Vermicomposting: Put the worms to work

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Composting is the process of decomposing plant remains and other food scraps to make an earthy, dark, crumbly soil, like humus, that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is an effective way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and it is an important way to reduce the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal.

Compost makes an excellent fertilizer, and it’s better for your plants and the environment than artificial fertilizer.

Vermicomposting is one method of composting, introducing red wiggler worms to the composting process. Unlike conventional composting, vermicomposting can be done inside or out, and requires a smaller container. Because vermicomposting doesn’t produce the high internal temperatures of conventional composting, it leaves behind many more beneficial bacteria, creating a richer, more fertile soil at the end of the process. It is also clean and odourless.

Half of the compost produced is from worm castings, while the rest is good aerobic compost from other worm bin organisms, along with leftovers the worms haven’t eaten yet.

Vermicomposting is simple, and can even be done under your kitchen sink. All you need is an opaque plastic container with plenty of air holes, your kitchen waste, a bit of bedding, and some worms.

The container should be no more than 45 cm deep, and should have about 625 square centimeters (1 square foot) for each 0.5 kg of food waste added each week.

Once you have the bin, the next step is the bedding. This can be a variety of materials, including shredded newspaper, chemical-free potting soil, straw, fall leaves, or some sort of combination will all work well.

vermicompost worms

Then come the worms. Red wiggler worms are recommended, not your local earthworms. You can usually purchase them in your area; check with a local garden centre for more information.

Once you have all of the components in place, it is time to add the food. Bury your scraps into a different part of the bedding each week to evenly distribute the food and discourage flies. Cut the scraps small, and they will disappear quickly. The worms really like lettuce, melons and apples, but you can feed them any vegetable scraps. Try to give them a variety, but limit citrus fruits to maintain the pH balance.

Not only vegetable scraps, but grains, fruit peels, bread, coffee grounds and tea bags all work well. Avoid fatty scraps and animal products like meat, cheese, and butter. They can interfere with the composting process, and may start to smell.

After about 3-6 months, your compost will be ready for harvest. The busy little worms will not just have digested the food, but their bedding as well. There are several different methods of harvesting. You want to ensure you just harvest the compost, and leave the worms where they are.

One method is to scrape the finished compost to one side of the bin, and add new bedding to the other side. Add scraps only to the new bedding, and the worms will eventually seek out the new food, leaving the compost behind. It should be good to collect after about 6 weeks. Another method is to use bright light, which drives the worms deeper into the bedding, allowing you to scrape off the top layers of compost.

Worm compost can be used with potting soil, at 1 part compost to 5 parts soil. It can also be used as top dressing to enrich the soils; just sprinkle about 0.5 cm on the soil of your houseplants every 6-8 weeks. Worm compost can also be used to start plants and seeds, just put a little at the bottom of each seed hole.

Vermicomposting is another effective way to turn household waste into something useful at no energy cost, and with very little work. Any sort of composting can eliminate up to half of a household’s trash. It provides excellent feed for your garden whether it be roses or potatoes, and can largely eliminate your need for artificial fertilizers.

  • Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.

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