By Teresa J. Frith & Priya Agarwal
Vermicomposting, also known as worm composting, serves the same ultimate purpose as conventional types of composting. They each use a natural process to break down organic materials. But while conventional composting methods rely on fungi and microorganisms, with vermicomposting it’s worms that do all the work.
Another difference between the two is that conventional composting breaks down organic materials via heat that the microorganisms generate, then what’s left has to cool down so it can cure and thus produce the end result of fertilizer for your garden or lawn. That process can take about six months. In vermicomposting the worms eat kitchen and lawn scraps and poop out castings to create a very rich and powerful type of fertilizer. That process takes two to three months.
What Is Vermicomposting?
Vermicompost itself is the end result of the worms breaking down the scraps and converting it into the lovely, rich fertilizer. The scraps fed to the worms to produce this fertilizer include things like vegetables and fruit peels, cores, etc., as well as bread, coffee grounds, tea bags, coffee filters, egg shells, and other organic materials like grass clippings and leaves.
Just don’t feed your worms things like fats, bones, dairy products, meats, fish, or animal or human poop. Regular paper is ok if it is shredded, i.e. shredded cardboard is great bedding for your worms and they likely will eat it as well. Avoid pungent foods like onions or garlic unless you don’t mind the smelly results.
Vermicompost Pros and Cons
- Vermicompost is full of several things which assist in getting seeds to germinate quicker as well as grow stronger roots. This includes plant growth hormones, phoic acids and humic.
- The compounds found in vermicompost appear to provide plants with protection from diseases and pests.
- Plants have been shown to grow larger and produce bigger fruits and vegetables if grown using vermicompost.
- If you add in too much food and other scraps, the bacteria will multiply too fast and heat up your worm bin. This could kill the worms, so you only should add around an inch of scraps to your bin once weekly. You must keep the worm bin between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your worms healthy and happy.
- You must take care of your living composters – the worms. You do this via making sure they have a proper bin to live in with appropriate moist bedding, enough air flow so they get the required amounts of oxygen and of course the right foods.
Kinds of Vermicomposting Techniques
There are three kinds of vermicomposting techniques: beds, windrows and bins. A bin can be just about any size, it depends on how many worms you are housing. You keep this bin above ground and must make sure the temperature stays between 55 and 77 so your worms won’t die, so must keep this bin indoors in an appropriate place.
Beds consist of long troughs you dig into the ground or put into the ground. Beds retain a more consistent temperature than bins, plus the worms are in their natural environment. However, you have to dig into these beds to get the worm castings, so it’s harder to harvest it.
Windrows are a mix of the two methods. They consist of large, long mounds which sit on the surface of the ground. They are large so can resist rapid temperature changes and it’s easy to harvest the castings since it is above ground.
Vermicomposting produces three things: worms, worm tea and fertilizer. You can double your worm quantity about every two months if you feed them well and take care of them. You may wish to sell some of your excess worms as fishing bait to make extra money. The other two products are useful for fertilizing and nourishing plants. Worm tea is the liquid which drips out of a worm bin and like the fertilizer (castings) it is full of great nutrients for plants.
It’s easy to harvest the castings or worm tea. Just put some type of plate or platter under the bin to catch the worm tea, and you can scrap the food or other scraps to one side to look for the worm castings, or gently comb through the mixture to take out worms to sell. You can store any unused fertilizer or worm tea if you don’t use it up right away. The castings can be stored for about six months and the worm tea for about half that timeframe.
Why should you do vermicomposting?
So, why should someone choose vermicomposting? For one thing it keeps those scraps from being dumped into a landfill. It also produces nearly free fertilizer you can sprinkle on your garden and lawn to make it healthier. Plus, it’s actually a fun activity for kids too.
So, no matter if you want a garden full of healthy and nourishing fruits and vegetables, are keen on being more eco-friendly with your food and lawn scraps or want a fun project for your kids, vermicomposting is the way to go.
Vermicomposting is great for you and the planet. It produces high-quality fertilizer for your garden and reduces food waste, keeping garbage out of landfills and ultimately toxic gases out of our air.
Although the answer to “Should I vermicompost?” is clear, deciding which method to use in your compost bin can be a little trickier.
