Vermiposting: Composting With Earthworms

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Many earth-conscious consumers compost to keep biodegradable wastes out of landfills and to create a rich, organic matter that can be returned to the soil. Adding worms to your composting efforts, known as “vermiposting,” can speed up the composting process and even enable you to keep composting in the winter, when most outdoor compost piles (at least in northern climates) are sitting there in a frozen state. Compost that has been created by vermiposting will be even richer in vital nutrients that your plants need.

No-Smell Composting In Your Home!
You can compost under the sink, in the basement, in a closet, or some other convenient out-of-the-way spot. Even if you live in a small apartment, you can create your own compost for your houseplants! A properly maintained compost bin will not draw insects or have an objectionable odor, and visitors won’t suspect you have a tub of rotting garbage in the house!

Setting Up Your Vermiposting Bin
Once you’ve decided where to put your bin, you need to prepare a worm bin. There are many commercial vermiposting kits you can buy, and they can be expensive. Forget about them. Go to the local dollar store and buy a cheap plastic tub, about an 8-gallon size, with a lid.

To set up your compost bin, drill several 1/4″ holes in the bottom for drainage and lay a piece of fine mesh screen in the bottom (an old window screen is perfect) to keep the compost and worms from leaking out the bottom. Place your bin on some bricks to raise it off the floor, and put a drip tray underneath.

Prepare the bedding for your worms by shredding up some newspaper (black and white print only, no color inks) and soaking it with water. Not too much water; you want the paper to be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Add a few handfuls of dirt, which the worms need to digest food properly, and some dead leaves (whole, not shredded), already decomposed compost, or aged manure, whichever is available, to create a suitable biological environment to get started. Fill your compost bin about 3/4 full of organic matter. If the material in the bin seems a bit too wet, add some dry shredded paper or dead leaves to soak up the excess moisture, or just let the bin sit and dry out a few days before adding your earthworms.

You will need about two pounds of worms for each pound of garbage you create daily. You can buy earthworms online, from a local or regional wholesaler, or the local bait shop. You might even find enough worms to get started in a pile of decaying leaves in the back yard. Don’t use common earthworms who prefer to tunnel in soil and won’t be happy living in a compost heap.

Lay your earthworms on top of the organic matter in the bin and put it under a bright light. The worms will begin to tunnel their way into the bedding to escape the light. Once they have made themselves at home, put the lid on the bin and tuck it away in the spot you have chosen.

What To Feed Your Earthworms
You can start feeding your earthworms with kitchen waste and by-products: fruit and vegetable scraps, dry bread, crushed egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, dryer lint, and other organic waste. Chop or tear the waste into small pieces for quicker decomposition, or you can let the worms do the work for you. To add waste to your compost bin, make a trench down the middle, add the waste, and then cover it back up. The worms will find their way to their fresh food and start munching.

What Not To Add To Vermiposting
Avoid adding refined sugar, meat scraps and bones, dairy products and vegetable oil products (like mayonnaise and salad dressing); too much of this will draw insects and create odor. You can also add dead leaves, grass clippings, and other yard and garden waste to your compost bin. Oxygen is necessary for decomposition, and the worms absorb necessary oxygen through their membranes, so stir the bin every week or two to aerate the compost. If your worm bin develops an odor it is probably too wet or compacted. Stir the bin and add some shredded paper to absorb some of the excess moisture.

Harvesting Your Vermipost
When the amount of compost in the bin is substantially reduced and has an earthy, brown appearance, it is ready to use. This process usually takes about two or three months if you have chopped the waste into small pieces, and perhaps six months if you’ve added it whole.

Now it’s time to harvest your vermipost. There are a couple of ways to do this. If you have a smaller bin, just turn the bin over on a large tarp under a bright light, and lift it off to leave a cone-shaped pile. The worms will automatically begin wriggling their way to the bottom center of the pile to escape the light. Brush the top of the pile off as the worms tunnel their way down. Soon you will have separated the worms from the lovely vermipost they have made for you.

An alternative method, which works better for larger bins, is to push all the finished compost to one side, and add fresh material to the other side. Eventually all the worms will work their way over to the fresh material in search of food, and you can scoop out the finished compost on the other side.

Uses For Vermipost
Mix your vermipost with potting soil for indoor plants or outdoor container gardens, or work it into the ground around your flower and vegetable plants. Add some to the hole in the ground when transplanting seedlings or mature plants. While you’re waiting for the compost to be finished, you can make “worm tea” to feed your plants. Sift a handful of the partially-decomposed material through a mesh strainer to remove big pieces, add the fine material to your watering can, and water your plants as usual.

Now you can use your worms to start another compost bin. When conditions are right, Red Worms and Red Wigglers will reproduce quickly and prolifically. While they were turning your garbage into rich compost, your earthworms also have been laying worm capsules, which hatch about two dozen baby worms each.

In about a year you should have enough worms that you can give some away to friends for their own vermiposting efforts. Depending on the size of your bin, you may have enough to sell your worms as fish bait, a nutritious snack for pet reptiles and birds, or as composting worms to other earth-conscious consumers. And you can feel good about helping to take care of our environment!

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