Vermicomposting is a long word that merely means using your table scraps and organic materials to raise worms and their castings.
Castings are worm poop. They are invaluable to the organic gardener of the thousands of beneficial microorganisms that are found in them. The castings contain five times more nitrogen, at least seven times the phosphorus, and over ten times the potassium than ordinary garden soil.
Not only that but the castings have a perfect ph as well as containing plant growth factors. It seems that “worm manure” is the way to an abundant crop of lush vegetables.
Worms for vermicomposting are grown in special containers that you can buy or make yourself. They are not the earthworms that you may find in your garden but smaller varieties. The two breeds used in vermicomposting are Eisenia foetida or Lumbricus rubellas, but you may know them as tiger worms, angel worms, or wigglers.
They generally live nearer the surface of the earth than most worms, under decaying leaves, in compost piles, or decaying manure in pastures. The habitat that you create for them must be kept close to their ideal conditions.
How to Grow Worms
Vermicomposting does not take up much space. For every two people that will produce table scraps, you will need a 2’x2’x8″ box and 2,000 worms. Expect this population to double, under good conditions, each month.
Once you have your habitat, either homemade or bought, you will fill it with bedding material. You will need approximately six pounds of bedding material per box.
Bedding can be made of many things, a combination of peat moss, shredded paper and/or leaves, well-rotted manure (do not use fresh), sawdust from non-treated wood (not aromatic wood like cedar or pine though), dried grass clippings, and coconut fiber.
The bedding needs to be loose and moist, with the ability to allow air to circulate. Add some sand and a very small amount of lime. Mix it up well, moisten and put it in the box. Now add the worms. Do not add compost materials for 2 days.
After two days you can start adding table scraps. Never feed worms the following substances:
- Oil and oily foods
Trimmings from vegetables, fruits, garden plants, egg shells, and coffee grounds are all great. Tea bags, as long as the staple is removed, coffee filters, leftover oatmeal, and bread can all be used with great success. 1,000 worms will eat about 1/2 cup of scraps per day.
Bury the food in the bedding for best results. The worm box will need to be cleared every 3-4 months.
Harvesting the Castings
Harvesting the castings is a relatively simple procedure. You will want to complete the process outside on a sunny day. Working with one box at a time, dump it onto a large piece of plastic. Mound the contents into several mounds.
Since the worms will want to avoid light they will burrow into the piles and you will then gently brush the dirt off and set it aside until you begin to see the worms again. Wait a few minutes for them to burrow deeper and repeat the process until you have only worms.
Return the worms to the newly filled boxes and store the casting for a week or so before using needed in your garden.
You can also collect the liquid that is produced when you dampen the soil of the boxes. To do this place a tray under the habitat to collect the liquid. Pour it off regularly into a container to be used when watering your plants.
The ideal temperature for growing worms is 50-80 degrees. It is essential that they do not heat up above 90 degrees or they can literally cook.
Because of this you also need to be careful about putting in too much “hot ” compost, like grass clippings, fresh manures, and that type of thing. They cannot survive in normal garden soil so they should be kept in the environments you have created for them.
Vermicomposting can be an excellent family project as well as a way to grow better plants and make a little extra money by selling both the worms and the castings to others for their organic gardens.