How Worms Can Deliver The Very Best Compost You’ve Used

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Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Image source: gardeningknowhow.com

Vermiculture or vermicomposting is the method of using worms to break down organic matter into useable compost for your garden. This method is catching on throughout the US, and you can often find “worm bins” for composting in your gardening catalogs.

To the uninformed, keeping worms in a bin outside or even in your home is pretty odd. However, vermicomposting has a range of different benefits that heavily outweigh any initial ick factor or hesitation over taking on a new project.

Benefits of Vermicomposting

Here are just a few benefits of harnessing the power of worms for composting:

1. Can Be Set Up Indoors.

Worm bins can easily be set up right in your home or even in a kitchen corner. A properly maintained worm bin doesn’t have a noticeable odor and to visitors it often just looks like a trash can. The real benefit of having a compost system right in your home is that you can add your table scraps right away rather than throwing away food or having to carry it out to your compost pile.

2. Organic Matter Composts Quicker.

In comparison to traditional composting methods, the vermiculture composting process is done in a third of the time. Even a substantially smaller worm bin could still produce more, and a better quality, compost compared to a compost pile.

3. Vermicompost is Superior to Other Types of Compost.

Science backs vermicompost as being higher quality and overall superior to other composts, even store-bought. You can see a data table of this on the New Mexico State University website by clicking here.

Due to its chemical makeup, vermicompost increases germination in seeds, boosts plant growth and also delivers nutrients to the plants for a longer amount of time.

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4. Microbes Present in Vermicompost Improve Plant’s Disease Resistance.

Those who use vermicompost regularly have noticed that plants fertilized with vermicompost are more disease-resistant and fare much better if pests are present. This is believed to be due to the presence of healthy microbes that live with the worms. They help break down organic matter but also are taken with the harvested compost and mixed into the soil.

5. Vermiculture Worm Bins Offer Two Forms of Compost.

There are two ways worms produce compost or fertilizer that you can use. The first: worm castings, which are the actual compost the worms create. The secondary way you can get fertilizer from the bin is through the excess moisture the worms create. This “worm tea” is a liquid that is rich in nutrients and can be poured right on your plants. Your worm bin set-up, even if it’s DIY, should have a spigot on the bottom bin so you can drain out this excess liquid.

6. Vermicompost Increases Soil’s Water Retention Abilities.

The worm castings which make up the vermicompost are extremely effective at retaining water. In fact, this compost can hold up to nine times its weight in water. When you mix the compost into your garden beds or pots, you are giving your soil a helping hand. This water retention means you conserve more water and also help those in dry climates improve their garden’s productivity.

7. The Whole Process is Pretty Much Hand’s Off Until Harvest.

Compared to traditional composting methods, vermicomposting is hands-off until the worms have completed the composting process. You don’t need to turn piles over or mess with the worms. All you do is feed them table scraps, inspect them regularly to ensure they aren’t underfed or overfed, and drain the extra worm tea so the bin doesn’t get too moist. You don’t go into the bin until you are ready to harvest the worm castings.

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Setting Up a Vermicomposting System

Even those who live in an urban setting with a container garden or have only some herbs growing in pots can set up a vermicomposting system. The wonderful thing about using worms is that you can scale it to your needs, whether you’ve grown a couple of tomato plants or are growing a large garden that feeds your whole family.

The first step is to determine what system you want to use.

Choosing a Worm Bin

There are plenty of manufactured worm bins on the market for a good price. These are often a nice choice for those who don’t need to produce a lot of compost. They are also ideal for those of us who aren’t so DIY-inclined or just prefer the streamlined look of plastic, especially if it’s in the home.

If you’re brand new to vermiculture, it may be a good idea to start off with one of these bins. If you decide you need to scale up then you can buy additional bins or make a larger system yourself.

That being said, there are many DIY projects that you can build to save some money.

Selecting Your Worms

Even though the common regular old earthworms compost organic matter, they aren’t especially suited for a vermicomposting set-up. There are two species of worms that are best for vermicomposting: brandling worms (Eisenia foetida) or, the most common species, red wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus).

