What is vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is a process that uses worms to break down organic material like food scraps, leaves, grass clippings and paper products.

Worms do not have stomachs so they cannot digest foods themselves; instead, they live off bacteria in their intestinal tract which breaks down the food into nutrients for them.

These nutrients are then excreted as worm castings or "vermicast", also called worm compost or vermicompost. This end product can be used as an all-natural plant fertilizer or soil conditioner.

Is composting with worms easy?

Vermicomposting is both easy and rewarding!

It may not seem so at first, especially if you've never worked with worms before. However, this method of composting can be done by anyone as long as they are willing to put in the work required for it. With a little effort and patience, vermicomposting is not only simple but it works wonders for your garden.

The first step to vermicomposting is collecting and storing your worms. Collecting them is as easy as buying them online or at a local worm farm. You can order as many worms as you need. Once you have your live composting worms, store them in a container with shredded newspaper, cardboard, or dead leaves.

The ideal place for composting with worms is somewhere that isn't too warm and has no sunlight. The worm bin that you keep your worms in should also have a lid to prevent them from escaping.

Once the worms are settled and comfortable in their own 'worm farm', it's time to start feeding them. Organic food waste is one of the best things that you can feed your worms. It doesn't matter whether it's potato peels, fruit and vegetable waste, or even used coffee grounds - your compost worms eat it all!

Earthworm compost is a great way to enrich your soil

Worm composting is soil that contains earthworms which are an excellent source of nutrients. Earthworms will digest the organic matter and break it down for better growth and development.

Their waste products (worm compost) are used on plants as fertilizers to help them grow strong roots and produce healthy fruits, vegetables, or flowers.

The compost will improve soil aeration, drainage, and water retention.

How do the worms make compost?

After the earthworms consume all the organic matter from the soil, they will leave behind their casings and other solid waste that is called worm castings.  Worm castings are rich in nutrients and can be used to improve plant growth.

Earthworm castings contain microbes, bacteria, and fungi which are all essential for growing plants and crops. They also possess nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium which can make your garden soil very fertile.

Worms can eat up to half of their body weight in waste products each day, and plants can then consume the worm castings for better growth.

You can add various types of waste to your compost bin which will include food waste, plant matter, unused produce, grass clippings, and other organic materials.

Composting is a way of recycling organic materials into fertilizer. And worm composting is a great way to do this!

human hands with worms on soil

What makes worm castings better than traditional compost

Compost is one of the cornerstones of organic gardening, but when most people think about it they think about piles of old food scraps like fruit and vegetable scraps or used tea bags, mixed with organic wastes and plant cuttings from the garden, which is then turned into a nutrient-rich compost material.

Worm castings however, are made completely from worm feces, once they have eaten all your organic waste!

It also means that worm castings are already full of all kinds of beneficial bacteria and microbes that will help your garden thrive.

How is this method different?

To understand how worm castings are different from regular compost, you have to know what a typical compost pile looks like.

Firstly, it's generally filled with lots of green and brown material. Brown materials include things like leaves, twigs, shredded paper or cardboard, while the green material is typically kitchen scraps such as eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, plant and grass clippings.

By mixing all of these together you make what's called a black or brown pile compost. The idea is that this material will break down over time to release it's nutrients for plants to use. It also contains lots of different kinds of microbes which will help the process along by breaking down the material.

Vermicompost is usually loaded with worms, including red worms or red wigglers (also called eisenia foetida) which are known to eat a lot. Worms come from all over to feast on the fresh organic materials you're adding to your compost pile and once they get there they start to eat and poop.

What happens next is that the worms will eat the green and brown materials you put in your compost pile and then defecate worm poop, also known as castings.  These castings are the finished compost, full of nutrients, microbes and a bunch of other good stuff for plant growth!

The process is essentially the same as if you just had a pile of food scraps sitting in your kitchen, except that it's much more efficient because of how many different kinds of worms can be chowing down on all the organic material and speeding up the process.

Step-by-step guide to vermicomposting for beginners

It can be a bit intimidating to start something new. The process of vermicomposting is no different, but with the right information and support, you'll be well on your way to becoming a master worm wrangler in no time!

Here's our guide on how to get started

Create a worm bin

If you are going to make the worm bin, look for a plastic container or wooden box that is usually at least 16 inches wide and deep, and 22 inches long. This will be your 'worm farm'!

Any old plastic storage containers will make a great compost bin, but be sure to check what they've been used for before using them for your worm bin! Even though you may think any container with a fairly tight-fitting lid would work just fine, check it over carefully to make sure it’s clean and safe, with no harmful chemical residue etc. left over.

A larger bin is better because it can hold more of your vegetable scraps and other materials for the worms to eat, and so support a bigger worm population. Depending on how much organic waste you produce, you may need several worm bins.

Worms need air, so the side of the bin should have very small air holes to allow ventilation for the worms and avoid smells. Air will also help prevent moisture build-up leading to excess water and a too wet worm bin.

