Friday, June 12, 2009

Green Living: Vermicomposting

The Benefits of Vermicomposting: Vermicomposting is a composting method utilizing worms. Vermicompost, also called 'worm casting' (aka...'worm dung') is a nutrient rich, organic, and pesticide free compost excellent for gardening. The most common worm used is the Red worm, also called the Red Wriggler. Small-scale vermicomposting can be as simple as a a bucket or rubbermaid tube with small holes drilled for air and drainage. The container should not let in light, as worms need darkness.

There are few food wastes that vermicomposting cannot compost, including:
  • All fruits and vegetables (including citrus and other "high acid" foods, though in moderation)
  • Vegetable and fruit peels and ends
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags (even those with high tannin levels)
  • Plate scrapings, moldy bread
  • Eggs and eggshells
  • Leaves and grass clippings (though green grass clippings can heat up and burn the worms, so use in moderation).
  • AVOID: Oils, dairy/cheese, and meat.
Worms will also compost shredded newspaper and cardboard! Rather than throwing this refuse away, allow worms to turn it into valuable nutrient-rich compost for your indoor plants, starter seddlings, or garden beds.

Special Note: If you are planning an outdoor bin keep in mind that manure is one of the best foods for worms. However, since ours is in the house I didn't even bother asking my wife if I could bring shovels full of horse manure into the kitchen.

My worm bin: A few days back I set up my worm bin using a standard Rubbermaid "Roughneck" container (which I got for free).
  • I drilled 6 small holes in the bottom for drainage, and a dozen or so on the top and sides (the side holes are very near the top, just below the lid level).
  • On the bottom, I placed a layer of cardboard (flattened pizza boxes).
  • Next, I ripped more cardboard into small pieces, making a pile about an inch or so thick.
  • The next layer was about an inch of coffee grounds (including filters), which I got for free from a local coffee shop (also check with popular restaurants in town). We also save our coffee and filters each morning (a simple can under the sink). What doesn't go into the worm bin will go to the outdoor compost pile. Worms like coffee even more than humans!
  • A thin layer of grass clippings (too thick and it will produce too much heat).
  • A layer of corn husks (left over from the previous nights dinner).
  • A little bit of soil and compost, not even a full layer.
  • Some shredded newspaper & ripped-up cardboard (for this final layer I used a spray bottle to moisten, until it had a "damp rag" feel.
On a side note, my kids LOVED this project, particularly my youngest (7 years old). He even earned three bucks when I dared him to eat one of the worms (though I haven't told my wife about this yet). He did feel a little ill afterwards (mostly psychological), but despite this he was rather proud of himself. I should note that eating worms is technically not part of the vermicompisting process, though I leave that decision to you.

Ordering worms: There are several places online where you can order worms. Make sure they are Red Worms. I ordered mine through, and was very pleased. The company was reasonably priced, communicated wonderfully with customers, had excellent packaging, quick shipping, and their website is one of the most helpful on the internet (including several "how-to" videos).


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