A Wormy Way of Composting

A Wormy Way of Composting
By Karen Rini

We all waste food. Should you throw it out into the toxic landfill or recycle it back to nature? If you want to recycle it, try VERMICOMPOST! Vermicompost is also called worm composting. It is the art of using worms called red wigglers, Eisenia foetida to break down kitchen waste, food scraps, and organic matter creating a natural fertilizer. The end result is a fine, crumbly, compost made of worm castings or worm poop! This worm poop is the most exceptional, nutrient rich, organic fertilzer, and soil conditioner highly prized by gardeners and farmers.

I became fascinated with the idea when we first bought our home. At the back of our yard is Victory creek, a tributary of Thornton creek one of the largest watersheds in northeast Seattle. This riparian area is dense in biodiversity and home to frogs, newts, ducks, migratory birds, salmon, steelhead, muskrats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. I became honored that our little piece of land is linked to a vital ecosystem. I felt the weight of responsibilty and stewardship in protecting and caring for it, knowing that our family’s actions will impact the health and viability of the watershed.

I came across vermicomposting by reading about it in a city of Seattle brochure. At the time, the city was seeking volunteers to learn how to vermicompost, and I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted my children to learn what happens to the food that we do not eat, and how it can be returned to the earth. The idea that little red wigglers could do the job would make biology come alive right in our home! Within two weeks of signing up I received a free worm bin and 50 worms. Now we have hundreds of worms and add about 8 pounds of food waste per week to the bin. Annually, we harvest about four wheelbarrows full of vermicompost that enriches the soil of the vegetable garden and supports the many native plants bordering the creek.


TOP TEN REASONS TO VERMICOMPOST
  • It keeps nutrient dense foods from going into the land fill
  • It reduces your garbage; saving you money in the garbage bill
  • It can be made indoors or outdoors and takes up little space
  • You don’t have to be a gardener or have a yard; even people living in apartments can recycle their food waste
  • You make compost that you can use, give away, take to the pea patch or sell
  • It improves the soil adding beneficial micro-organisms, essential plant hormones and enzymes
  • It enhances and improves germination, plant growth, crop yield, and root growth
  • The compost attractings deep-burrowing earthworms, beneficial insects, birds and other animals to your soil
  • It improves the water holding capacity of the soil; you will water less saving on your water bill
  • This natural process of decomposition ultimately benefits the environment




FIVE EASY STEPS TO WORM COMPOSTING

1. Get a worm bin

The bin is a sturdy box with a cover; examples are an old packing crate, dresser drawer, trunk, or opaque, plastic bin. It should be about 1 to 1½ feet deep. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage and around the sides of the bin to provide air. Place the bin on a tray away from heat, sunlight, and extreme cold; areas include under the kitchen sink, patio, outside the back door, laundry room, basement, garage, or outside under cover.
Worm Bin


2. Fill the worm bin with bedding

Worm bins must be completely filled with bedding to provide the worms with a balanced diet and a damp dark place to live. Without bedding the food scraps will become a slimy, smelly mess. The best bedding materials to use is a mix of the following:

  • Autumn leaves
  • Brown grass clippings
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Strips of torn newspaper
  • Shredded office paper from your home paper shredder
  • Shredded paper bags
Make bedding materials lightly damp adding new bedding every two or three months.
Compost Leaf Bedding



3. Add the Red Wigglers

Red Wrigglers are the best worms for composting. They are not the same as earthworms or night crawlers which prefer mineral soil. It is best to start with at least one hundred worms adding a small amount of food waste at first until the population grows. It is best to get the worms from a friend or check composting websites. Red Wigglers

.

4. Bury the food scraps

Collect food scraps daily keeping them inside the house in a plastic container/bucket with a lid for a few days before they are taken to the compost bin. Start by pulling aside the bedding and making a deep hole. Dump the food into the hole and completely cover the food scraps with the bedding. Rotate burial places throughout the bin. The first few months add food scraps slowly giving the worm population time to grow.
WHAT YOU CAN COMPOST:
  • Vegetable and fruit scraps
  • Grains, pasta, breads and cereal
  • Coffee grounds, coffee filters and tea bags
  • Egg shells and nut shells
  • Paper napkins and paper towels
  • Cut up paper egg cartons
  • Shredded or cut up pizza boxes
  • Cut up uncoated paper plates, cups and take-out cartons
WHAT YOU CAN'T COMPOST:

  • Meat, fish and poultry and other animal products
  • Dairy products, milk, yogurt, cheeses and butter
  • Oily and greasy foods
  • Toilet paper and facial tissue
  • Milk and juice cartons


5. Harvest the compost

After six months, the bedding will begin to become a dark, crumbly, soil-like material ready to use in your garden. The best way to harvest is to push this finished compost to one side of the bin and put fresh bedding material in the empty side. Begin to bury food scraps only in the newly bedded side. The worms will migrate to the fresh food as the old material finishes composting. After 6 weeks or so take out the finished compost and fill the rest of the bin with fresh bedding. Now spread it in your garden! Finished Vermicompost

This information is a great start to easy, fun, vermicomposting. You will feel good about adding less to the landfill and giving back to the environment. Show off your worms and compost to friends, planting the idea to get others involved. It’s contagious! If just one person can encourage another person to recycle their food scrapes, imagine the change we can make to our environment one worm bin at a time.


LINKS TO RESOURCES:

Seattle Public Utilities, Solid Waste This is a great site for getting started and includes numerous resources

Seattle Tilth This nonprofit agency in the heart of Wallingford has a demonstration garden and workshops

Purchasing Supplies and Red Wigglers List of suppliers for composting bins and red wigglers

Worm Composting Web Sites A great site to learn more about vermicomposting

Trouble Shooting Another great site for vermicomposting with more technical information and troubleshooting tips


INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEOS:

Apartment Composting 101 I loved this video. It shows how a couple living in a small apartment can do this!

Setting Up A Basic Worm Bin Simple video showing you a list of supplies and how to build a worm bin


The Natural Lawn and Garden Hotline, (206) 633-0224



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