I first heard about composting with worms from my daughter, whose science teacher had a worm bin in her classroom. Said daughter started cleaning our refrigerator to feed the worms for extra credit. The more I read about composting with worms (vermiculture) , the more intrigued I became. Mrs. Bidle (who also taught my sister and I in high school) asked if the worms could spend the summer at my house. Of course I said yes, and almost two years later I’m still waiting for her to start a bin of her own. 🙂 Hopefully, this will help.
Because I am not a patient woman. Nor do I have a big budget for gardening. I want to grow the most food and flowers possible for the smallest investment possible, AND I have a chronic health condition that limits my physical ability. (It’s like having a 12 year-old ADD brain in an 80 year-old body some days.) It quickly became apparent that worms could be a big part of the answer I was looking for. While I am doing other things-or nothing- those worms are making dirt and fertilizer 24/7. AND eating what would otherwise be taking up space in a landfill to boot.
These aren’t just any worms. Eisenia fetida is the Latin name for the worms I wanted. They specialize in eating food scraps and reproducing. And their poo is unbelievable fertilizer. My apple trees, for example, are from Idaho. They are NOT thrilled to be in the icebox of the nation. However, a friend taught me how to prune them and I added castings (worm poo) around the base of the trees and voila!
I am not an expert. See the links at the end of this post for that. This is just a quick overview of what has worked for me.
- Keep an ice cream bucket in the freezer for food scraps. This eliminates fruit flies, smell, and best of all, speeds up the whole composting process. When the fruit and veggies freeze, ice crystals split open the cells, so the worms can break it down faster.
- Brown and Green. There is a specific formula for how much of each to use, but I wing it and it seems to work fine. “Brown” can be paper grocery bags, newspaper, leaves, etc. The worms need this material for bedding, and it also helps soak up excess moisture. “Green” is food scraps (plant only- no dairy or meat…they attract the wrong kinds of bugs and may also contain pathogens). Whole corncobs and apples will eventually break down, but smaller chunks are faster, so I usually chop up the food for the bins. If I don’t have time, it goes in the big compost bin outside, which I add worms to regularly.
- Black. Always cover Green with at least two inches of black, again to keep unwanted bugs from being interested. “Black” can be compost that is finished, bagged potting soil, or even garden dirt.
- Moisture. I keep my bins outside in the summer, so when it rains I cover them. Too much moisture attracts- again- the bugs you don’t want. The drain on my bin keeps clogging, so I just scoop out any extra moisture for super-concentrated fertilizer. A kitchen baster works great for this, too.
- Rotating where in the bin I feed the worms has worked best for separating the worms from their castings (poo). For example, I feed only on the left side of the bin for a few weeks, layering brown, green, and black. Once that side gets close to the top, I stop feeding on the left and switch to the right and start over. The worms eat everything on the left and work their way to the other side of the bin. Then I can remove the finished product from the bin, and use it in the gardens.
I hope this helps you get started! I am all about guidelines and winging it– the details are here:
www.redwormcomposting.com has tons of info on getting started and troubleshooting. Dear Family, please visit this site when you think my worm experiment has gone too far. 😉
www.lavermesworms.com is the Duluth company where my worms came from. Ellen has done great things with worms; check it out!