Composting With Worms

Using worms to create compost is called vermiculture or vermicomposting. Red worms and manure worms are most efficient when it comes to decomposing organic material—especially table scraps. The difficulty is that these worms need cool temperatures all year long. Add a handful of them to an hot compost pile and they'll be dead in an hour.

Given the proper environment, red worms will go to work to digest the table scraps quicker than any other compost method. The material will pass through the worms' bodies and become "castings." In about 3-4 months, the worms will have digested nearly all the garbage and bedding and the bin will be filled with a rich, black natural fertilizer and soil amendment. Compared to ordinary soil, the worm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium. They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil.

To maintain a separate worm bin for composting food scraps, you need a watertight container that can be kept somewhere that the temperature will remain between 50 and 70 degrees F. all year-round. Ready-made worm bins are available, but you can also make your own. Red wiggler worms are available in our garden store. I always suggest a cellar for those who have one. For those not having a cellar, but living in cooler geographical areas, then any place inside the house on ground level, such as a garage should work. Unfortunately for the southern folks, especially those living in the deep south, like Florida, Georgia, Texas, etc. the possibility of using worms for composting during the summer is unlikely without a deep cellar. Of course, southerners can utilize red worms prior in the winter, and have a ready batch of finished castings, or the much valued compost tea, ready before the growing season is in full bloom, and summer brings the heat.

If your compost ever exhibits an unpleasant and strong odor, then stop adding new table wastes, until the worms have deteriorated the food that already exists in the worm bin. The problem which causes this odor, is that the food was allowed to sit too long, or the bin contents became to wet. You can assist the worms in the process, by turning the compost to allow for more air. Every few weeks check that the drainage holes are still draining.

If your worms begin to crawl out of the container then its possible the moisture is not correct. Check that the bedding hasn't gotten too wet. It's also possible that the bedding may have become too acidic... especially if you're adding a lot of citrus peels and other acidic foods. You can help this situation by adding some garden lime, and cutting down on the acidic table wastes for a time.

Always bury your food in the worm bin. You should also cover the bin, a burlap sack is perfect for this purpose. If fruit flies become a nuisance, then try moving the bin to another area.

Mary Appelhof's 1-2-3 Portable Worm Bin (1' deep, 2- wide and 3 long).

This bin has a bottom so it can be moved and used in a heated garage or basement during cold weather. When a worm box is used outside, it does not need to have a bottom. You may want to line the bottom with rocks or boards to keep rodents and other worm-loving creatures from tunneling in. Wooden boxes will typically last for 2 or 3 years.



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