Even Better Compost with Worms

All you need to know to get started with vermicomposting, from making your compost bin to feeding your worms.

| Summer 2014

  • This small bin for composting is perfect if you have little space for a full-sized compost pile.
    Photo by Shutterstock/logoboom
  • Red wigglers are the best type of worms for composting. They're also called manure worms and quickly turn rotting organic matter into compost.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog
  • Build a simple worm bin with two 18-gallon plastic totes. Drill multiple 3/8 inch holes in the sides of one tote, near the top, to allow air to flow through the bin so that the worms’ environment doesn’t become too humid.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog
  • Worms need bedding to create the best environment for them. Shredded newspapers, torn-up corrugated cardboard and leaves make wonderful bedding.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog
  • Worms eat the bedding as well as the food, so you’ll need to add bedding, too. In most cases, dampening the bedding before adding it to the bin is best.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog
  • Worms hate water, so if the bin becomes wet, the worms will climb up the sides. They’ll also start trying to escape if the bin is shaken, such as when it’s near a washing machine that causes the floor to vibrate.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog
  • Light drives worms down, so use this principle when harvesting the compost: Dump the compost and worms in a heap and put a light over it. Allow the worms a few minutes to start moving downward; then start scraping off the compost.
    Photo by Troy Griepentrog

What could be better than compost? Vermicompost! That is, compost made by worms. If you have little space for a compost pile or don’t want to spend money on a tumbler, you can easily build a bin for composting — all year round — that fits nicely in a closet or basement. And the smell of rotting organic matter? If you take a little time to manage the system right, it’s odorless.

To make worm compost, your worms need a place to live and do their work — somewhere damp, dark and not too cold. Dozens of commercial and do-it-yourself options are available. But here’s a simple, inexpensive method. Start with two 18-gallon plastic totes. Drill multiple 3/8-inch holes in the sides of one tote. These holes should be near the top of the tote sides, 4 to 6 inches from the top to allow air to flow through the bin so that the worms’ environment doesn’t become too humid.

Drill several 1/8-inch holes in the bottom of the same tote to allow excess water to drain out. Some worm wranglers choose to use only one tote without holes in the bottom, but this requires more careful management of the system. Usually, nothing should leak out these holes.

Before placing the tote with holes in the other tote, place some spacers in the bottom tote so the two totes don’t fit together tightly. These spacers may be short 2-by-4's or several small, repurposed plastic containers. After you’ve put the tote with holes on top of the spacers in the other tote, you’re ready to fill your worm bin.



Fill the Worm Bin

Worms cannot live by vegetable trimmings alone — they need bedding to create the best environment for them. Shredded newspapers, torn-up corrugated cardboard and leaves make wonderful bedding. Black-and-white newspaper pages on dull paper work better than the shiny pages with color. Corrugated cardboard offers ready-made tunnels for the worms, and it holds moisture well. Dip shredded bedding in water and wring out excess moisture. Sprinkle a handful of dirt in the bedding to provide grit for the worms’ digestive systems.

Compost worms do best in moderate temperatures — about 55 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures, but a frost will kill them. They also continue to feed and reproduce at warmer temperatures (slightly above 80 degrees), but they may be harmed or die at temperatures above 85 degrees. Depending on your environment, you can move the bins to a shady spot outside during part of the year.






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