Worm Composting—Part 1

Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is just about the easiest and most productive thing you can do that provides you with a direct, reusable product. In ideal conditions—mostly concerning heat, moisture, and food supply—worms can eat their weight in your food waste each day. And the worm cast they deposit, is basically super food for any container plant or garden you desire. In Part 1, we’ll cover how to select your bin, where you should locate it, and how to get it started. Then in Part 2, I’ll detail how we use ours in full cycle and some tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way.

If you’re new to composting, you’re probably wondering just what types of food scraps are safe to add. Basically anything but fats, cheese, and meats. The exception would be that these items are ok in very hot climates, with an active and mature composting system, and if they are blended or grounded or already decomposing (moldy cheese) to minimize their impact. Otherwise, items you can add all day, every day are the following:

• Coffee grinds and filters
• Tea bags
• Egg Shells
• All fruits and vegetables, meaning bananas and banana peels; onions and onion skin, etc…
• Nut shells
• Stale bread and bread products like old cereal, pretzels, etc…
• Cereal boxes and the rolls inside paper towels once torn into smaller pieces
• Dead flowers from floral arrangements
• Junk mail, newspapers, subscription cards as long as they are non-glossy and without those plastic viewer windows in the envelopes.

BIN SELECTION
In the summer of 2009, my husband and I went to visit my parents to make our compost bins. At the time, we were living in separate towns and each wanted a bin. Now, we only keep one in use and will probably convert the other to a storage bench for our soon to be garden. My dad works with wood a lot and had all the appropriate tools we would need to knock this out in an afternoon.

The building plans we used were very straight forward and allowed for quite a generous size bin. If you’re brand new to composting and curious about which style bin to use and whether or not you need a bin versus a designated corner of your yard, it’s really all up to you. But for our needs, with two dogs, living in a somewhat more rural area, and wanting primarily to compost kitchen scraps, we went with a larger bin that would help eliminate pesky critters like raccoons, oppossum, etc…If you’re simply wanting an area to naturally compost yard debris—no bin needed.

There are also tons of compost bins on the market today that I’m sure are very suitable. We just wanted to go the extra step and build one. If choosing to build, be sure to use non-treated lumber as it can have an affect on your compost, especially if you’re using your compost in a vegetable garden. What comes around goes around, right? As for size, your bin will hold the waste you feed it, as well as your end product. Ours is large enough to store all of our actively composting waste on one side while allowing enough space on the opposite side to sort out ready to use compost.

BIN LOCATION
When choosing an area in your yard, primary concern is direct sunlight and heat. Monitor your yard during the day and avoid areas that garnish lots of shade. The more direct heat will allow for quicker decomposition of materials in your bin in addition to the what the worms eat. Second, try to find that nice sunny spot in conjunction with an area that is easy to access since you’ll be carrying food scraps out there atleast once, if not twice, a week. And then third, if you plan on directly using your compost to pot plants or to work into a garden, is your location near the area where you will perform those tasks?

SET UP
You have a bin and decided where you want to locate it. Now it’s time to make a home for your worms! If you’re starting now, as opposed to a much warmer month, I would definitely recommend keeping your compost load light until the weather evens out. If you start in a warmer month, you still want to keep your beginning loads light, but just for a week or two until the worms are acclimated.

Start with a slightly moist bedding of basics from your yard. Twigs, dry leaves, dirt, pinestraw, and some shredded newspaper all make great bedding materials for your worms. Just start layering these materials in until you have a decent base and add your worms. Let them adjust while you slowly start adding food scraps.

WORMS
You may be wondering, where do I get all these worms and what type do I need? There are tons of online worm stores that will sell you Red Wigglers and
European Night Crawlers by the pound or by the 500s. I’ve bought from one and while there’s nothing wrong with these online stores and area worm farms, I also don’t see what’s wrong with your every day worm. Yes you will spend less money buying in bulk from a worm farm than you will spend buying the same quantity from your local bait and tackle store. But other than the cost benefit, in my opinion, I would say don’t be fooled by all the breeds of worms. They can make some freakishly large worms that will obviously eat more and poop more. But if you’re not maintaining a growing worm farm, I don’t see anything wrong with your everyday old earthworm. They eat and poop just the same with out the 6-8″ freak factor. If you do plan to bulk buy, here’s a good site to atleast help you locate local worm farms to support, FindWorms.com.

Hope that helps with the basics! Stay tuned for part two and in the meantime be sure to share what you find helpful or unhelpful if you’ve got an active worm bin.

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