Composting with worms is not a new idea, but I think it is a practice that many people overlook or find too uninviting due to the nature of a slimy, wiggling worm. The fact of the matter is that worm composting is one of the most ideal forms of composting for one sole reason: you are producing pure worm castings. What’s the big deal about that? Worm castings are a highly active and beneficial mixture of bacteria, enzymes, organic plant matter and animal manure, and earthworm cocoons. They are rich in nutrients and contain over 50% more humus than topsoil or compost.
You may be asking, what is humus? It’s not the yummy bean dip, I can assure you! Humus is a component of soil, the part made up of decaying plant matter that is absolutely necessary for a healthy, rich, and fertile habitat for your plants. This includes nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and nitrogen. While you can get these things in the form of commercial fertilizer from the garden center, they often have to be diluted or broken down before you can use them. At my farm, we are interested in gardening in a natural and organic way; there is no more natural way to apply a healthy dose of nutrients to your soil than by using worm castings! With them, you do not have to dilute at all. Worm castings are perfectly safe to apply in the hole before transplanting or as a side dressing to your plants. They will not burn the roots.
Each year, when we begin transplanting crops, I fill the dug holes and rows for plants with a handful of worm castings. You can often find these bagged and for sale at the garden center, usually in the organic section. They can also be purchased online. My favorite way to get my hands on worm castings? Create your own! Raise worms in a bin. It’s really simple.
Worms prefer a comfortable living environment, just like all living things. You’ll want to purchase a rubber bin of some sort - a storage bin works great. You will need a lid and will want to poke holes in the top to allow oxygen to enter as well as for ventilation. There are several different types of worm bins on the market as well that are more commercialized, if you do not feel like creating the DIY version. Once you have a bin ready, you’ll create a bedding for them to live in. I usually create this with coconut coir, a bit of soil from my garden, some grass clippings, dried leaves, and newspaper. Drop in the worms and give them a little bit of food!
What can worms eat? The downside to raising worms in a bin is that they do not eat through compostable materials very quickly. In fact, it can take them over a month to eat through carrot peelings! The process of getting a bin started takes a while, but you receive the castings rather quickly. When you first start out, you’ll want to wait a period of at least 3-4 weeks between feedings before dumping all of your kitchen scraps on them. In a few months, that might be more of what you can expect! Worms can eat most kitchen scraps except for citrus, oils, meat, and dairy. They enjoy fruits the most, I have noticed at least. Banana peels always go quickly around here!
My best advice for starting a worm bin is to select the right type of worms to raise. You’ll want to use Red Wigglers over Night Crawlers. Red Wigglers live in colonies while Night Crawlers do not; that means that once a Night Crawler aerates the soil in a place, it will leave and move on to another spot in your yard. They don’t make a great choice for a worm bin as they do not procreate in that way. With Red Wigglers, they will live in the same “neighborhood” for generations. They procreate extremely quickly and you can easily fill a worm bin up with several thousand worms in months. This also means if you relocate some of the worms into your garden or outdoor compost pile, they won’t leave. They will continue to live there!
If anything, it’s a great new hobby to try this growing season. You may find that you really enjoy having the worms around! They are low maintenance, odor free, and perfectly filled with amazing beneficial nutrients for your garden.
Kayla Haupt is a master gardener, blogger, homesteader, embroidery artist, and single stay-at-home mother to her young son, Tad. She lives in rural Iowa on a small farm amongst one of the largest Amish settlements west of the Mississippi River. Kayla hopes to instill the idea of sustainability, creativity, and wholesome living in her son and others. You can learn more about her and follow along with her daily life on her blog at underatinroof.com and follow her on Instagram (@underatinroof) (@kayhaupt).