Guest Post: Worm Composting

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Years ago the FishFam lived on 2 acres on the Central Coast of California. Since then we’ve moved to Kansas City and back again. The size of our yard has changed over time – it keeps getting smaller! But, that doesn’t stop us from trying to enjoy the outdoors and gardening.

Last fall we studied worms. FishBoy4 proved to be the bravest of the bunch.

Today Suzie explains how to reduce your kitchen waste through a more unconventional method: worm composting. How fun! (Well, sorta.)

Everyone’s heard of composting, right? Well there are lots of ways to do it, and I’m going to be talking about a more unusual one… Composting with worms.
You read it right… worm composting, a.k.a. vermiculture or vermicomposting. You might say yuck, but it’s really a lot of fun to watch and the kids love it!

How does it work?

Worms thrive on decaying material and from the bacteria that develops as things decompose. Because the materials don’t go through a heat cycle in this type of worm composting, it has been stated that compost from worms is a better compost than any other form.

Worm composting is a great way to get rid of extra vegetable, fruit, and garden matter! It’s another one of nature’s ways of breaking down dead materials into fertile soil that can be used for gardening.

Making your worms a home.

For home use, you can start inexpensively with a couple of large Rubbermaid containers. There are commercially available worm composters, but homemade devices work just fine and are much less expensive.

Drill several small holes in the bottom of one. I think there’s about 5 holes, about 1/4 in size in mine. These holes serve primarily as drainage holes, so you want enough holes that your worms will not be drowning in extra moisture but not too many that your worms and compost fall through.

You’ll also need a few small holes along the top edge to serve as air exchange. Worms need oxygen just like we do. Don’t worry, they won’t escape so long as the environment is friendly to them

In the other Rubbermaid container, drill a hole about an inch from the bottom in a corner. This will serve as a drainage hole in case of excess moisture in the bin. It also helps serve as as source of oxygen exchange.

Place the container with all the holes in the bottom on top of the other container and make sure you have a lid for the one on top.

Now it’s time to get the environment ready for worms.

Bedding materials are meant to keep the decaying materials and compost from compacting together and also serve as a place to bury your food scraps. Materials typically used in a worm compost are shredded paper (nothing glossy or colorful), cardboard, and leaves. Some recommend peat moss as a good starter, but it is not a renewable resource, and our primary goal here is to recycle, right?

Moisture is the next item needed for our worm bin. When you first start, you want to soak your paper and then wring it out as good as you can. You want the paper lightly moist, not wet, like a well wrung out sponge. It shouldn’t drip, but only feel damp to the touch. After the initial setup, I’ve found that the food scraps I use often create plenty of moisture, and I don’t have to add any more.

We also need some grit for our worms. Worms need grit to help them digest their food. A couple of handfuls of garden soil will work well. Don’t use potting soils, or soils with chemicals as they may kill your worms.

Now to add your food. Worms will eat just about anything that will decay, the smaller the pieces the faster they work on it. Avoid salt, which can kill your worms, and give citrus and breads sparingly since worms don’t tend to work on them quickly. Examples of food are teabags, coffeegrounds, fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, and just about anything you can thing of that will decompose.

You want to keep in mind that oily foods, such as cheese and meats will take a long time to decay and tend to put off an odor, so although your worms can eat them, your nose may not like them.

To add your foodscraps, simply pull away the top layer of bedding in one area and add your scraps. Cover the food scraps with bedding material and let it all sit.

Allow the worm bin to sit idle for a few days to a few weeks to allow the bacteria to begin to work in the bin. Worms eat the decomposing material as it begins to decay, so if you put worms into a newly made bed they will go hungry for a few days.

Keep your worm bin in a location out of the sun and in a typical room temperature environment. Worms will bake in too much heat and slow down or freeze in too much cold.

After your bin has set for a time, you need to get some worms.

The kind of worms you use will determine the speed at which they will work. The most common worm used for composting is Eisenia foetida, commonly called the Red Wiggler. To get worms you can dig through a farmers manure pile, if you’re feeling adventurous. Otherwise, check around to see if any of your friends secretly have a worm bin and get a start from them or order them from a reputable company online. I used Acme Worm farm to get started. Do shop around and try and find a company close to you if you can. The less they have to travel, the better they will respond when you get them.

