First, I want to tell you that I really enjoyed learning about vermicomposting from my new friend Momone. If you don’t know what vermicomposting is, it’s basically using captive worms to make compost on a smaller scale than a compost pile in your yard. See the definition further down in the article for the more scientific explanation. The idea of recycling my family’s organic food waste and doing it in such a simple way (i.e. so easy I can’t mess it up) thrills me. Yes, thrills me. Here’s why:
- Right now I have a bin of kitchen fruit and vegetable waste on my back porch. We live in a 3rd floor apartment and the idea of lugging it down 3 flights and ½ mile away to the neighborhood compost pile is not something I relish. Eventually I will build a compost pile in my yard, but that is still a whole different, and slightly messier method of composting (and a separate article).
- I could just join the sad majority of people and toss the stuff in with the rest of the garbage, but why waste such rich organic material by sending it to the garbage dump when I can use it to fertilize my garden and houseplants? I love the idea of making my own potent fertilizer, (the tea will be my own home version of ‘miracle grow’) as well as rich composted soil.
- The cute ‘little house’ that Momone’s worm herd call home, is: clean, efficient, innocuous, odorless and a little powerhouse of productivity!
Definition: Vermicompost **
Vermicompost is the product or process of composting utilizing various species of worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Vermicast, similarly known as worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by a species of earthworm. These castings have been shown to contain reduced levels of contaminants and a higher saturation of nutrients than do organic materials before vermicomposting.
Containing water-soluble nutrients, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. This process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting.
**According to Wikipedia
All the above being said, I will tell you that I am not that excited about touching worms (the ‘vermi’ part). I don’t want to have to touch them, let alone look at them. I doubt I would ever consider them my ‘pets’ in any way, even though I will be feeding them. But I’m a mature, well-educated grown-up who shouldn’t be afraid of interaction with nature’s wondrous things that crawl. It’s really a minor inconvenience when I review the big picture. And besides, my kids can do the touching part anyway.
Here’s Momone and here’s an easy step by step guide to how Momone processes her organic kitchen waste.
In this example she is putting produce through a juicer, but the basic process is the same for other applications.
1. Shred some paper, like newspaper or egg cartons.
Dampen it slightly with water, so like a wrung out sponge. Set aside for step 10….
2. Select the fruit, vegetables, etc. you will be working with.
3. Process the food. In this case, she was using her juicer.
4. And here’s what’s left in the juicer to throw away – all the pulp. This is what you’re going to feed your worm bin!
Note: if you are putting cut fruit/veggies into the bin, make sure they are cut into small pieces.
5. Momone keeps a leftover berry container in her kitchen,
to collect material for the composter as she’s cooking up meals.
6. Now its time to go see the compost bin. Momone keeps hers on her back porch(when it’s very cold out she brings it inside). It is basically a series of trays stacked on top of one another, with a lid on top, and at the bottom an area that collects ‘compost tea’, hence the spout.
7. This is one of the trays in the compost bin (if you look closer at above photo,
you can see the edges of these sticking out the sides).
8. Remove the lid from the compost bin. On close examination after a bit of use, you will see little specs – these are the worm castings; this gives your composted matter it’s fabulous nutrients.
9. Add your saved kitchen waste to the topmost tray, sprinkling it around.
Or, you may need to start a new tray on top if the bin is looking full.
10. Now sprinkle the damp shredded paper over the top. And that’s it! Now you wait for the worms to do their part.
Now lets take a tour of the compost bin, so you know your way around.
This is the tray just below the top one we just put the kitchen waste in.
As you can see, the food matter is more decomposed.
If we lift the tray, we see the troops, I mean the worms, dangling through the holes! By the way, these particular type of worms are red wigglers, and very thin. They are different from the fat type or red worm I see in my backyard garden. I read in Mother Earth News, and also learned in a demonstration at Garfield Park Conservatory, that those garden worms can also be used for vermicomposting as well. But….I read on Wikipedia that’s not neccesarily the case: red wigglers are detritivorous (eaters of trash) and epigeic (surface dwellers) while common earthworms are anecic(deep burrowing) and not ideal for this closed system. So, basically if you are going to use garden worms, make sure they are the right type.
Here’s the tray just below. As you can see, most of the food stuff is very decomposed at this stage.
Momone experimented with Sun Chip bags advertised as ‘decomposable’….they didn’t decompose.
And this is the bottom of the bin, where the ‘compost tea’ collects.
During the warmer months, the bin has more humidity and there is an abundance of tea.
The day we opened the bin, it was still cold outside.
And when the material in the lower trays of the compost bin become fully composted, she adds it to a ‘holding tub’ (basically just a covered plastic tub). It’s important to leave the worms behind in the compost bin. They will generally be where the food is anyway – in the upper trays.
And that’s the basics of vermicomposting!
What to put in your vermicompost bin:
fruit and vegetable trimmings, cut into small pieces. Juicer ‘pulp’ is also good.
grains (breads, cereals, rice), again in small pieces.
small amounts of leaves and green grass clippings (without pesticides)
small amounts of coffee grounds and paper filters
whole tea bags
rinsed off egg shells
waste paper, torn into small bits and moistened
What NOT to put in your vermicompost bin:
acidic fruits and vegetables, like oranges, lemons, limes, and even papaya. Worms outer layer is very sensitive
never add meat, poultry, or fish
dairy products are not recommended because they putrefy
slow rotting foods
spicy peppers or onions
oily, greasy foods
sugary, salty foods
Worms attempting to leave a bin could be a sign that the bin is too wet, or of over population. Add more dry bedding and release some of the worms into the garden.
A strong odor is not a good sign. The bin should have a earthy, fresh dirt odor. Strong odor could indicate contamination by a food from the ‘bad’ list above. Or, conditions of wet/dry are not balanced.
Eliminating the use of meat or dairy product in a worm bin decreases the possibility of pests.
Urban Worm Girl, Chicago company, this is who you call if you want someone to get you started with all the supplies, etc.
Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof
The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, website for merchandise and information on composting
City Farmer.info Worm Bin Composting Tips. Informative step by step instructions when using ‘tub’ style worm bin.
Note: I visited Garfield Park Conservatory’s Green and Growing Fair in April, and they demonstrated that a worm bin can be made with a simple plastic tub (like the one shown in the above photo). Take care when drilling holes for air though: although essential to have oxygen holes for the worms, the worms can try to escape through them if placed inappropriately!