Thursday, June 5, 2014

Worm Composting Made Easy

By ol' Bill

Sometimes, we let things get a little complicated, worry too much, or otherwise over-analyze things.  Especially when it comes to living creatures like earthworms, we may let our anxiety over possibly killing them prevent us from even starting a worm composter.  We talk ourselves out of it because we're just not sure of what's involved. 

Here's a short and sweet simplified instructions on worm composting at home that may give any of you who are over-anxious about composting with worms a little extra encouragement.

Originally posted 7-19-10

 Busy little red worm composters

Worm Composting: It's not that hard, really....

Composting with worms is not that hard if you follow a few basic rules and principles:

 1.  Provide a home that composting worms love.  Your worm composter should fulfill these basic requirements:
  • Be dark
  • Provide plentiful oxygen
  • Provide correct moisture
  • Provide protection from predators
  • Be non-toxic
2.  Provide healthy bedding.  Your worm composter bedding should:
  • Be friable (not compact easily)
  • Be organic
  • Be neutral ph
  • Not be too wet or too dry
  • See worm composter bedding materials
3.  Provide adequate and appropriate food.
  • Feed your worms a variety of organic material that is moist and ground or chopped for easier assimilation by the composting worms.
  • Here’s a list of foodstuff NOT to feed your worms:  feces, meat, oils
  • Here’s a partial list of good things for worms to eat:  fruits, veggies, shredded cardboard and paper,
4.  Maintain healthy worm composter conditions:
     Keep and eye on these “worm killer” conditions to prevent potential loss of your composting worms:
  • PH:  Maintain a neutral ph in your worm composter’s bedding.  Acid conditions will kill your worms.  Add egg shells regularly to prevent this dreaded worm composter condition.
  • Bedding too wet:  Sometimes our worm compost bedding will be dry on top, yet be soggy down below.  Run your hand down into the bedding periodically to check for excess moisture.  Remember, those holes in the bottom of your worm composter are for air flow, NOT for drainage.  If there’s enough moisture to drain out, your bedding is too wet and your worms are in serious trouble (or they’ve crawled out!)
  • Bedding too dry:   When humidities change, your worm composter’s bedding can dry out before you know it.  Again, run your hand down into different areas of the composter to check for moisture content.  Add water with a fine spray if you determine the bedding is too dry.
  • Bedding is compacted:  As you worms digest food and deposit worm castings, the bedding will “age” and tend to become compacted.  This situation can be deadly to worms, since they need oxygen to live.  It’s a good idea to weekly turn your worm composter bedding gently to “fluff it up” and create oxygen pockets throughout the bedding.
  • When you see that the bedding is becoming compacted very soon after “turning” it, it’s time to harvest the vermicompost with it’s rich castings and replace the bedding.  You’re worms will appreciate it!
5.  Maintain Healthy Temperatures in Your Worm Composter: Keep your composting worms from freezing in the winter (see "Worm Composting in Winter ") and over-heating in the summer (see "Worm Composting in Summer "). Red worms and European nightcrawlers composting worms can survive a wide range of  temperatures, but there are limits. 
  • If temperatures fall below freezing and stay there for more than 8 hours, the bedding in your worm composter is going to freeze and this will kill your worms.  Either bury your worm composter or take it indoors during very cold weather.  Also, make sure the bedding depth is at least 12 inches so the worms can crawl towards the center to keep warm.
  • During cold weather, it's a good idea to keep the bedding moisture somewhat dryier than in the summer.  Be advised, worms will have a tendancy to crawl when it becomes cold, so keep a light on over them to keep them in their place.
  • In the summer time, keep the bedding a little more moist to keep your wigglers cooler.  Never set your worm composter in the sun or keep it in an area that will over heat during the hot part of the day.

Starting your Worm Composter

You can purchase commercially- made worm composting bins or you can make your own.  Commercially-made worm composting bins come in several different varieties ranging from simple boxes with lids and air holes to elaborate tray systems with spigots.  These worm composters can be made from plastic or from wood.

If you’re handy, you can make your own quite easily.  Purchase a plastic “tote” from Walmart, drill some air holes along the side and in the bottom, fill with prepared bedding, and secure with a breathable lid or cover. Viola’!  You’ve made yourself a worm composter.

If you’re REAL handy, you can build one from wood, which is more “worm-friendly” than plastic.  Just build a rectangle box, about 24" by 8" by 12" high ,  fashion a removable lid, with or without hinges, drill air holes along the top edge, the bottom, and in the lid.  Place some screen or landscaping cloth in the bottom to prevent worms from crawling through.

Just Add Composting Worms

Purchase your composting worms from a reputable source, introduce them to their home and feed them any  organic  material and kitchen scrapes you may have.  Keep your worm composting bin in a safe, quite place and the worms will do the rest.  Don’t worry about your worm composter smelling.  If you don’t over load it with food, you will not experience any unpleasant odors.

As a matter of fact, if you do notice any unpleasant smells coming from your composter, you’d best investigate.  Your  composter contents should have a pleasant, earthy smell and anything unpleasant is a sign that something is amiss.

More About Worm Composting

For more detailed instructions on bedding, feeding and troubleshooting, please see About Vermcomposting (composting with worms).

If you have any questions or concerns about worm composting, please contact me anytime.  When you’re ready for your composting worms, be they red worms or European Nightcrawlers (you can mix them!), please visit our secure online store .

Worm Composting References:

Worm Composter Microbe Activator

Red Worms and European Nightcrawlers for Worm Composting

Worm Composter Microbe Inoculant for Bedding

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