Compost Your Food and Paper Waste
Vermicomposting = Worm Power!
Recycle Food and Paper Waste into Rich Compost
If you enjoy nature in all its forms, you’ll love using worms to compost your food and paper waste.
A happy healthy earthworm, not to be confused with a caterpillar or larvae, can live 5 to 15 years. In the happy worm temperature of 50 to 75 degrees with lots to eat, a worm will make a cocoon of 2 to 12 babies about every two weeks. Those babies will be ready to make their own cocoons in about 2 weeks. The earthworm is a true contender for world domination. Luckily for us, they have no teeth and no eyes.
Worms eat your food scraps and paper waste, and create worm castings. That’s the polite way to say “worm poop”. Castings are a nutrient rich compost amendment for your plants. Vermicomposting keeps your food waste out of the landfill and out of your yard waste compost where rats and mice can get to it.
Start Worm Composting
You need a quality plastic chest-type container with a lid, at least 12 inches deep. Wooden boxes rot and preservative coatings are not designed to stay moist constantly. My old bins, pictured here are Rubber Maid. My new bins are durable heavy-duty black plastic containers from Costco or Home Depot. These have the extra benefit of being black, sheltering your worm kids from the light.
Drill 10 or 12 Half Inch Holes in the bottom of the container for drainage. Food is wet. Some people catch the drips and make worm casting/poop tea for their potted plants. Drainage is important. Worms can drown.
Place Your Bin away from direct sunlight. If you live in a place that gets extremely cold winters (well below freezing) or extremely hot summers (weeks in the 90s and 100s), you may want to pull the bin into an out building or garage. A few days in the 20s or 90s or 100s won’t kill them all. They will bounce back. If you are placing your bin on a deck, patio or in a building, you may want to place a drip tray under your bin.
Add 4 to 6 Inches Moistened Bedding. The worms used for worm bins are surface dwellers. They don’t mind being in the food, but they like to have a break from the heat and acids from the decomposition of food waste. Paper bedding gives them this space, and they eventually eat the paper. The best bedding is a mix of shredded newsprint, junk mail, catalogues and office paper. Hand shredded is fine. Newspaper retains needed moisture, but creates and impenetrable mat. Office paper provides openings for worm transit, but doesn’t hold moisture very well. You have what you have. Worms are tough. Corrugated cardboard is often recommended. However paper is easier to deal with. Worms don't eat staples, plastic, paperclips, or the window of window envelopes.
Add Food Waste from vegetables just under the bedding. Animal products (aka meat and dairy) have an unpleasant (understatement) odor as they wait to be consumed. Worms are omnivores and will eat it, odor or not. I have read warnings about feeding worms onions and citrus. The acids in these foods dissipate in time and then the worms eat them. After this first seeding of the bin with food before the worm residents arrive, place subsequent installments of food waste on top of the paper and add a little layer of paper shreds on top. This is less disruptive than digging into their residence. The paper shreds cut down on fruit fly access.
Add Worms. Red worms or red wigglers are surface dwelling worms and are great for composting. People with worm bins have worms to share. Inquire in your local FaceBook, NextDoor or gardening groups. You can get them through your local plant nursery. You can order worms from online sources, even can even order worms from Amazon. I kid you not. How many? A bunch. A big bunch if you can.
Place a black trash bag atop the bedding. Cut it in half so there is only one layer of plastic over the worms. Otherwise they go exploring inside the bag. The bag holds in moisture and blocks any light that filters into the bin.
Place the lid on top of the bin snugly.
In a few weeks, you will see more and more worms. Be patient, they don’t have teeth, so they can’t eat some of the food right away. I have found that 3 bins (shown in the photo) work well for my family.
Should I put worms in my garden? You can, but unless your garden has lots of organic matter to eat, you are sending them to their deaths.
If I cut a worm in half, do I get 2 worms? No, you do not get 2 worms. You get a dead worm or a horribly mutilated worm.
Harvesting Your Worm Bin
When your worm bin becomes full, it is time to harvest. I use the Sunny Day Dump method every spring. I add the harvested castings to my yard waste compost that sits finishing for a season. Since I use No Till gardening and add my amendments as a garden top dressing, this season hold-over keeps left over food bits off the surface of the garden and the hold over prevents unconsumed seeds from spouting in the garden.
2 Simple Methods
For Harvesting Your Worm Bin
The 1/3 Removal: As the worm bin becomes over half full, focus food waste additions to one side of the bin. When you see few worms and little remaining food waste on the unfed side, remove that unfed side. It will be about 1/3rd of your bin. A few months later, do the other side. I have tried this method, but opt for the other method for a few reasons. More uneaten food waste is transferred out of the bin. More worms are lost in the transfer. Worms in your garden are a good thing, granted. However, worms will need sustenance of organic matter in order to survive in your garden. Also, with the 1/3 Removal method, there is no regular access to the drain holes, which crust over with time.
The Sunny Day Dump: On a sunny day, overturn your bin and dump the contents onto a tarp. Ensure that the bin drain holes are open and return bin to original position. The now top of the heap will look like dark rich soil. Those are the castings. Most of the worms will be with the food and bedding. Scoop off the casting layer. Return the uneaten food waste and bedding to your bin and add a new top layer of bedding. Done.