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These worms are smaller than the earthworms you tend to find in your garden and are composting powerhouses. Earthworms prefer a soil-based environment, which is why they don’t thrive in a composting set-up. Red wigglers or brandling worms prefer the more wet compost set-up and will even live right in manure.

You can purchase red wigglers or brandling worms from many different sources on the Internet, from Amazon or eBay to worm breeder’s websites. I’ve purchased worms from Amazon and from worm breeders who have listings on eBay. I recommend you do a litter research or read reviews to ensure the person or company has a history of delivering healthy worms.

You will need about one pound of red wigglers to start up a worm bin the size of the commercial ones listed above. If you need to scale up, it is recommended to go with two pounds of worms per pound of food scraps/organic material you need to compost. The worms will produce roughly their body weight in castings.

Setting Up the Bin

Setting up the bin involves simply adding bedding for the worms. Some commercial set-ups will come with bedding to get you started. If yours didn’t or you’re building one, you can use the following different materials for bedding:

    • Shredded newspaper or printer paper.
    • Shredded leaves.
    • Hay or straw.
    • Moistened peat moss.
    • Old/aged manure.

Fill the bin with bedding and allow it to sit for a couple of days before introducing the worms. Make sure the bin is aerated (use your hands to lift the material) and slightly damp (not wet!) before adding the worms on top.

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Feeding Your Worms

Your worms can be fed a wide variety of different table scraps or other organic matter, such as:

      • Vegetable scraps.
      • Fruit scraps.
      • Eggshells.
      • Tea bags.
      • Used paper towels or napkins.
      • Coffee grounds.

Never feed your worms any dairy or meat products.

Harvesting Your Compost

The average-sized worm bin can be fed for roughly three months before you can harvest the castings. Fed on a daily basis, the worms should have eaten and broken down their bedding within that time. Once you’ve noticed that the bedding is gone, it’s time to remove the worms, separate the useable compost and replace new bedding for the worms.

There are a couple of ways you can do this, but the easiest is to construct a sifting frame from some leftover lumber and hardware cloth. Set this over a wheelbarrow or a bucket. Dump your worms and compost over this and then shimmy the frame to sift the compost through. Some little worms will get through, and you can pick these out if you want.

Vermicomposting is a super-easy process and quite fascinating since it’s powered solely by worms. It is a simple project to set up and requires very little maintenance. In return, you get some of the most powerful compost available.

Do you currently have a vermiculture set-up or plan to buy/build one? Please share any tips or other comments in the section below. 

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The post How Worms Can Deliver The Very Best Compost You’ve Used appeared first on Off The Grid News.

Aerobic Compost Tea, Worm Tea, and Leachate—A Clarification

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In the course of preparing for our Texas Master Gardener Worm Bin Workshop, I came across a lot of inconsistent information. Among the most confusing issues was that many sources both online and in print seem to confuse the terms referring to leachate and worm tea. The same sources also seem to blow it again when talking about worm tea versus aerobic compost tea. It’s easy to find yourself hopelessly confused!

In this article, I hope to demystify the subject a bit and provide clarity on a confusing topic.

 

Myh Worm bin

 

Let’s start with leachate, the liquid that comes off the worm bin.

What is Leachate?

One of the most contentious issues in worm composting is what to do with the leachate. The most common definition of leachate is any liquid that, in the course of passing through matter, extracts soluble or suspended solids, or any other component of the material through which it has passed.

Leachate is a widely used term in the environmental sciences industries, where it has the specific negative meaning of a liquid that has dissolved environmentally harmful substances that may come to enter the environment. But for the purposes of this article, we are defining leachate as the raw liquid runoff (or seepage) that settles in or below the vermicompost or worm castings in a worm bin.

The controversy stems, in large part, from the debate over aerated compost tea versus non-aerated compost tea. Fans of aerated compost tea do not like the fact that worm bin leachate is anaerobic, which they believe encourages the growth of microorganisms unfavorable to plants. They like to point out that worm bin leachate is not aerated compost tea.

This is completely true, but I am not so convinced that this is a big problem. Those critical of using this “worm juice” do make valid points, and I, too, recommend using leachate with care, but I did find two peer-reviewed studies showing the benefits of unaerated worm compost leachate: “Vermicomposting Leachate (Worm Tea) as Liquid Fertilizer for Maize” and “Vermicompost Leachate Alleviates Deficiency of Phosphorus and Potassium in Tomato Seedlings.” I also found several Extension Service publications that tout the use of worm bin leachate.

