Vermicomposting has taken off at homes and schools. It’s fun and makes the best fertilizer nature has to offer. By recycling food waste properly, we keep the yukky stuff out of our landfills and prevent dangerous gases from releasing into the air and seeping into the earth. We just added a new guide, “How To Compost with Worms”. It’s in the eBookstore and there may be a coupon code available for a discount. Check it out if you’re interested in a “cheat sheet” that you can use forever to keep you on the right track.
Worm castings are safe to handle, make the purest form of plant food and repel bugs and fungus. Worm compost doesn’t burn plants.
Here are our top tips for setting up a worm bin without buying any special supplies – except for the worms of course!
20 Tips for Composting and Breeding Worms
1. What kinds of worms, how much and where do I get them? Buy Red Wigglers. Recommend you start with 1 pound, purchased from a reputable worm grower online or in person. Rubi, the Worm Wrangler (shown here), breeds worms on her farm in Menifee, CA and sets up a booth at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays in Vista, CA. There will be baby worms and larger worms in the mix. You will wonder if you have that many worms in your bag. First time we bought worms, we thought “Wow, that was easy!” You can pay anywhere from $10 to $40 per pound. There are great worm breeders out there that will sell you a pound for $15.
3. What kind of tub? A medium sized tub should do. Make sure the plastic tub is dark. Worms don’t like the light. Don’t torture your new “pets”! A tub is better than a bucket. The worms like more horizontal surface area.
4. Do I modify the tub? Yes, you must! Drill many air holes in the tub on the sides and the bottom so that the worms have oxygen to breathe. Cover the holes with circles of screening (optional), so that the worms won’t leave the bin if they don’t like their accommodations. A wood burning tool will burn clean holes in plastic if you prefer. Use another tub cover under your new bin to catch any liquid that drips out. Personally, we do not have a problem with extra moisture dripping from the bin. We keep the contents damp like a wrung out spong, not wet. If liquid drips, contrary to popular belief, it is NOT compost tea. Experts will tell you that this is called leachate and is not good for your plants. Compost tea doesn’t contain liquid from stuff in the process of rotting! Many folks may disagree, but technically it is not compost tea.
5. What do I put on the bottom of the tub? Lay down 3 inches of shredded cardboard, newspaper or scrap paper on the floor of the bin. This bedding allows for great air circulation. You should dampen the bedding so it is as wet as a wrung out sponge – not dripping.
6. What goes on top of the bedding? Spread out a couple of cups or less of garden soil over the shredded paper. This help the worms digest the food. They need the grit, but not too much. It also helps get the microbes working.
7. Geez, when can I add the worms? Add the worms on top of the damp shredded paper and soil.
8. Do I cover the worms? Yes, add another 3″ of damp shredded paper over the worms to keep them cozy and cool.
9. How much do I feed them? You can feed 1 pound of worms a half a pound of food a day. They can eat 50% of their body weight every 24 hours. Therefore, you could feed 2 pounds of worms a pound of food every day. Be careful. Do you know what a half a pound of food looks like? Don’t overfeed or you risk having bad odors and flies.
10. Where do I put the food? Scatter the food under the first layer of shredded paper. The worms will eventually get to it and start eating.
11. What do I feed my worms? They love all kinds of food scraps including vegetable peels, tea bags, egg shells and coffee grounds. Fruit is good but limit citrus fruits because the material will become too acidic and this could kill your worms.Also limit starchy foods like rice, pasta and bread. You have carbon for your compost already in the form of the bedding. They call this the “browns”. Now most of what you should be adding are “greens”. When you get a chance, check out the “Crazy Things You Can Compost” on this site as well as a witty cartoon about composting.
12. What do I keep out of the bin? Heat, extreme cold, light, meat, dairy products, oily foods, plastic, metal or glass.
13. Where do I keep the bin? Indoors is fine. Outside works too in a shady place. Do not place the tub in the sun. If they live outside, bring them in during the colder months. If the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, relocate the worms inside.
14. Will the tub smell? It shouldn’t stink if you cover the food scraps and keep the contents moist like a wrung out sponge.
15. How long does it take to make compost? They will make compost everyday but to harvest the compost it might take a approximately 2.5 months.
16. How do I know a batch of compost is done? All of your original bedding will be almost gone. The contents will be dark and earthy. You have worm castings!
17. How do I separate the worms from the compost? There are several methods that work. Some take longer than others.
The most popular method: Once all the bedding is dark and most of the food and bedding have been eaten, remove everything and form the castings and worms into a cone shaped pile. Expose the cone to sunlight and wait 10-20 minutes when the worms will burrow deeper into the pile. Then you skim off the top layer of castings and use them to feed your plants. When you start seeing worms, wait another 10-15 minutes and come back to skim off the top again. Repeat until you just have a nice pile of worms to start up again. Keep just a bit of existing castings to mix in with your new bin to make the worms feel at home.
The migration method: You can keep everything in the bin. Move everything to one side of the bin. Prepare the empty side like you were starting a new bin. Add new bedding, a bit of soil and food with more bedding on top. The worms will gradually move over to the new side. Skim off the finished compost as needed.
The “I don’t have anything better to do” method: A more time consuming option is to pick through the castings and gently remove each worm. A lot of work but if you love hanging out with the wigglers and have the time, go for it. Add a handful of your fresh castings to a new bin if you are starting from scratch after you’ve picked through your worms.
18. Where do I put the compost and how much do I add? Mix it with potting soil or put it directly in the garden. Generally speaking, 3 oz of the good stuff will fertilize a medium-sized potted plant.
19. What if my bin starts to smell or I get fruit flies? If your bin smells imagine what kind of odor guests are experiencing! You need more air circulation, or you’re putting too much food in the bin, or it’s too wet. Prevent fruit flies by making sure the food is buried and don’t overload.
20. How long do worms live and how do they reproduce? Worms can live up to 10 years. Worms have both the female and male sex organs (hermaphroditic). They group together and make babies. The cocoons look like little lemon-shaped balls and hold up to 20 babies. If you see those, you are doing well.
Best Bedding Materials
- Newspaper (not colored)
Food scraps worms love:
- Coffee grounds and tea bags
Food scraps you should limit:
- Citrus peels and fruit
- Starchy foods like pasta, bread and rice
- Onions and spicy peppers
Food scraps you should avoid:
- Oily foods