You will also want a lid on your worm bin, to stop the worms escaping!

Some people put holes in the bottom of their worm bin to allow liquid drain away. But, if you have holes in the bottom, your worms may escape as well! Better for your worm bin to have a tap at the bottom to drain liquid when needed.

Also known as worm tea, this liquid compost is great for diluting and pouring on your plants and garden as a fertilizer!

worm bin

Put your worm bin in a good location

The location of your worm bin should be in an enclosed and non-sunny area in your kitchen, garden, garage, or even your basement. Worms need a stable temperature, so make sure that the temperature will not vary drastically wherever you put your worm bin as that can kill off all of your worms.

Keep the composting bin away from any heat source as well as direct sunlight to ensure that your worms live as long as possible and do not become overheated or dehydrated. Your worms will die if either of these things happen, so it's good to make sure there is good airflow around it as well.

Don't forget to keep your worm bin away from pets and children as they have a tendency to be curious and may damage it!

If you are in a sunny location with limited shade, perhaps a solar composting toilet would be a good choice for you!

Vermicompost bedding

The process begins by filling up your bin with layers of bedding that will be used as food for the worms. You want to make sure you have a good layer of bedding in your bin before adding new bedding on top so it can build up over time and create enough heat for vermicomposting.

For the bedding, commonly used materials include peat moss, shredded paper or cardboard (not bleached), hay or straw. Even adding some potting soil to the new bedding will help create a living environment with the air, water and food the worms need to be healthy and eat lots!

These materials also help create moisture in your worm bins during dry periods, when you need to keep humidity high. When the worms start eating it is important to make sure that they have enough food to eat. If the bin starts to dry out, add some more water and new layers of bedding.

When the bin is in its mature phase, it can hold a large population of worms and you will have to make sure that there is enough food for them.

Managing your worm composting

The first few weeks, your worms may not look like they're doing much but after a couple of months or so, you will start seeing the castings of the worms. If you want to know that your bedding is ready, look for dark brown or black clumps of castings as it indicates that they have finished their food source.

It is important not to put any meat, fish, dairy products, oils, dirty or greasy kitchen waste as bedding material in your compost bin, as these items can attract pests such as fruit flies and houseflies. Also, avoid putting any citrus fruits in your worm bin as the acidity of these fruits can kill the worms.

Feed the worms with grass clippings, leaves, and straw because they are great ingredients for your vermicomposting bin as they are perfect food sources. Worms will eat your food scraps and garden waste. 

You may have to replace your bedding every few months depending on your composting system and how well it is working.

Clippings for lawns that have dried out are great. If the grass clippings are still green, they have a lot of moisture and should be used in moderation. Most people will have enough food scraps to ensure the compost bin has enough moisture.

Because a composting toilet uses a urine separator it should never get too damp, and you will only need to think about the moisture content of the material you put into it. As with all compost, the key is not too wet and not too dry!

Leaves are great as they have a lot of carbon and nitrogen, two primary nutrients for worms. They also help to provide insulation in cold weather, especially useful if your worm bin is outside.

As for straw and shredded paper, these ingredients are great because they're a carbon-rich bedding that can help create space and structure for the worms to move about easily. And worms love to eat it too!

You need to add several inches of bedding before you add your worms since this will prevent them from drying out after a few days, and give them good as soon as they arrive. Make sure to leave at least enough space between your top bedding layer and the lid of your bin to allow for air flow.

Once you have placed the bedding into your bin, it is time to get some worms!

The worms you should use for vermicompost

There are many different types of worms, and it is important to know which type you need in order to make your composting process more efficient. Some worms are better at consuming certain types of food scraps , and some worms reproduce faster than others, so it is important to choose your worm carefully.

Red Worms

Red worms - also known as tiger worm, red wiggler or eisenia foetida - are the most commonly used for composting because of the amount of food they can eat.

Large numbers of red worms can consume a lot of food scraps quickly, which is why they are the best choice especially if you need to handle a large volume of organic waste. A red worm can consume up to half its body weight in food waste per day, meaning they will eat through your waste quickly!

The red worm can also reproduce quickly, because they are able to lay up to 1000 eggs each year. This will keep your worm compost supplied with hungry worms!

These types of worms also love to eat vegetable food scraps, making them a great choice for someone who has organic produce that needs to be composted instead of thrown away.

European Nightcrawler

Some people use European nightcrawler worms, because they eat a wide variety of foods so can need less attention paying than with red worms. However they do not eat as much and so it will take longer to get a finished compost.

Plus, it is easy to obtain these worms from your local bait shop or from an online provider!

Conclusion

Vermicomposting allows us to turn food scraps and other plant matter into nutrient-rich compost, while also giving the worms a comfortable place to live!

It’s great for our environment as it does not produce any greenhouse gas emissions or create waste, and vermicompost is fantastic for your garden and plants.

If you are looking for an innovative way to take care of your household's organic material, vermicomposting may be just what you need!