It is not at all unusual for folks to be a little hazy on what to do with their “worm juice.” One lady I spoke with the other day said, “We just changed our bins to add a drainage system. I just pulled the cork out and got nearly two cups of worm juice. My husband is trying to convince me that I should go ahead and feed it to my house plants, but I’m worried that adding this cocktail to my basically inert potting soil might stir up problems. Is it safe to use this stuff as a fertilizer?”

Another person said, “I get this dark liquid from my worm bins. I’m thinking most of the juice came from the castings and might have some great stuff in it, and not a lot of rotten stuff, and that’s why I kind of want to give it to the plants. Is that a bad idea? I just want to know what the heck to do with it. It’s winter here, so I can’t put it on my garden beds outside. I really don’t want to waste it, though! What do people do with it? Do you put it on your house plants, and have you gotten a good reaction from it?”

These are excellent questions. I’ve talked and written about this topic a number of times, but it’s definitely one that continues to confuse people and deserves to be revisited from time to time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be misleading information provided by some worm bin manufacturers (and website owners). The terms “worm tea,” “worm compost tea,” “castings tea,” or “vermicompost tea” should actually refer to the liquid fertilizer created by steeping (soaking) quality castings/compost in water (often aerated) for a period of time.

The problem is that many people refer to the liquid that drains out from a worm bin as “worm tea.” This is incorrect. The proper term for this is actually “leachate.”

Obviously, we’re only talking about semantics here, so it may seem that I’m splitting hairs, but keeping the distinction between these terms is actually quite important.

While leachate can certainly have value as a liquid fertilizer (especially when drained from a mature worm bin and diluted), it should be treated with a lot more caution than good-quality worm tea.

As water passes down through a worm bin, it can pick up all sorts of unstable metabolites (various products/intermediates of the decomposition process). If, for example, you have some fairly anaerobic zones in your worm bin, you can end up with various phytotoxins (toxins that can harm plants and humans). Some of these toxins are created by bacteria.

Every worm bin has good and bad microbes. This is perfectly fine and is even expected—provided, of course, that the good ones outnumber the bad ones.

Some leachate can contain harmful pathogens because it has not been processed through the worms’ intestinal tracts. It is often recommended that it should not be used on garden plants you plan to serve to your friends and family.

During decomposition, waste releases liquid from its cell structures as it breaks down. This leachate seeps down through the worm composter into the collection area. The leachate should be drained regularly, and if you are getting more than 2-4 ounces of liquid in a week, the worm composter is probably too wet!

If your composter has a spigot attached, I would recommend leaving the spigot open with a container underneath to catch the leachate. This will prevent it from building up in your system. Just keep an eye on it to make sure your container doesn’t overflow!

If, like me, you have a homemade worm bin, you can keep a drip pan underneath to catch the leachate.

 

worm castings

 

Finished composts are much better to use for brewing worm tea because they are much more uniform in composition, and the vast majority (if not all) the potentially harmful compounds have been converted into something more stabilized.

The microbial community present in these materials tends to be more beneficial, as well.

I’m not trying to scare you here, and I am not implying that leachate is “poison” and should never be used. I’m simply saying that while leachate can have value as a liquid fertilizer, it should be treated with caution. For every story extolling the benefits of using leachate, there is one lamenting problems from having used it.

If you decide you want to use leachate, I recommend taking some extra steps:

1. Do not use it if it smells bad! It should smell like earth (and not gross) when it comes out of the worm composter. If it smells bad, pour it out on an area like a roadway or driveway where it cannot harm living plants or animals.
2. Dilute it at a ratio of 10 parts water to 1 part leachate (10:1).
3. Aerate it with an air pump if available.
4. Use it outdoors on shrubs, ornamentals, or flowering plants only. Do not use on plants you intend to eat.

What Is Worm Tea?

Now let’s move on to the next confusing liquid: worm tea. Worm tea is about what it sounds like—worm castings steeped in water for a certain amount of time.