So, let’s break down why a worm compost bin is a great choice!
What is a vermicomposting bin?
There are three main methods of composting: aerobic (with air), anaerobic (without air), and vermicomposting (with worms).
Vermicompost requires the use of a worm bin. A worm compost bin is exactly what you think it is—a bin full of compost and worms (and no, it’s not gross at all).
When you vermicompost, you add food scraps, dry leaves or paper, a bit of moisture, and red wriggler worms to a worm bin. Then, the magic happens!
What are worm castings?
Worm castings are the final product you’re looking for when you vermicompost in a worm bin. It’s basically worm poop, but that title doesn’t give this stuff the credit it deserves.
- improve soil aeration and drainage ability
- increase water retention in soil
- repel garden pests like aphids and spider mites
- add essential nutrients to soil to help plants grow
- are gentle on plants and can be used in any garden
The Four Main Types of Worm Bins
Although all worm bins produce worm castings, not all bins are the same. Here’s a quick guide to the four most basic types of worm bins.
Really, any container can be turned into a worm bin. It doesn’t need anything special or fancy, except it will need a few holes for proper aeration.
A recycled plastic trash can or an old wooden drawer would both work as great containers for a worm bin—as long as you maintain your compost properly!A Flow-Through Worm Bin
With a flow-through design, there are separate compartments that allow the worm castings to flow downwards. In this type of worm bin, you feed your worms food scraps from the top compartment.
In a flow-through worm bin, the worms can move freely throughout the entire system. As the worms wriggle around, the smaller worm castings naturally fall downwards, thanks to gravity.Stackable Worm Bins
Not to be confused with flow-through worm bins (which also feature a stackable design), stackable worm bins are a combination of flow-through designs and basic container designs.
With stackable bins, you’re meant to feed your worms in a new compartment once they’re done with the old one. You continue “moving up” as you harvest from the bottom. This design ensures the worms are disturbed the least.Worm Composting Beds
This type of worm bin is typically found outdoors. Any open space can be used to create a worm composting bed, and you only need some lumber or brick to create one yourself.
DIY Worm Bins vs. Buying a Worm Bin
Whether you want to DIY a worm bin or purchase one is up to you and your needs!
While DIY options tend to be cheaper, I’ve found that DIY solutions often lack the little details that make specially designed worm bins worth the money.
With a DIY worm bin, you might experience:
- worms escaping (they’re explorers!)
- difficulty harvesting the worm castings, especially if using a simple container
- problems with ventilation
If you’re on a budget, DIYing a vermicompost worm bin is easy and cost-effective. But if you want a solution that is convenient to set up and maintain, consider purchasing a pre-constructed worm bin.
Drainage in your vermicomposting bin
Drainage is important so your worms don’t drown, and so the bin doesn’t get wet and gross. If you’ve been feeding them overly wet food or giving them bedding that’s wetted down, the moisture will slowly seep down and make its way to the bottom. Now, if the bottom is a solid surface without drainage holes, it will collect there and create a liquid and anaerobic mess.
This is why the Worm Bucket has an outer bucket with a drainage spigot. This makes drainage easy, and you can easily collect and use the waste material, which is called leachate. Please note - Leachate can contain anaerobic material and organisms and shouldn't be used directly on plants.
Ventilation in your vermicomposting bin
Good ventilation is very important in your worm bin, because without it your worms can suffocate and die. Unlike humans, earthworms breathe through their skin. So if the worms are overcrowded and the bin isn’t ventilated enough, they will suffer.
One of the ways to improve aeration is to move the material in the bin around every week or two. However, this alone isn’t enough. The bin needs ventilation ports that don’t allow the worms to escape, so a bin with an open top isn’t ideal.
When looking at building plans or ideas, look for something that has a solid design idea for the lid. If you’re making a quick worm bin out of a plastic container, drill a number of holes in the lid and make sure they’re right on top, so the worms can’t crawl out through them.
Which Composting Worms Should I Buy?
When most people hear the word ‘earthworm’ they likely imagine a pinkish, squirmy little creature found buried in their backyard or as bait on the hook of a fishing line. But did you know there are more than 4,000 different species of earthworms throughout the world? As an aspiring vermicomposter, it is important to know which species of earthworm will be most effective in your worm bin to ensure vermicomposting success.
