What is vermicomposting? It is composting using worms, Specifically with Eisenia fetida, the most common type of red worm. These worms are favored because they are sturdy and tend to stay near the surface, helping to quickly process food waste. When worms eat your waste, they produce casts (poop) mixed with other decayed organic matter. This compost contains eight times the microorganisms than the food consumed, five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus, and eleven times more potassium than typical soil. It’s also rich in humic acid, which balances pH in the soil.
Why vermicompost? It can be done indoor or outdoor, large scale or small scale, and the compost is very nutrient rich. Most people prefer to vermicompost because it can be done with a small bin indoors used to get rid of kitchen scraps. The vermicompost process is also much quicker than traditional methods. If the bin is kept properly, there will be no odor. Plus, composting is good for the environment. Instead of throwing away food scraps you can turn them into valuable fertilizer for plants and gardens.
How to get started. Mary Appelhof, author of Worms Eat my Garbage, recommends to calculate how much food waste your family produces in a week and then “plan on one square foot of surface for each pound of food waste per week.” You can buy a plastic bin or a stacked configuration to use for the worms, or more preferably build a wooden one.
The bin will need holes for ventilation or one big hole covered with mesh.
For substrate it is recommended to use some sort of natural material like mushroom compost. You can get as simple as using wet shredded newspaper or even leaves. I would not recommend leaves because of all the bugs that can be introduced to your bin from them, but if the bin is outside it might not matter. Also add a bit of grit, such as a handful of sand.
You will need about 1,000 worms, which is about a pound. If that’s not enough for the bin size that is fine, they will quickly populate to fill the space.
Lastly, add your scraps preferably in small pieces, as worms will consume smaller bits faster.
What can I feed my worms? They can be fed any organic material except the following:
- Spicy food
- Acidic/citrus foods
- Oily food/Oil
- Potato peels
- Animal products: Meat, Milk, eggs (rinsed egg shells are okay)
- No animal feces
Pros and Cons on Vermicompost
- Easy to manage
- Can be done indoors
- Creates great highly nutrient rich compost quickly
- Limited on how much you can compost
- Limited on what you can compost
- Can smell if done indoors (shouldn’t happen)
- May attract bugs
How to maintain your bin: Every six weeks you will need to sort the worms from the dirt and add new bedding. You can sort them by shining a bright light over the bin and gradually skimming the top layers of dirt away. The worms will keep migrating to the bottom until you remove most of the finished compost.
How to use your compost: Use to fertilize plants. There is no way to use too much compost and it won’t harm the plants.
How to use compost to improve desert soil: According to the Sandoval County Master Gardeners, adding compost to desert soil will “allow for aggregation and water retention in sandy soil.” Adding compost reduces the alkalinity of the soil to a more neutral pH, but not permanently. Make holes in your soil with garden tools and then add the compost [and worms, if desired]. Then water and add mulch to your space all year around which will keep your soil moist. You can also add a cover crop for additional nutrients and to break up compacted ground.