It is good to know how your new worms were fed so you can mimick their food source and slowly change it to what you want to feed them, this helps eliminate shock and loss of worms.

I recommend 2 lbs. to start in a container of this size, although you can start with a smaller amount as they multiply rapidly if their environment is good.

Once you receive your worms, simply place them on top of the bedding and allow them to burrow into the soil. Put the lid on and don’t disturb them if at all possible. You will want to leave a light on in the area they are in overnight for a few days to keep them in their new home. The worms may not like their new surroundings because it is different from where they came from, they will stay put if there is a light on them unless the conditions are completely unbearable for them.

When you feed your worms, always bury the food a little under the surface. This helps to keep any odor down, which I rarely notice, and keeps the fruit flies from hatching and becoming a menace in your home.

I recommend you check the previous feeding spot to see how they are working on it. If they are well into it, add some more food in another location. Each time you feed, rotate to a new location, leaving one area clean of food at all times. When you get to an area to feed and there’s still food, wait for it to become clean before feeding again. This helps to insure that they are not overfed and that they have a safe haven if the environment starts to heat up with decay.

Harvesting your compost.

When your bin starts to fill with compost, you will notice the bedding disappearing and the volumne going down. You can add more bedding, get ready to harvest, or add another bin on top of the working one to allow the worms to completely finish the compost and migrate to a new environment when they are done.

If you can’t wait to harvest, simply remove the compost and lay it out in the light. The worms on top will work their way to the center and you can harvest the compost off the top. Continue this until you have a pile of worms left and begin again with new bedding.

If you want to add another bin, simply drill holes into the bottom of a new bin and place it on top of the working bin. Fill it with bedding and begin to feed as you did the first bin. The worms will migrate to the new bin as they finish the previous. Give the worms a few months before you harvest the first bin to allow them to finish and any remaining eggs to hatch and migrate as well.

Another way to work out of just one bin is to push the finished compost to one side and to start new on the other side of the bin. This is something I began doing since I lost a good amount of worms in my startup due to the environmental change they encountered (lesson learned). I wanted to give my worms more food and harvest without the threat of losing any eggs. This would work well too if you didn’t have a lot of scrap, but wanted to make the best of it.

Storing compost

If you’re not going to be using your compost right away, put it in a container that allows for air flow and don’t allow it to bake in the sun or freeze. Worm compost is full of beneficial bacteria that thrive only in the right conditions.

Suzie is a SAHM in Indiana. When she’s not busy taking care of house & home, scoring good deals, teaching about deals, singing, decorating, camping, & loving God, she likes to travel with her hubby and son & work in the garden. You can find her blogging her deals at Family Makes Cents. She’s also the creator of a new website The Coupon Class. Her mission is to make others’ lives financially better by teaching them easy ways to save money.

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  1. When we started planting our garden this year, I told my DH that we would become worm farmers next year. This is very informative! I had never thought to build my own Worm Composter, I was looking online to buy one.

    Thanks! 🙂

  2. Thanks for sharing how you do worm composting. Before we moved we had a homemade worm bin out of a large plastic pot. Our daughter loved her worm pets. This is giving me some needed encouragement to start a new worm bin.


  3. I’m just beganning to start worm composting and want to use some newspaper. However I saw where you should make sure it is vegatable base ink in the print. How in the world can one determine that? Many thanks. Mary

  4. I’m in the process of worm composting for the first time and want to have my “babies” bed ready when they come. Wanted to use newspaper but read it must have vegatable based ink. Soooo…how in the world does one figure that out? Anyone know? Many thanks. Mary

  5. Mary, I was a little concerned about that too when I started but with a little research I found that most all newspapers use veggie based inks now so I didn't go to too much trouble trying to find out. I get 2 different papers and have used both with no problems. If you're still concerned you might call the newspaper where you get the paper and find out if they know what is used… they could at least direct you to the printer that they use.

    Hope that helps!!