Eager to get your worm bin up and running, you may be tempted to head to your own backyard and collect earthworms for your worm bin. Is this an option? The short answer is no. Not only are there thousands of different worm species, but there are also three different types of worms.
Earthworms are one of three types: deep burrowing (anecic), lateral burrowing (endogenic), and surface-dwelling (epigenic).
Deep burrowing worms are known to burrow four to six feet underground through a series of vertical tunnels. A commonly known species is the Nightcrawler, that worm we mentioned earlier that you will find at your local bait shop. They also tend to grow quite large and do not thrive in large populations.
Lateral burrowing worms are the backyard garden worms you may have first pictured. They are fantastic in gardens to help aerate dense, compact soil, but they are not ideal for your worm bin.
It is important to know the burrowing habits of worms so you can choose a worm that is appropriate for your bin. So when thinking again about the worms in your backyard, you have to consider how different that environment is from the worm bin you are building. Deep burrowing and lateral burrowing worms would not be happy in your household worm bin and will ultimately not be productive.
The best worm for successful vermicomposting is the surface-dwelling, red wiggler.
Another reason red wigglers are the champion of the worm farm is that they readily reproduce in a worm bin with the right balance of: moisture, bedding, food, temperature, etc. The reproduction cycle of the red wiggler is just 27 days, so that means that in the right conditions your worm population could double in about two months. These worms can also regulate the population in your bin by slowing down reproduction when they are nearing capacity.
All of these qualities combined are the key reasons why red wigglers are the best worm partner for your vermicomposting system. When you set them up for success, they will turn your table scraps into ‘black gold’ right before your eyes.
You may not have known it, but there are about 2,700 types of worms. One of the best kinds for doing composting or for fishing are red worms. Red worms are quite common and can live for up to five years, which is one reason people like to use them. Some of the other names they go by include tiger worms, manure worms, brandling worms, and striped worms.
Feeding and care of red worms
As you can see by their name, these worms are red in color, and when they stretch out that’s when you’ll notice the striping on their bodies. They are easy to care for and maintain. Some of what red worms eat include:
- Vegetable scraps and peels
- Coffee grounds
- Coffee filters
- Fruit skins and cores (no citrus fruits)
- Moist tea bags
- Breads (moistened prior to use)
- Dry dog food (moistened prior to use)
- Shredded cardboard
- Ground up egg shells (sparingly)
- Grass clippings
Things not to feed red worms:
- Dairy products
- Meat products
- Processed foods
- Fish products
- Grease or oils
- Human waste
Uses for red worms
As stated earlier red worms are mostly used for fishing bait and composting. Red worms can actually convert organic elements into a rich all-natural fertilizer via earthworm castings, which are their poop. In only a day they can generate about 75 percent of their body weight in these castings. This is like gold for producing healthy and large fruits and vegetables, as well as for a green and lovely lawn.
When it comes to using them for fishing bait, they are great for fish such as perch, trout, bluegill and crappies, but other types of fish will happily eat them as well. Fishermen love them because they can survive submerged under water for much longer than some other breeds of worms used for fishing.
Breeding red worms
Red worms are simple to breed and very prolific. They can lay a single egg capsule once a week and each of these capsules holds about 3 or 4 baby worms. So, as long as you keep your worms healthy and happy, you’ll never run out of them. You just need a container such as a five gallon bucket, bedding, appropriate food and moisture and you’re set for raising red worms.
Just remember to not keep the bucket in direct sunlight and keep them in a warm, dark area like a basement for best results. Be sure to weekly fluff up their bedding of shredded papers or other materials so they get enough oxygen, and spray their enclosure with water if it looks too dry, but don’t drown them.
All in all, red worms are a kind of common earthworm used mainly composting and as fish bait. They are easy to feed, breed and maintain and can be kept in your basement or outside if the temperature is warm enough for them. So, if you want the best gardens or to catch the most fish, be sure to get yourself some red worms today.
Other ways to compost
Composting is a type of waste disposal in which the organic waste gets to decompose in a natural fashion via an oxygen-rich environment. The waste you place into a composting environment must be things like food waste (i.e. vegetable and fruit peels, cores, etc.), as well as coffee grounds, eggshells, grass clippings, leaves, etc. It doesn’t include things like meat, dairy, animal or human waste, perennial weeds (because it spreads them) or citrus fruits.
