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Vermicomposting: How To Make Worm Castings

Aug 28, 2007
We have all heard of composting. Composting is simply the decomposition of organic waste like yard waste and kitchen waste into a very rich and nutritional dirt-like substance. Vermicomposting is very similar to composting, but vermicomposting uses worms to help speed up the composting process, resulting in a final product of a soil-like amendment which is literally loaded with nutrients for plants.

The first thing to know point out is that the worms about which we are talking are not your everyday backyard worms. Those little guys would die in a minute in a compost pile. The worms needed for vermicomposting are called Red Wrigglers. These Red Wrigglers love to spend their time in piles of manure and love eating organic waste, which is why they are so perfect for the job of vermicomposting. The worms that you find in your backyard garden are usually regular field worms which would not be able to survive in a pile of kitchen waste.

When considering what size bin you want to use, the container should be on the shallow side rather than really deep. It should also be wider than it is tall. The surface of the container should be about one square foot for every pound of waste you wish to place in it each week. There should be about 500 red wrigglers equaling about a half-pound for every cubic foot of the container. The container should have plenty of air holes, since air is necessary not only for the composting process, but for the worms' survival as well. There should also be holes on the bottom of the container to allow drainage. There should be a screen covering each air hole and drainage hole to guarantee that the holes do not become worm holes or compost holes as well as air holes and/or drainage holes. If you produce too much organic waste for one normal sized container, it is much easier to maintain several small worm containers than one really big one.

To keep your worms happy, it is important to make sure that they are in an environment with the proper temperature, ventilation, and moisture. The air holes should be able to provide the necessary ventilation. There should be enough moisture to give the compost pile the feel of a wrung out sponge - not too wet, but not too dry. The temperature should be room temperature. Although worms can survive in a wide range of temperatures, anywhere from forty to ninety degrees Fahrenheit, they will be the happiest and therefore do their best work if they are at a comfortable room temperature.

There should be bedding on the surface of the container. This bedding should consist of shredded paper if the container will remain indoors. If the container will be kept outdoors, the bedding can consist of shredded paper or organic yard waste, such as dried grass clippings, sawdust, mulched dried leaves, etc. Yard waste should NOT be placed in an indoor container, because they can cause the compost pile to heat-up significantly which may kill your worms.

You can feed your worms a large variety of foods. Red Wrigglers will eat just about any organic kitchen waste you may produce, including carrots lettuce, cabbage, celery, banana peels, and tea bags. Tomatoes, coffee grounds, and citrus peels can be added into the container but only in moderation, since the acid could kill the worms. They also like to eat small amounts of bread, pancakes, grains, and noodles. Chopping up the food before you put it in the container will help it decompose.

You should harvest the vermicompost every two months or so. You will know that it is ready to be harvested when you can no longer make out the waste or the bedding, since they will have already decomposed. A good way to harvest the vermicompost without taking out the worms is to shine a light over the pile. This will chase the worms deeper into the pile in about ten minutes. You can then scrape up the top layer of vermicompost. Keep the light on to chase the worms even deeper into the pile, and then take out the next layer of vermicompost, and so on. It is very important to not take out any worm eggs that may be in the pile. They will hatch and turn into more worms which could make your vermicompost pile better, or enable you to use them to start another vermicompost container.

Once you have the vermicompost out of the container, you can use it to help just about anything grow. You can add some into your houseplants; you can sprinkle it on your flowerbeds; you can add it into the soil in which you want to plant seeds; and you can even sprinkle it around your lawn to help your lawn grow.
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