Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Worm Composting, Worms Go In, Compost Comes Out

Fall seemed the appropriate time to talk about worm composting. Worm composting is a way to recycle food waste into a rich, dark, earthy-smelling soil conditioner. This type of composting is somewhat unique in that it can be done indoors, as well as outdoors, this allows for all year composting. If you live in a zero lot line home or an apartment, you can also compost using this method. The short version goes something like this: worm compost is made in a container, plastic or wood, filled with moistened bedding and red-worms. Add your food waste over a period of time, and the worms and micro-organisms, over a period of time, will convert the entire contents into rich compost. It is a natural method for recycling nutrients in food waste. The resulting compost is a good soil conditioner for house plants, gardens and patio containers. The following information is from the experiences of a network of worm composters linked to City Farmer, Vancouver, and the excellent and practical book: Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.
You can use wood and plastic containers, you can either build or buy them or recycle something like a old barrel, old dresser drawer, wooden crate, think creativly. A container made of wood seems to work the best because it is more absorbent and a better insulator for the worms.

A Guide To Size Of Container;
In Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof suggests weighing your household food waste for one week (in pounds), and then provide one square foot of surface area per pound. The container depth should be between eight and twelve inches. Options to one large (and heavy) box are a number of smaller containers for easier lifting and moving and more choice of location. The book illustrates a variety of containers.
Depending on the size of the container, drill 8 to 12 holes (1/4 – l/2 inches) in the bottom for aeration and drainage. A plastic bin may need more drainage – if contents get too wet, drill more holes. Raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks, and place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid which can be used as liquid plant fertilizer.
The bin needs a cover to conserve moisture and provide darkness for the worms. If the bin is indoors, a sheet of dark plastic or burlap sacking placed loosely on top of the bedding is sufficient as a cover. For outdoor bins, a solid lid is preferable, to keep out unwanted scavengers and rain. Like us, worms need air to live, so be sure to have your bin sufficiently ventilated.
A Suitable Worm Farm Container
A Suitable Worm Farm Container
It is necessary to provide a damp bedding for the worms to live in, and to bury food waste in.
Suitable bedding materials are shredded newspaper and cardboard, shredded fall leaves, chopped up straw and other dead plants, seaweed, sawdust, compost and aged manure. Try to vary the bedding in the bin as much as possible, to provide more nutrients for the worms, and to create a richer compost. Add a couple of handfuls of sand or soil to provide necessary grit for the worm’s digestion of food.
Adding the Worm Composter Bedding
Adding the Worm Composter Bedding
It is very important to moisten the dry bedding materials before putting them in the bin, so that the overall moisture level is like a wrung-out sponge. The bin should be about three-quarters full of moistened bedding. Lift the bedding gently to create air spaces which help to control odours, and give freer movement to the worms.
The two types of earthworm best suited to worm composting are the redworms: Eisenia foetida (commonly known as red wiggler, brandling, or manure worm) and Lumbricus rubellus They are often found in aged manure and compost heaps. Please do not use dew-worms (large size worms found in soil and compost) as they are not likely to survive.
How Many Worms Do I Need?
Mary Appelhof suggests that the correct ratio of worms to food waste should be: for one pound per day of food waste, use two pounds of worms (roughly 2000). If you are unable to get this many worms to start with, reduce the amount of food waste accordingly while the population steadily increases.
Worms Bought by the Bag
Worms Bought by the Bag
You can compost food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds. It is advisable not to compost meats, dairy products, oily foods, and grains because of problems with smells, flies, and rodents. No glass. plastic or tin foil, please.
To avoid fly and smell problems, always bury the food waste by pulling aside some of the bedding, dumping the waste, and then cover it up with the bedding again. Bury successive loads in different locations in the bin.
The Worm Composter in Action!
The Worm Composter in Action!
Where Should I Locate My Worm Bin?
Worm bins can be used indoors all year round, and outdoors during the milder months. The advantage of mobile bins is that they can be moved when weather conditions change. Indoors, basements are excellent locations (warm, dark and dry), but any spare space can be utilized, so long as temperatures are between 40-80 degrees F. We know dedicated worm composters who have convenient kitchen counter worm bins. Outdoors, bins can be kept in sheds and garages, on patios and balconies, or in the yard. They should be kept out of hot sun and heavy rain. If temperatures drop below 40 degrees F., bins should either be moved indoors, or well insulated outdoors.
How Do I Maintain My Bin?
If you have the correct ratio of surface area to worms to food scraps, there is little to do, other than adding food, until about two and a half months have passed. By then, there should be little or no original bedding visible in the bin, and the contents will be brown and earthy looking worm castings. The contents will have substantially decreased in bulk too.
The Final Word
Taking worms out of their natural environment and placing them in containers creates a human responsibility. They are living creatures with their own unique needs, so it is important to create and maintain a healthy habitat for them to do their work. If you supply the right ingredients and care, your worms will thrive and make compost for you. Happy and successful composting!”
A great resource here in Texas is the Halls Wormery in Blackwells, TX, you can find lots of worm composting and vermiculture information on their site as well as lots of great redworms for sale!

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