All the appropriate materials are put into some sort of pile or container where they naturally get broken down via bacteria, earthworms, as well as other organisms. You also must add some water and ensure it has access to oxygen via turning the elements every few days, and eventually in a few months you end up with the final product: wonderful eco-friendly fertilizer or humus that’s great for feeding your plants or lawn.
Types of Composting
The three main kinds of composting are: Aerobic, Anaerobic and Vermicomposting.
Aerobic composting is the decomposing of dense organic material via microorganisms which need oxygen in order to process it so you end up with a form or organic and eco-friendly fertilizer.
Anaerobic composting is when putrefaction or decomposing via digestion is used to process dense organic materials which don’t need oxygen. This is usually a large scale form of managing waste and it produces what’s called biogas, which is mostly carbon dioxide and methane. It’s also sometimes used for creating renewable energy via producing what’s called digestate, a fibrous and thick biomass used to condition soil.
Vermicomposting is composting using worms or microorganisms in a special container called a vermicomposter or another kind of controlled container to decompose the organic materials into fertilizer, which is then called vermicompost. It uses a mix of bedding, organic waste materials, worm castings or humus.
There are also other kinds of composting, to include:
Mesophilic --This type of composting happens a fairly low temperatures between 20 to 45 degrees Celsius via mesophiles. Mesophiles are organisms which thrive in these temperatures and carry out the decomposition process.
Thermophilic -- This process happens at higher temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius. Thermophiles are the microorganisms which do the decomposition work.
Backyard Composting – This is small scale composting done by the average person in their backyard inside of a small area. There are several types of backyard composting to include cold or passive, hot or active, as well as hole or trench.
Cold Composting – This is a type of anaerobic composting and it is simple to do because it doesn’t require much human intervention. You merely have to add organic waste from time to time and then allow the decomposition to occur naturally. Once you set up your container there’s nothing else to do. However, this type takes a lot more time to accomplish the decomposition process since there’s a lack of any outside force for optimizing it like air, water, or other types of enhancements other composting methods implore.
Hot Composting – This is where you recycle organic waste via biological aerobic decomposition via a controlled container or other such environment. It ends up generating nutrient rich humus and is a lot shorter process than the cold compositing method. One advantage of it is that it usually destroys the majority of any undesired spores, weeds, seeds or toxic pathogens that could be within the organic materials you put into your container.
Hole/Trench Composting – With this method you recycle the organic waste via placing it into a hole or trench you dig into the earth. There it decays and uses anaerobic decomposition to condition and fertilize the area around the hole/trench. One advantage of it is that it’s quite easy to do and assists the plants around it in developing a better root system, plus it is less smelly than other methods since it is underground. A main disadvantage is it doesn’t produce the fertilizer you can use elsewhere like most other composting methods.
Heap/Pile/Bin/Tumbler Composters – This is another simple method. All you have to do is select an area of ground and start piling up your organic material. You can put a fence around it if desired so it doesn’t spread out too much. You do have to mix up the materials with a pitchfork or shovel from time to time.
A variation of this type of composting is to place the organic materials in a composting bin instead of on the ground. There are many different sizes of bins and you can buy one readymade or build one yourself. Or, you can get a bin that rotates called a tumbler bin, which is enclosed and you just turn it, so the labor required to keep up the decomposition is easier than using a pitchfork or shovel.
Mechanical Composting – This method uses electricity and generates heat as well as rotates the contents of the container to create waste that is semi-compacted in only 24 hours. It’s normally used mainly by places like restaurants, schools, hotels, hospitals or other big institutions, as it is more expensive than other methods.
Chickens as Composters – If you have the space to raise chickens, this is a simple composting method. Chickens like to scratch the ground, plus they love to eat scraps, and you can use their waste as fertilizer. Merely feed your chickens kitchen food scraps and it both feeds the chickens as well as producing fertilizer.
All in all, there are many types of composing methods, and you need to evaluate your situation and choose the one that best serves you. If you want to try vermicomposting, here is an article on the best type of worm to have in your worm bin.