The Joy of Vermicomposting
December 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
By Kyle Brookens
Vermicomposting or vermiculture is a composting technique that uses earthworms, typically red wigglers, to convert primary vegetable food waste into rich, organic fertilizer. There are several benefits to composting with worms, and constructing a worm bin is so simple, anyone can do it. Vermicompost is so valuable that some people farm earthworm castings and sell thirty pound bags for about twenty dollars each! It is astonishing to know that some people make a living off of collecting other peoples food waste just by feeding it to a bunch of worms. Well, technically the worms do not eat all the food scraps, but instead, fungi, algae, bacteria, and the plethora of micro-organisms that mainly feed on the food scraps are what the worm eats. Furthermore, worms can compost only so many food scraps at once. For every pound of food scraps, the worm bin needs at least one pound of worms for one week. It is a one to one ratio. If a worm bin is full of 10 pounds of worms, the worms need 10 pounds of food scraps every week. Worms also need a moist environment that is out of direct sunlight. If their environment is too dry, they will shrivel and die, but on the other side, if their environment is saturated with standing water, they will suffocate and die. For worms, their skin is the equivalent to our lungs. Think about the environment that your lungs prefer, and try to mimic that if you wish to have happy, healthy worms. Just like your lungs, the worm bin needs to be out of direct sunlight, so they don’t fry. It’s no wonder why worm composting is so beneficial and easy; they really don’t require much, but they sure do give back a whole lot.
Vermicomposting is beneficial in several ways. As stated before, it is a rich, organic fertilizer. The worms convert primary food waste into nutrients to produce more food. Vermicompost is great as a fertilizer because it naturally releases nutrients slowly. This way the plants have more time to obtain all the nutrients, instead of loosing some through run-off. Plants can more easily absorb the nutrients because the fertilizer is natural and not foreign. Along with an excellent fertilizer, earthworm castings are enriched with the beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms that reside in earthworms. They are beneficial because they help the plants in the garden develop a resistance to disease and pests. Plants that are fed healthy earthworm casting nutrients are generally more healthy and therefore do not require the use of pesticides. Believe it or not, earthworm castings also contain plant growth hormones that encourage germination, improve root and shoot growth, and increase yields. “Vermicompost is a colloid and holds up to nine times its own weight in water,” which could be very useful in dry climates that do not receive very much rainfall (DoItYourself Staff). The final product is great because a little bit goes a long way. Besides these benefits, the finished product smells and looks like rich earth, not rotten food like most other composts.
Making a worm bin is inexpensive and easy. The first step is to obtain the bin itself. The size of the bin depends on the amount of food waste you would like to compost every week. A 20 gallon bin works just fine for a small family household. If you would like to keep the worm bin indoors or like to collect the worm tea, make sure to grab 2 bins (one for the worms, and one for the juices to drain into). Take one of the bins and drill several small holes (1/8 – 1/4” drill bit works just fine) in the bottom, along the sides, and in the lid. Lay a piece of cardboard in the bottom of the bin, and tear up or shred enough newspaper or unbleached paper to form a decent bed. Usually about 1/2 – 2/3 of the container should be full of paper. Leave the paper fluffed, and not compressed. Sprinkle the newspaper with a little water, just enough to get it moist. Place some primary food scraps (scraps that are made while preparing meals) on the newspaper. Add a little bit of garden soil to jump start the decomposition process with some micro-organisms and fungi. The soil also gives the worms some grit for their gizzards. Another layer of damp newspaper, food scraps, and damp newspaper again never hurts. Place about one pound of worms in the bin after letting the bin sit for about a week. Banana peals and coffee grounds are excellent initial food scraps that are easily decomposed and digested. Cover the bin and place it in an area that does not receive direct sunlight. If you would like to keep the bin inside, it is important to have the worm bin resting within another worm bin of the same size, so the juices do not leak everywhere. Plus, those juices are nutritious for your plants. Check the bin everyday for dampness and the rate of decomposition for the first two weeks to get a feel for how much water and food scraps your worms need. Wow, Vermicomposting sure is inexpensive, beneficial, and easy.
When the castings are ready to harvest you will need to sift through them. Hand sifting a small bin does not take much time. All you need is a small panel of hardware cloth with 1/8” holes, 4 pieces of 1 x 4, and a container to shake the castings into. Cut a 2′ x 2′ panel of the hardware cloth. Take the 4 2′ pieces of 1 x 4 and nail them together to make a frame. Nail the hardware cloth to one side. Now you can begin sifting the castings into the container. Put the worms back in the bin and give them a fresh supply of cardboard, newspaper, and food scraps. The final product will look like small, dark pellets, and they are very easily spread in the garden, or in container pots.
Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce your waste and improve the health of your garden at the same time. Everyone benefits. The worms are happy because they get fed lots of tasty food. You are happy because you don’t need to have your garbage picked up weekly anymore, and because you get great tasting, high yielding produce without high costs. Lastly, your plants are happy because they are getting fed organic nutrients that they can easily absorb. Among other things, you are doing the world a great favor by recycling your food waste and reducing your carbon footprint by eating fresh produce that comes from your windowsill or backyard. Even more importantly, the produce that you grow at home will taste better than anything you can buy at the store. Ultimately, there really is no reason to not start vermicomposting at home today.
DoItYourself Staff. “7 Benefits of Vermicomposting.” 1999. <http://www.doityourself.com/stry/7-benefits-of-vermicomposting#.UMfMN3dWquk>. Retrieved 3 Dec. 2012.
Jeanroy, Amy. “How To Make Your Own Worm Bin.” 2008. <http://herbgardens.about.com/od/fertilizer/ht/WormBin.htm>. Retrieved 5 December 2012.
Gonzalez, Ruth. “Black Gold. . . And It Ain’t Oil!.” Tailgate Market Fan Club. 29 Jan. 2012. <http://tailgatemarketfanclub.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/black-gold-and-it-aint-oil/>. Retrieved 5 December 2012.