Vermicomposting: Letting worms work for you

“All the fertile areas of this planet have at least once passed through the bodies of earthworms.” — Charles Darwin

Our ducks first lead us to the idea of keeping worms.

We were watching them forage around in the dirt, and every time our female duck Clementine found a worm she cooed and chirped. It was the most adorable sound. She was obviously very fond of worms. I spent a lot of time helping her dig for them; it’s amazing what the sound of a happy duck will make you do. I thought there had to be a better way of getting her these tasty treats, so I did some research into buying worms and stumbled into the whole amazing world of vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting refers to the practice of keeping ‘red wriggler’ worms (Eisenia fetida or Lumbricus rubellas) in a composting bin and feeding them to create a colony of healthy worms. These worms eat your basic kitchen waste, absorbing all the organic matter and leaving ‘castings’, or as I like to call it, excellent soil.

Getting Started

It might sound funny, but many people keep a ball of worms inside their house. Some keep them under the sink in the kitchen and others keep them in the basement. They are pretty hassle free — you just need to remember to feed them. We got our first ball of worms from the basement of a friend’s house. She had a bin set up and handed us a cup of worms to get us started. Worm populations double each month so you only need a small amount to get going — and boy, did we ever get going.

We arrived home with a cup of worms and resisted the urge to feed them all to the ducks right away. Instead, we would grow our little worm colony — but first they needed somewhere to live. We took a 60-litre Rubbermaid container and drilled some breathing holes along the top and a few larger holes with mesh coverings set inside along the bottom. The lower holes are made to allow extra composting liquid to drain away. We used plastic for our bin but you can also use most woods. Metal is not recommended due to its ability to retain heat. For best results worms like living in soil between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius.

Next we took some shredded newsprint, cardboard, dried leaves and aged manure and mixed it up, adding it to the bin as a foundation for the worms. Then we wet it to the consistency of a wet sponge—about 65 per cent—and mixed it up some more before placing the worms inside. Welcome home! Just like when we move, the worms need a few days uninterrupted to get set up in their new house. We waited three days before feeding them.

What worms eat

The wonderful thing with vermicomposting is that you actively feed your worms food scraps, allowing somewhere for your kitchen refuse to go. It ensures that your outdoor compost bin is not kept green by the continuous throwing in of new items, thus allowing it to age quicker. You can feed your worm bin kitchen scraps which would otherwise be wasted, like pumpkin or squash seeds, banana peels, corn husks, potato peels, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells. Worms can even help recycle your old fibre clothing, newspaper, and yarn. Garden scraps can also be used in moderation — try to keep a 70:30 ratio brown scraps to green. Worms prefer their food to be chopped up so they have an easier time managing it.

Photo by <a href="">joebart</a>.
Photo by joebart.

Worms don’t eat meats, yeasts, bread, crackers, dairy, or fats such as butter, lard or oils. They breathe through their skin, so don’t give them salty foods. You cannot feed them glossy printed newsprint, cat or dog droppings, or treated wood. Lastly, don’t give your worms too many green garden scraps such as grass clippings, they heat up the bin too quickly as they break down. Grass is better composted in outdoor compost where the heat is beneficial.

Worms can be kept alive with minimal fuss. They require aeration so stir them every week; we give ours a stir whenever we feed them and add a little more shredded newsprint to the top after. They can be fed and left alone without the addition of more food for about four weeks, enough time to go on vacation without needing a worm babysitter!

Harvest time

Rich soil is a treat for any gardener. With vermicomposting you are turning your garbage into worm food and they are pooping out blackish-brown moist, rich soil in return. Worm castings are thought to be the best type of soil there is to add to your garden beds. Worm-casted soil contains more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than regular garden soil.

To harvest your worms, separate them as much as possible from the soil. We usually take this opportunity to split the worm bin and add a secondary worm bin. Move about half the worms to the new bin and keep the remaining to put back into your freshened box after you’ve separated the soil. Worms love darkness, so expect them to be clumped together around the bottom of the bin or in soil clumps. You will have some straggler worms and egg shells that will end up back in your garden, but we’ve always found that to be beneficial; the worms move around your garden and help break down organic matter, leaving you more castings and richer soil. When they move they aerate the soil, allowing for better water and air flow. These tunnels also provide more space for the roots to grow.

When we harvest the soil from the worm box the ducks come-a-flapping — they know its treat time and with this soil the treat isn’t just for them! Although our goats and ducks eat many of our garden and kitchen scraps there are still some things that they just can’t eat, like our coffee grinds, which are just perfect for worms. We feel good about giving the ducks a renewable supply of worms while reducing our own kitchen waste; the ducks return the favor of wonderful worm treats through laying us delicious eggs.

Vermicomposting is a wonderful way to reduce your kitchen and organic wastes. The worms will turn your unwanted garbage into rich nutrient soil for your garden. If you are interested in gardening, I recommend it for the soil. If you are interesting in fishing or keeping animals then I recommend it for the seemingly never ending supply of worms.

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