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A Beginner's Guide to Worm Composting
Worm composting sounds like an advanced endeavor, but really all you’re doing is providing a great home and food for some composting worms. A good vermicomposting unit can turn table scraps into a great source of compost for your soil. So let’s take a look at what you’ll need to begin.
- The Bin: The first thing you’ll need is the compost bin, what type is up to you. There’s commercially available units, you can build something, some people even do just fine with an old dresser drawer or fish tank. You’ll want about ten gallons of volume to get started, so shoot for that. Often, a plastic rubbermaid container is the best course of action. Just make sure you drill some drainage in the bottom of the container, so that the excess water can run out. composting worms can't swim!
- Bedding: composting worms don’t live very well in just soil, but paper will do just fine for this endeavor. You can shred about fifty pages of newspaper into strips of half an inch to an inch for a ten gallon set up, but you’ll want to avoid colored paper pages as they might have some level of toxicity for your worms. Add a couple cups worth of dirt after you’ve laid down the paper and you’re good to go.
- Worms: You can easily buy some of these composting worms to start with, and pretty soon they’ll breed to whatever level you can sustain. For a ten gallon set-up, a pound of composting is a good start.
- Food: You’ll need to feed the little guys, of course, but you can’t throw just any kitchen scraps in there. Try to keep citrus rinds to a minimum as they can acidify the environment, and absolutely, positively do not add meat, oils, dairy products, or bones. These will just go uneaten, rot, attract maggots and flies, which will muscle out the worms, and make a mess. Vegetable and fruit scraps are ideal. Or, we make a specialty worm feed that can be fed to the worms. Just mix it with a little water so that it turns into a paste, and spread it over the top of the container.
Setting Up the Worm Bin
After you have everything you need to get started, you’ll first want to add your bedding. Never Bury your worms! Place your initial food scraps mixed in with the bedding, and then add the worms to the top of the pile. You’ll want to add another un-ripped piece of newspaper, piece of burlap, or a durable cloth that can handle moisture, over the top, this will help balance the humidity and keep the odors of the composting process within. Then all you’ll need to do is take your bin to wherever you want to keep it and cover it with a piece of plywood or plastic. Whatever it is, make sure that it’s fairly solid because you don’t want fruit flies getting in and making your wriggly friends compete with them for food.
Maintaining your Worm Colony
Upkeep is pretty simple, save the food scraps the worms will find edible and add them maybe once a week or so. Check regularly to make sure that their bedding isn’t too dry as well, if it is you’ll want to make sure to add some water with a spray bottle. Their bedding needs to be consistently moist. A worm is primarily made from water, so it's important to provide moisture. The only other upkeep you’ll need to do is to make sure you stir up the bedding a little bit when you do your weekly feeding in order to keep some air within it. The worms are pretty hardy little guys, but you’ll want to keep the temperature somewhere between 55° and 80° Fairenheit in order to keep them in optimal health. You’ll also want to note that if you find them frequently leaving the bedding and crawling on its surface or trying to ascend the side of the bin that you’ve probably made the soil too acidic, so keep an eye on what you’re putting in there. You can mix a little bit of lime into the soil if the pH gets too high, but be careful not to swing the composition back to being too far alkaline or you’ll just be causing more trouble. But, if you get a pH test, and find that the soil is neutral, then the worms are just fleeing because of natural urgencies. Something you can do is keep a light on over the container. The worms don't like light, and this will force them to remain buried in the bedding to avoid it.
If you’re looking to get into worm composting, you’ll be glad to know that it’s an easy and low maintenance way to dispose of organic goods from your kitchen. Once the colony is going you’re sure to be supplied with an almost continuous supply of high quality compost for your garden and you’ll be pleased that you’re disposing of your waste in a clean and economical way.