“Fresh earthworm castings contain more organic material—nitrogen, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium—than soil itself,” according to Texas Agrilife Extension Service. Worm castings and the tea you make from them also ward off root-knot nematodes—a parasitic creature that causes deformed roots and drains nutrients out of plants. Plants like strawberries that tend to attract fungal spores will also benefit. Castings contain anti-fungal chemicals that help kill the spores of black spot and powdery mildew.

 

Worm tea

 

Making simple worm tea is really nothing more than steeping—much like making any other tea you would drink yourself. It is very easy, and it is good for your plants, too.

In the process of steeping, water is added to the earthworm castings to simply extract the microbes from the castings into the water. The resulting liquid solution is then applied to plants or soil in various ways.

Many bottled teas you see on the shelf use this method.

To make your own, just take a bunch of worm castings and put them in the bottom third of a bucket. Fill the rest of the bucket with rainwater or non-chlorinated water (or tap water left out in the sunlight for 24 hours if you must). Let the mixture steep for 24 hours. Strain out the solids, dilute with water at a 1:1 ratio, and apply directly to your plants or soil.

What is Aerobic Compost Tea?

 

aerobic worm tea

 

Aerobic compost tea is also known as aerobic worm tea, and it is known mostly for its ability to boost microbiological activity in soil by adding beneficial bacteria, fungi, acinomycetes, and protozoa to the soil. It is brewed either by soaking a porous bag full of worm castings in water or by simply dumping the castings into a container of clean, chemical-free water. Molasses, corn syrup, or another microbial food source is then added to the water as a catalyst to stimulate growth of the microbes. And finally, an air-pumping system is installed to create an aerobic (or oxygenated) environment for the multiplying microorganisms.

Aerobic compost tea is beneficial in many ways. The microbes delivered in aerobic compost tea help plants by out-competing anaerobic and other pathogenic organisms within the soil. These beneficial microorganisms can also move in to occupy infected sites on plants’ root and leaf surfaces. Brewing aerobic compost tea speeds up the growth rate of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and nematodes, and multiplies their numbers exponentially. As a result, this method populates your garden with beneficial microbes more rapidly than applying worm castings alone.

When you spray or pour the tea on the soil, you are not only feeding the plant, but also increasing the number of beneficial microbes in the soil, thus crowding out the bad ones. It has been proven that the tea, along with the castings, can significantly increase plant growth, as well as crop yields, in the short term (a season) and especially in the long term over a period of several seasons.

Along with these great benefits come a boost in the plant’s own immune system, enabling it to resist parasites like the infamous aphid, tomato cyst eelworms, and root-knot nematodes. Plants produce certain hormones that insects find distasteful, so they are repelled. Aerobic compost tea also helps a plant to resist diseases such as Pythium and Rhizoctonia.

When either worm tea or the more effective aerobic compost tea is sprayed on leaves and foliage, detrimental and disease-causing microbes are again outnumbered and cannot grow their numbers to dominate any single plant. The teas also aid the plant in creating the “cuticle,” a waxy layer on top of the epidermis, or plant skin. This waxy surface protects the leaves from severe elements and reduces attacks by certain harmful microorganisms and insects.

Making Your Own Compost Tea

Making any type of organic compost tea involves a few key steps:

  1. Choosing the right compost
  2. Choosing the right nutrients
  3. Brewing and applying the tea correctly

Please note that the instructions below are only meant to give you some background about tea making, not a step-by-step guide on how to make the teas. We provide information on that elsewhere on the site, such as in this article by David the Good:

Read More: “Compost Tea: An Easy Way to Stretch Compost”

The compost used in making tea is like the starter you use in making yogurt. The compost inoculates the tea with organisms. Thus, you want the compost you begin with to have a good diversity of beneficial organisms. Worm castings are super for this purpose!

Keep in mind that different plants differ in their soil preferences. Some need a bacteria-dominated soil, others want a fungi-dominated soil, and still others like a soil that’s somewhere in between.

When making an organic compost with more fungi, mix in larger amounts of cardboard, paper, sawdust, wood shavings, and heavy stalk plant material as you prepare the compost. For bacterial dominance, use food waste and green plant waste. Whatever compost you use, be sure it is finished, well-stabilized compost, and that it’s fairly fresh. Again, worm castings are ideal for this.

