Have you been looking into starting a compost bin, but are wary of keeping a box of rotting food in your home? For those of us without a back or front yard, the idea of a compost bin is seemingly impossible without incurring an invasion of insects or rotting smells. Have no fear — Vermiculture is here!
Vermiculture (or vermicomposting) is a method of using Red Wiggler worms (Eisenia Foetida) or Red Earthworms (Lumbricus Rubellus), along with companion bacteria and microbes, to break down existing compost into fresh fertilizer in a more timely manner than that of traditional compost methods.
To get started you will need a large container or box that is fully enclosed, and also has air holes (worms have to breathe too!) and a drainage basin. The best method I have observed is to use a wooden box or a plastic storage container with holes in the lid and the base, with another lid to catch the liquid runoff. Before the worms can go in, there needs to be a layer of carbon-rich organic matter that will act as a living environment/food source for your worms. Carbon-rich matter includes dried leaves, twigs, and paper scraps, which make for excellent starter materials as they are easy to find, cheap, and mimic a worm’s home environment. It is better to avoid glossy, waxy, inked papers, as they contain toxic chemicals that can harm your worms and the delicate ecosystem you are building. Once you have poked air holes into the cover and have placed your carbon-rich layer, place the worms into the container. From this point you can immediately start feeding them any organic waste you would put into a regular compost bin. Ideally this would consist of mostly fruit and vegetable waste, and avoiding meat or dairy products, which can attract flies or large animals depending on where you keep your bin. It is best to keep the worms in a place that gets good airflow, but also stays generally warm and temperate in terms of temperature fluctuations.
From here the breakdown process is pretty simple: you feed worms, worms eat food, worms poop, poop is soil/fertilizer. Have you ever wondered why people claim that worms are a garden’s best friend? Not only do they aerate the soil, allowing for strong root growth, but worms are also what helps create the soil itself! A worm’s waste contains microbes that preserve nutrients within the soil.
The best way to use the product of your ermicompost is to either use it as a topsoil/fertilizer by placing a thin layer on top of organic or nutrient rich soil. Another option is to mix it in with soil to create a nutrient rich environment for the plant to root into.
One thing to remember with this vermiculture project is that we are what we eat, as well as where what we eat comes from. For example, if you want to start an organic garden but are continuously adding non-organic waste to your bin, the soil itself, as well as what grows out of it will not be organic. Another important thing to keep in mind when creating your worm farm is how much and how often you are feeding you feed the worms. This of course depends on the size of your bin, how many worms you have, and how much organic waste you create. Be wary of hard matter (such as carrots or avocado pits), as it is difficult for worms to break it down, and is best served in very tiny pieces.