Since starting a garden last year, I have been looking for ways to make sure my soil is in tip-top shape. Remember, your plants are only as good as your soil. It's not an area to skimp on. So, we bought a compost bin and have been composting, noticing a huge decrease in the amount of trash we throw away every week. But, I wanted something a little more adventurous and fun than throwing food and trash in a pile. So in February, I set up my first worm bin for vermicomposting! Basically, I adopted 500 new pets and gave them a home in my laundry room so I can feed them and collect their poop for my garden! :)
Worm castings (poop) are 5x richer than the most fertile soil. Adding it to your garden is adding 'black gold'. It stimulates plant growth and increases resistance to disease and insects. In your garden, worms are Mother Nature's best tillers, aerating and enriching the soil.
Vermicomposting is a great way to dispose of garbage in an efficient and compact way, even easy enough for apartment dwellers. Here's how.
~You need a bin. You can buy a fancy bin for a fancy price or you can make one. I used a plastic storage bin about 1'x2'x1'ish with a lid- to keep it dark inside. This size is good for a family of 4 or about 6-7 pounds of food scraps per week. UPDATE: I forgot to tell you the bin should be propped over another tray to catch any 'liquid gold' that might escape through the bottom holes.
~You need air ventilation. I drilled about 20 1/4" holes in the bottom and several around the upper top edges just under where the lid fits. You can drill holes in the lid too, but I didn't. The air temperature for worms needs to be kept at about 60-80 degrees F. That's why mine are inside.
~You need bedding. I shredded up some newspaper and cardboard, soaked it in water a few minutes, wrung it out like a sponge, and then made it fluffy in the bin to a depth of about 5 inches or so. Coconut coir also makes good bedding.
~You need food. To start, only add about a cup and bury it under the bedding a little to keep the flies and smells away. Worms eat fruit peels, coffee grounds, tea tags, vegetables, crushed eggshells, grass clippings, shredded newspaper and cardboard, straw, little amounts of bread and citrus. Strong foods like garlic and onions are usually not appreciated.
~You need worms, red wigglers to be exact. You need about one pound of worms for every half pound of scraps you produce. If you get much over 2 pounds of worms, you will need multiple bins. I ordered my red wigglers from Worms Etc. Any old worm from your yard won't work, you need worms meant for composting. Mine came in great shape with easy instructions. I recommend Worms Etc. website for additional info on worm composting, it's great!
Once you've added the worms, it's pretty low maintenance. You might have a few suicides in the beginning while the worms are adjusting to their new home. I had two. :( If you continue to have worms escaping, there's something wrong with your bin. Check the bedding moisture and food about once a week. Be careful not to add too much food or you'll get pests and a rotten odor. The bin shouldn't stink, it should actually smell nice, kinda earthy. If it stinks, something is off (moisture, amount of food, not enough air, etc.) and you need to fix it quickly. Since worms breathe through their skin, it's important to keep the bedding like a wrung out sponge or you'll have a mass murder of crispy squiggles. Add some new bedding about every month or two; worms feed near the surface so it's important to keep the depth of the bedding. You can begin harvesting the castings after about 3-4 months. Begin putting the scraps and bedding on only one side of the bin to encourage the worms to migrate. Once they move (or you manually move them), you can collect their castings for your plants! Worms can double in about a month and can live up to 5 years, so you'll have enough to start another bin or to give to friends!
The castings can be spread on top of your soil or mixed in or you can make compost tea! Compost tea is great for foliar feeding, disease/pest control, and of course fertilizing! Simply put 2 c. of castings or so in a large tea bag or cheesecloth and brew in a bucket of rain water or water allowed to set overnight to get rid of the chlorine. Add a tablespoon or two of molasses or honey to feed the micro-organisms. Allow the brew to soak about 24 hours, stir frequently or use a pump to incorporate air and use within 48 hours. If it stinks, you waited too long.
I'm a vermicomposting newbie, but so far I haven't had any problems and my garden is benefitting beautifully from the nutrients. This is a great project for kids and a great way to work with nature to improve your garden and harvest!