As I mentioned above, I really like to use rainwater whenever I can, but you can always use dechlorinated water. One old-timer I talked to said he only ever uses pond water to make his compost teas. I have seen his garden, and I can tell you it looks to me like using pond water is a good way to go!

The nutrients you introduce while brewing also influence the finished tea.

To encourage the development of fungi in the tea, you can mix two parts humic acid; two parts yucca, saponin, or aloe vera; and one part fish hydrolyzate or other proteins into the water.

For bacterial dominance, you can feed one liquid ounce blackstrap molasses per gallon of tea and and an equal amount of cold-water kelp. For the molasses, you can also substitute brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup if you like.

 

Raised bed results

 

Go to the library or search online for information on leachate, worm tea, and aerobic compost tea and you will find many sources of conflicting information, mainly over the terminology involved in determining what is actually leachate and what is a worm tea (be it aerobic or simple tea). The main thing to remember is that while any form of worm tea may not sound too appetizing to you and me, our plants will really love it.

Worm tea lets you fertilize without adding bulk to your soil, and water your garden with something really healthy for your plants. Trust me here, your garden will practically jump up and shout “Hallelujah!” when fertilized with either worm tea or aerobic compost tea, and you will be amazed at the growth, flowering, and fruiting that results.

Spray your plants liberally on the leaves, stems, and surrounding soil. Use teas on clay soil to begin its transformation to humus. Use them on your flowers indoors and out, and on your other house plants to feed and nourish both the plants and the soil.

Read More: “Fertilizing Container Gardens: A Beginner’s Guide”

Use teas on your compost pile to introduce the microbial activity and hasten the compost pile’s beneficial breaking-down process. Inoculate the ground surrounding your fruit trees. Use them on manure piles that stink and marvel at how fast the stink and flies go away! A properly brewed worm tea is child, pet, and wildlife friendly.

A few things to keep in mind:

Foliar Spray/Wash: It’s best to spray all surfaces of your plants in the early morning or late afternoon when the suns angle is low and less intense. When possible, do your foliar spraying on clear days, since rain may wash away some of the microbial activity.
Soil Inoculant/Drenching: Always apply teas out of direct, intense sunlight. Use them pure or dilute them (10:1 is a suggested maximum dilution rate). Dilution ratios vary for different application techniques and equipment. An ideal time to apply is during periods of mist or fog, but not heavy rain. Alternately, irrigate a little before your application to ensure the microbes will survive and can travel more quickly and safely to their new job locations. Always use nonchlorinated water.
Smell: If a tea stinks, do not use it on your vegetables, as it is demonstrating anaerobic properties and may contain pathogens. Some suggest you use this stinky mix on an undesirable weed bed!

In Summary

Leachate–The correct word for the dark liquid that comes out of the bottom of your worm bin. If your bin is maintained correctly, you should have very little leachate and what you do have can be used safely (in 1:10 diluted form) on your ornamental plants. Sometimes leachate is incorrectly referred to as “worm tea.” Some sites refer to it as “worm wee,” but even that is technically incorrect.

Simple Worm Tea–A mix of worm castings and water. Useful if you don’t have an air pump but still want some liquid fertilizer from your worm bin.

Aerobic Compost Tea–An aerated mixture of worm castings, nonchlorinated water, and molasses or another microbial food source. It contains an active culture of microorganisms and should be used immediately, otherwise the benefit of aeration is all but lost.

I really hope that this article helps clear things up. I know that many of you may not agree with the terminology I have used in this article, but I think that using the above will help to demystify an area of gardening that can be of great benefit to all of us!

(This article was originally published October 2, 2015.)

 

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5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting

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Whether you live in an apartment, condo, or tiny house, here are some easy and practical ways to combat your small-space composting dilemma.

Growing your own food is important to your overall health, as well as the planet’s. You want to do as much as you can, but you live in an apartment or condo with rules about what you can and cannot do on your balcony or patio. You barely have enough room to grow anything much less have some sort of compost pile.

There are a number of challenges you face as a Small-Space Composter

Space.

You barely have enough room for growing your own food. Where in the world are you going to put a compost been?

