If you are an avid gardener, you have probably come across the name ‘vermicomposting’ and wondered what it was and how you could implement the concept in your garden.
Vermicomposting (or vermiculture or worm composting) is a concept that is quickly gaining popularity among small-scale gardeners in the US.
This article offers a step-by-step guide on how to get started with vermicomposting in your backyard.
What is Vermicomposting?
Simply put, vermicomposting is the process of using earthworms to create compost. Earthworms are excellent converters of organic matter into compost.
The type of compost resulting from this process is called vermin-compost. Vermicomposting is one of the most eco-friendly and clean forms of creating compost for use in your garden.
Vermicomposting is a biological process where earthworms feed onto the organic matter and help speed up the degradation process. Other factors come into play here (such as temperature, worm density, and moisture) but generally, vermicomposting is a clean and very environmental-friendly concept.
Why Should You Consider Vermicomposting?
It is inexpensive
Creating compost using earthworms is cheaper than buying artificial fertilizers. You can find worms easily by digging up the top layer of soil in a small patch of your garden.
Once you have the worms confined in one place, you will be surprised at the rate at which they breed and multiply. If you do not wish to scout for worms from your garden, you can order a starter kit from your local nursery or worm farms close to you.
The worms will keep multiplying and save you a lot of money in the long run while still making good compost.
It is clean and eco-friendly
Unlike other forms of composting (such as using artificial fertilizer), vermicomposting is very clean. The composting bins will be free from the awful smells other composters make during the composting process.
Vermicomposting is straight-forward
There’s no need to hire an expert to help you get started with vermicomposting. It is a straightforward process.
You will need a bin (if you decide to compost indoors), the worms themselves, and organic matter. Occasionally, you may need to add some water to control the moisture level in the bin.
If in doubt, turn to online resources (like this article) to help you with tips and hacks on vermicomposting.
Restores soil’s health by adding nutrients
Studies show that using earthworms in vermitechnology helps stabilize the soil and add to its ecological framework by releasing nutrients as the organic matter degrades.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Vermicomposting
Now that you know the benefits of vermicomposting, it is time to start creating your vermicomposting structure:
Choose a space/bin
Start your vermin-compost in a good location. This step will steer your project onto the right path. You may decide to do it indoors using bins (or composters) or in a sheltered space outdoors.
For this concept to work perfectly, temperature and moisture should be well balanced. Do not let the worms get too cold or too hot.
If you are handy with tools, build a DIY composting bin and save money. Do not buy a translucent compost bin. Worms operate optimally in dark areas.
Create bedding for the worms
You can recycle newspapers by using them as bedding for your worms. Shred the newspapers into strips and create bedding at the bottom of your bin.
Not all kinds of paper are suitable for worms because some contain harmful inks and pigments. Newspapers are safe because they use regulated ink.
Alternatives to newspaper strips include shredded cardboard, dried leaves, and straws. Do not use glossy paper.
Once you have laid the beddings, spray with water to moisten them but not make them wet. Ensure the bin is not waterlogged.
Add little top garden soil to introduce other microorganisms to help speed up the vermicomposting process. Avoid using sawdust if possible. Sawdust will drain the moisture in the bin quickly.
Keep the bin well-drained at all times. Ensure there is good air circulation inside the bin to regulate temperature levels and help the worms breed and multiply.
Order (or find) the right kind of worms for composting
If you do not know which kinds of worms are good for vermicomposting, order a starter kit from a reputable dealer or local nursery.
Check reviews to assess whether you are dealing with legitimate worm farms. Worm farms give invaluable advice on how to take care of these worms so that they can multiply and fulfill their vermicomposting purpose faster.
Red worms are the best worms for vermicomposting. There are hundreds of different earthworm species but only a few of them are ideal for vermicomposting.
Your supplier will explain what kind of worms will work best for you and how to take care of them.
Ideally, start with about 1000 worms per 80 pounds of organic matter. Worms multiply very quickly. Within a few months, you will have an abundance of worms for all your vermicomposting needs.
Feeding the worms
Worms are not heavy feeders, but when you have thousands of them concentrated in one area, you will need to provide them with sufficient food. We are talking about a minimum of a pound of organic scrap per every one thousand worms daily.
Note that not all kinds of food are edible for worms. Bones, hair, fat, and skin products, for instance, should never find their way into the compost bin because they are hard to decompose.
Avoid acidic kitchen scraps as well. Do not put onion, garlic, lemon, or citrus fruit peels into the vermicomposting bin because they are acidic and might kill the worms.
Plant waste, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, carrots, cereal, bread, and pasta are examples of popular food for vermicomposting worms. Do not add too much food that can easily change the soil’s pH (such as crushed eggshells).
Keep the temperature and humidity well-regulated
As mentioned, earthworms multiply fast, and they only do so if the environment inside the bin is conducive. The higher the number of worms you have, the higher the rate of vermicomposting.
The optimal temperature levels for vermicomposting are between 46-80 degrees F. If you are vermicomposting during the cold season, you might have to provide heating to keep the temperature inside the recommended range for optimal performance.
How to Maintain The Vermicomposting Bin
Keep the compost moist but not wet. You can do this by spraying the compost occasionally or by adding layers of moist compost matter.
Always ensure the bin has good drainage. The easiest way to do this is by creating holes at the bottom to let excess water flow out.
A healthy vermicomposting bin should smell earthly. If you experience a bad smell coming from your bin, something is wrong. Check to see if the worms are okay. It could be poor ventilation, poor temperature control, too much moisture, or poor drainage.
Once the organic matter decomposes into compost, add fresh material to keep the supply steady. The worms will gradually move to the fresh material and the composting process starts again.
The mature compost should have a rich, earthly smell. Remove the mature compost and use it as you wish to grow crops and vegetables in your garden.
Problems with Vermicomposting
Gnats or flies
If your soil is too moist, flies and gnats will hover around your bin. Since most of the food scraps are exposed, there is the likelihood of flies coming in to feast on the decaying matter.
To remove this problem, close the bin’s lid and reduce the frequency of watering the compost bin. If there is poor drainage, add dry matter to soak up most of the water.
Worms escape from the bin
When you find worms escaping from your bin, they are unsatisfied with their living conditions. Check the drainage, humidity, temperature, and food supplies to ensure that you provide the optimal conditions for a conducive living environment.
Vermicomposting takes time
All factors kept constant, it can take up to 6 months for the earthworms to fully digest the organic matter to turn it into proper compost. Most gardeners do not have the patience to wait that long.
Vermicomposting is demanding
Unlike other forms of composting where you place the organic matter inside the bin and forget about it, you need to keep track of how you feed your worms when vermicomposting.
The earthworms should have enough food to eat at all times. Keeping the feeding schedule might be too tasking for some gardeners.
When vermicomposting, you need to keep the temperature level regulated so that the earthworms can survive. This means keeping the bin cool most time. A cold bin creates a conducive environment for other unwanted pests and parasites to thrive.
In the normal composting process, a lot of heat builds up inside to help the organic matter decompose faster. Few pests and disease-carrying microorganisms can survive in intense heat.
For more on composting in your home and garden, check out these posts next;