aalok-A/JHE-24-1-059-08-1636-%20Aalok-A-Tt.pdf. Retrieved 2009-02-21.
7. ^ "Compost Tea". www.ecocycle.org/compost/composttea.cfm. Retrieved 2009-02-22.
8. ^ a b "Raising Earthworms Successfully". www.p2pays.org/ref/35/34577.pdf. Retrieved 2009-03-04.
9. ^ vermontworms.com/red-wiggler-compost-worm-bin/
10. ^ see the worm dictionary www.working-worms.com/content/view/43/68/#d
11. ^ The decomposer community, Cornell Univ
12. ^ Appelhof, Mary. Worms eat my garbage. 2nd ed. Kalamazoo, MI: Flower Press, 1997, p.3
13. ^ map of vermicomposters location data
14. ^ Appelhof, p. 41
15. ^ www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/HG-45.pdf
16. ^ www.jgpress.com/BCArticles/2000/110051.html
17. ^ www.wormpower.net/pdf/Holstein_World.pdf
18. ^ www.redland.qld.gov.au/Residents/History/Oursuburbs/Cleveland/Pages/Cleveland%20timeline.aspx
19. ^ www.p2pays.org/ref/20/19982.htm
20. ^ Appelhof, pp. 79-86
21. ^ vermontworms.com/red-wiggler-eggs-compost-worm-eggs/
22. ^ www.cahe.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/h-164.pdf table 1
23. ^ www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/vermiculture/castings.html
24. ^ a b c d www.cababstractsplus.org/abstracts/Abstract.aspx?AcNo=20053079252
25. ^ www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V74-4SNHNW4-2&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=53aa6fbd41d22f67588795d4a90cd0d3
26. ^ www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V74-4SNHNW4-2&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=53aa6fbd41d22f67588795d4a90cd0d3
27. ^ Nancarrow, Loren and Janet Hogan Taylor. The Worm Book Ten Speed Press, 1998. p 4.
28. ^ Logsdon, Gene. Worldwide Progress in Vermicomposting Biocycle, October, 1994.
29. ^ Appelhof, p. 111
30. ^ See Wikipedia article on single-stream recycling.
31. ^ www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19459535/
32. ^ Appelhof, p. 113
33. ^ Appelhof, p. 92
34. ^ "Manual of On-Farm Vermicomposting and Vermiculture". oacc.info/DOCs/ Vermiculture_FarmersManual_gm.pdf. Retrieved 2009-12-10.
35. ^ Compost Worm Escape: vermontworms.com/compost-worm-escape/
36. ^ vermontworms.com/compost-worm-escape/
37. ^ books.google.com/books?id=v46QjUMYuxkC&pg=PT114&lpg=PT114&dq=vermicompost+and+nitrogen+burn&source=bl&ots=75U3sXc3z2&sig=ojybaKIEAYrU7a9RjZy6SwJeerM&hl=en&ei=7N33SbWLGpyytAPRypXrDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7
38. ^ www.vermidirtfarms.net/Castings_or_Compost.php