Ease of set up and easy-to-use.

A compost pile is daunting. You want the composting solution to be easy-to-set-up and easy-to-use.

Won’t attract bugs.

There is nothing worse than bugs in a small space. No bugs in the compost bin!

Works as fast as possible

Do you want to use the compost as soon as possible? There are solutions for that, too!

Small-Space Composting Solutions

There are many solutions for your small space composting. It all depends on what is important to you from the above list. What is your priority?

Here are some solutions to consider for your small-space situation:

Worm Bin

The easiest way to compost indoors cheaply, easily, and quickly is to use a worm bin. Vermiculture (or worm composting) produces worm castings that make worm tea that is perfect for feeding the soil of your container plants.

Read more about vermiculture is small spaces here.

Plastic Storage Bins

These are an excellent choice because they’re fairly inexpensive and easy-to-find. They come in a variety of sizes so that you can get the right size bin for your space. Ten to eighteen gallons is a good size. You can even stack the bins to save space. Make sure you drill aeration holes near the top to allow air into your bin.

Five-gallon buckets

Another option is very inexpensive and stackable. You can find 5-gallon buckets with lids at home centers and big-box stores. Also, large kitty litter containers work great, too! Be sure to drill aeration holes near the top of the bucket.

Boxes

Old wooden boxes or wine crates can be turned into an indoor composter. Add a plastic bag stapled to the inside and cover with hinges or painters’ canvas.

Bokashi (Japanese term meaning “Fermented Organic Matter”)

The Bokashi method is easy and composts everything—from kitchen scraps to meat and dairy. You mix an inoculated bran filled with microbes into the Bokashi bucket and tightly cover it. When the bucket is full, seal it shut and set it to the side for 10 to 12 days. Every other day, drain the bucket (which also makes a nice compost tea). You’ll have a pre-compost, which can be put in worm bins or leave it for a month to let it break down further.

Where do you put a compost bin?

  • Under the Sink
  • Under a plant stand
  • In a hall closet
  • Out in the open (it’s a great conversation starter!)

How much do you put in?

Two types of material make composting work. They are nitrogen materials, such as food scraps and grass clippings, and carbon materials, such as leaves, shredded paper, and corrugated cardboard.

What to put in your compost bin:

  • Fruit & Veggie scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags (If the bag is slippery, don’t put it in your compost)
  • Shredded paper
  • Trimmings from houseplants
  • Hair (yours and your pets)
  • Toilet paper rolls torn into small pieces
  • Dryer lint

What not to put in your bin

An indoor compost bin, doesn’t heat up as much as a hot outdoor bin, so there is less microbial action happening (except for the Bokashi method). This means that the kitchen scraps won’t break down very quickly, especially if you add in:

  • meat
  • dairy
  • fats
  • large chunks of anything

It’s also probably a good idea to avoid composting very smelly items, such as onion peels. You may smell it in the rest of your house. Try to avoid watery items, such as melons or squash. They might make your bin too soggy.

Tips for Success

If you want to be successful with indoor composting and get a bit of compost, too, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Have shredded paper or dry leaves handy. Every time you add food scraps or coffee grounds, plop in a handful of the shredded paper or leaves. This will keep your bin from getting too wet. Note: Junk mail works perfectly for this purpose as long as it is not the slick-coated advertisements.
  • The contents of your bin need to be turned often. Turning the contents of your bin warms it up and microbes very happy. It also mixes the contents, so they don’t get too wet or too dry. Move everything around with a hand trowel. An advantage to the round bucket method is that you can roll it back and forth a few times to mix it.
  • No matter what kind of bin you have, add small pieces. Pulp from your juicer will breakdown much faster than chunks of vegetables. Chop up your food scraps or put them through a blender, and be sure to shred your paper or cardboard.

It is possible to compost in small spaces, such as apartments, condos, or tiny houses. After a while, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t with your chosen composting method. It will be a great feeling to know that you’re saving waste from the landfill and making compost for your container garden.

What is your favorite composting method? The comments are waiting for you.

