One of the best things a homestead can do for the garden is create compost and vermicomposting is an easy (and quick) way to do it. You can purchase compost at your local or big box garden store, but it is a lot cheaper to make it at home. Plus, it gives you a way to recycle your own food scraps and manure.
There are a few different ways you can create compost. One of my favorites is vermicomposting, or creating compost with worms. If you want to go in depth, one of the best books on the subject is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, but I will outline the details for you here.
Get A Vermicomposting Worm Bin
A vermicomposting worm bin does not have to be expensive. A worm bin can really be anything. You can use a trash can, a Rubbermaid container, or an actual worm bin. When you are choosing your worm bin keep in mind that you want it to be large (deep) enough that the worms can escape the light. Keep your worm bin in a cool dark place and your worms will be happy.
When I started vermicomposting I used the Worm Factory. I liked that I could get to the compost easily without having to sift the worms out. I can also use the worm tea simply by turning the spigot in the bottom bin. When it came to vermicomposting I wanted “easy”! If you use the Worm Factory worm bin you start by adding your worms and food or paper scraps to the bottom tray then start putting the food and paper scraps in the next tray up, when that tray is full move to the next one, and so on. When the food runs out the worms will migrate to the upper tray leaving the compost behind. That was a huge “plus” in my book because I didn't have to filter out the worms. I did not want to lose any of my vermicomposting worms when I took the compost.
Get Vermicomposting Worms
You want to use red wigglers, not earthworms (click here if you want to see the differences between red wigglers and nightcrawlers/earthworms). Red Wigglers are much better (and some would argue the only type of worm that will work) at vermicomposting. A pound of red wigglers is about 1000 worms (and you generally buy them by the pound). Red wigglers are much smaller than an earthworm.
If you have a local source (sometimes they sell them at gardening or fishing stores) then you can get your worms there (just make sure they are Red Wiggler worms). I purchase my worms online because I have not found a good local source (and the local worms I have found are all earthworms). If you do purchase them online keep in mind that they will be a little dehydrated when you get them (and hence a little smaller than they should be). They plump up pretty quickly, but be sure to get them in the vermicomposting bin as soon as you receive them.
Feed Your Worms
A pound of red wigglers will vermicompost about 1 pound of food each day! You can use that information to guesstimate how many worms you need. They usually are sold in groups of 500 or 1000. You do not need to start with the number you need! They will reproduce to the capacity of your bin. However, if you want to get it started up quickly then buying a group of 500 or 1000 worms (or larger depending on how much food scrap you have) will help.
Farm your Vermicompost
If you use a worm bin the harvesting the compost is as easy as taking the bottom tray out and removing the compost. If you are using a different bin then it will be easier if you have two bins going so you have a place to put the worms when you harvest the compost.
One tip is to also add food to one side of the bin in order to attract the worms to it while you are harvesting the vermicompost from the other side. You will probably still have to sift out a few worms, but many of them will migrate towards the food (give them a few hours or even a day to do this).
Troubleshooting Wormicide in your Vermicomposting Bin
If your worms try to commit wormicide (attempting to flee the bin) then a few things could be going on. Keep an eye on your vermicomposting bin and make sure this doesn't happen. If a few do it then many will and you can lose a whole bin of worms pretty quickly (they will die out fairly fast as soon as they leave the bin environment).
- The bin could be too hot. Red wigglers do better in heat than earthworms do, but if you have a cooler area (basement, garage, shade) then they will do better than in full sun. The worms will keep the bin pretty warm on their own they do not need the sun to help. Plus, red wigglers tend to live near the surface so they can't go as deep as an earthworm to escape the heat.
- There could be too much or too little water. Most vegetable and fruit matter have water in it, but balance that with your dry (paper, cardboard) stuff. If it seems to dry then spritz it with a little extra water (only if it seems too dry).
- It might be too light. Worms HATE light and will move away from it. If they can't get away from it in your bin then they will run from the bin searching for darkness.
- You added citrus. Avoid citrus in a vermicomposting bin. If you have a large bin then you might get away with a small amount, but if your worms start dying off then take it out! I will say that I have added citrus to my worm bin without a problem so it isn't an absolute killer. But, be aware of the amount you put in and I always let it dry out a bit before I gave it to them.
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