Worm Composting or Vermicomposting Part I
An organic technique that many gardeners may not be aware of is the concept of feeding the soil and not the plant. If the soil is health, the plants in that soil will be fed well and in turn will also be healthy. One of the easiest ways of doing this is through worm composting or vermicomposting.
Charles Darwin first noted the important role that worms play in any ecosystem. He is credited as saying, “The plough is one of the most ancient and most valuable of man’s inventions; but long before he existed the land was in fact regularly ploughed, and still continues to be thus ploughed by earth-worms. It may be doubted whether there are many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”
While this is true, there does exist two types of “earthworms.” One type ploughs deep into the soil surface and can be found in any garden space. These worms are very valuable to the soil since they create tunnels through the soil. These tunnels aerate the soil and mix it. The second type of “earthworm” is one that comes from the tropical areas and decomposes the leaf litter. These worms do not bury themselves deep into the soil but instead stay close to the upper layers. This type of worm is what is used in worm composting or vermicomposting.
There does exist two types of worms that fall in the later category. This includes the red wiggler worm (Eisenia foetida) and the European night crawler (Eisenia hortensis). Both of these worms are great decomposers and produce worm manure referred to as worm casting.
While it is easy to just buy your worm castings, it is just as easy to create your own. To start a vermicomposting program begins with the container. Many commercial type vermicomposting containers can be purchased but a simple one can be built using a 10-gallon plastic container with a lid.
To DIY the container is simple and begins by drilling several 20 ¼ inch holes in the lid. Once this is done, drill several holes along the sides. Many commercially made vermicomposting containers have holes in the bottom. This can be done but if you choose this option, you will need to put the container on blocks and place a pan underneath the container. This will allow any excess moisture to run out but this is only needed if you are in fear of drowning your worms.
Once all the holes have been drilled, wash out the container and allow to air dry.
The next step is to cover the holes. The worms are small enough to fit through the holes so to prevent this they must be covered with a porous material. Window screen or landscape cloth can be used to cover the holes. It is easier to cut the material the dimensions of the container then cutting pieces to cover every hole. Once the material is cut, secure it to the container with duct tape.
After the container has been prepared, it is time to create the bedding. Several different materials can be used for worm bedding. This includes newspaper, computer paper, cardboard, and even dried leaves. The bedding itself has to be prepared and this is done by soaking the materials in non-chlorinated water. There is no need to buy non-chlorinated water instead create your own. This is easily done by filling a pitcher with water and letting it sit overnight. The evaporation process will remove the chlorine.
Once the water has been prepared, it is time to prepare the bedding material. This material will not only act as bedding but also a food source. In doing so, it must be shredded or torn into the smallest pieces possible. To do this, some may resort to a shredder but do not fret if you do not have one. The material can be easily cut into stripes with a pair of scissors.
As you cut your bedding material, always cut more then what you think you will need. Worms need three to eight inches of bedding material to start out. Once the bedding has been cut, soak in the non-chlorinated water overnight.
The next day process the bedding material by squeezing as much moisture out of the bedding material as possible and layer it in the bottom of the container. After all the bedding has been put in the container, it is time to place the worms. This is easily done by just gently dumping the contents of their container into the vermicomposting container.
After this step, it is time to feed your worms. Worms will process the same material that is used to create compost. Do not use meat, cheese, oils, or citrus peels in the vermicomposter.
These worms have no teeth so the food will have to be chopped up very finely or frozen. When preparing to feed your worms make sure to bury the food. This will reduce the chance of developing a fruit fly problem. Once the food is buried, mark the location with a toothpick, stick or small flag. This will prevent from placing the food in one place. Also, alternate the location of the food from one end to the other of the container. This will help the worms move around in their environment.
When feeding your worms keep in mind that one pound of red worms will process ½ cup of organic material a week.