Vermicomposting is a self-contained and modified alternative or addition to traditional outdoor composting. It consists of using small worms and basic vegetarian kitchen waste such as: banana peels, wilted lettuce, potato clippings, apple cores, melon rinds etc. as “food” for the worms to break down into compost. Worm composting can be done year round inside the home with just a plastic bin, organic matter and a handful of red wiggler worms.
A great eco-friendly and inter-generational activity, worm composting is also perfect for classroom science projects, nature camps and gardening programs. Most children love to work hands-on with worms and they are so enthralled that they don’t even realize they are learning a science lesson as well! Cultivating worms can also be a fun social studies or environmental studies lesson. A group of students from Maine once harvested not only compost for the school gardens, but the worms as well. The worms were given to the local center for wildlife rehabilitation to be fed to abandoned and sick animals such as baby birds and turtles.
Harvesting the rich soil for gardens or indoor house plants saves on purchasing enrichments and fertilizers, all the while recycling food scraps that would other wise be thrown away.
Contrary to popular belief, worm bins do not omit offensive odors when maintained properly—the only scent is a fresh earth fragrance that one must be close enough to the soil to even detect.
The red wiggler worms are used because they break down organic matter quickly and reproduce frequently. Commonly referred to as “manure worms” they can actually be found under cow droppings. However, if picking up cow patties is not your thing, your state’s Master Gardener program can direct you to a worm source.
Directions for composting with worms:
What you will need: Opaque plastic tub with a lid, two parts of untreated potting soil to one part of shredded newspaper along with a handful of vermiculite and a handful of worms.
How to do it: Drill approximately twelve to fifteen holes in the bottom, top and sides of a plastic storage bin. (worm bins may be constructed as small or as large as the worm farmer desires) for aeration. Add two parts of untreated potting soil to one part of shredded newspaper along with a handful of vermiculite. Mix thoroughly. Do not fill worm bedding higher than mid-level of the bin as you will need room to cover and add to the scraps. Add a handful of vegetable kitchen scraps and a handful of “red wigglers” cover and check on every few days to see if the worms are congregating toward the food source and breaking it down. With in a few weeks worms will begin propagating.
Troubleshooting: Over or underfeeding the worms.
Overfeeding: If there is any foul odor, mold growing, or if the bedding is soaking wet, you have overloaded the bin with food and the worms cannot keep up with it.
Solution: Check to see if worms are alive (they can drown if it’s too wet), and if they are, remove some of the food source, add shredded newspaper and soil to absorb excess moisture and keep the lid off the bin for a few days.
Underfeeding: If the soil is dry and crumbly and the worm count is low or if the worms are lethargic or dry, they are in need of food.
Solution: add more food scraps and cover the bin.
Fruit Flies: If fruit flies appear, make sure the food source is buried in soil and that the worms are breaking it down in a timely fashion.
Harvesting: Every few months you will need to add new bedding, and harvest the compost. The easiest way to do this is to move all the food sources to one small corner of the bin and wait a few days. Eventually all of the worms will gravitate to the food source. Remove the compost that is left behind and replace with fresh bedding.
If you decide to stop composting, simply dump your bin and compost material into a garden or outdoor bin.
Learn more about the benefits of composting.