 

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Small-Space Vermiculture, Step-by-Step

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According to the EPA, 20 to 30 percent of what is thrown away should be composted. If you’re the type of person who hates to throw out kitchen scraps, but don’t have room for a compost pile in your small apartment, small-space vermiculture is for you!

What is vermiculture?

Vermiculture, or Vermicomposting is the breakdown of organic material by vermis, which is the Latin word for “Worms.” The worms take that waste and turn it into nutrient-rich “castings” or worm poo that helps build the soil. It is the most efficient way to compost most of your household waste.

Steps to your Vermicomposting happiness

Let’s bypass the trash collector and have your worms “eat” your garbage!

Make your worm bin

Start out with a cheap bin to get started. A $10 system works just as well. A 5-gallon bucket, large kitty litter bucket, or 16 in. X 24 in. X 8 in. (or 10-gallon) plastic bin will work just fine.

Next prepare the bedding

Shred about 50 sheets of newspaper into 1/2 in. to 1 in. strips. Avoid color print. It is toxic to worms.

Place the shredded newspaper into the bin. Add water to the newspaper until the bedding feels moist like a damp sponge. Add more dry strips if it gets too wet.

Sprinkle two to four cups of potting soil or soil from your yard into the bin. This introduces the beneficial microorganisms.

Get Your worms

Red Wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are the worms you want for your worm bin. You don’t want Earthworms because they are large soil movers, and don’t do well in worm bins.

Get worms from a local source (if possible), because they are acclimatized to conditions in your area. Ask around, look on Craigslist, aquaponics or hydroponic stores, or ask other vermicomposters in your area.

How many worms do you need?

Say you bought a pound of worms. A pound of worms will eat half to their full eight every day. They are the best recyclers in the world! Think about how much waste you have.

Feed your new friends

Worms are vegan, but they can eat quite a bit. You’ll want to feed them a balanced diet, not just coffee grounds! As your bin gets going, you’ll feed those worms about half-a-pound to a pound of food in 24 hours.

Fun Fact: The worms don’t actually eat the scraps. They eat the bacteria that is breaking down the food scraps.

What to feed?

Feed your worms veggie and fruit scraps, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, tea and tea bags (the ones that aren’t shiny), such as peels, rinds, cores, etc. Cut or break the food up into smaller pieces. If you run it through a blender, that would be even better! For instance, juicing pulp is fantastic!

What not to feed?

Limit or eliminate citrus fruits and onion peels in your worm bin. Also, do not add meats, bones, oils or dairy products.

How to feed your worms?

  1. Feed your 1 lbs. of worms about three times their weight each week. So, for one pound of worms, you’ll feed 3-lbs of food each week, or slightly less than half-a-pound.
  2. Bury the food in the bin.
  3. Lift up the bedding. Add the food scraps. Then, cover the food with the bedding again.

Check the bin every week to make sure the worms are eating all of the food. Adjust the amount accordingly.

Harvesting the black gold

There are many methods to harvest the worm castings. These two techniques  work great.

  1. Try a melon. Place a piece of melon in one area of your bin. The worms really love musk melon or watermelon, because they don’t get it very often. Put that little piece of melon in the corner of the bin, and the worms will herd over there. Then, scoop out the castings from the other side of the bin.
  2. Vertical migration system. The whole point of a vertical migration system is to let a layer finish out and put a new layer on top with new paper and new food. The worms migrate up into a new layer where the food is. They don’t want to live in the lower layers that is filled with their poop. Essentially the system separates the casting for you, but in a much slower way. The lower bins still may have a few worms, but you can hand pick them. It’s not bad to get worms in your finished compost either. They’re going to end up living in the soil in your garden.

Tips for success

  • Place a full sheet of dry newspaper on top of the bedding. This will help maintain the moisture of the bin. It also keeps odor problems in the bin and prevents fruit flies.
  • If you find fruit flies or the bin is too wet, replace that top layer of dry newspaper.
  • Cover your bin and choose a place for your worms. Worms like it dark and between 55°F and 75°F. Under a sink, in a closet, or wherever is convenient for you, so you remember to feed and check on them.
  • Castings are high in nutrients and micronutrients, so make worm tea in a 5-gallon bucket. Or add it to your potted plants for a healthy boost.
  • We don’t always produce a pound of kitchen scraps in a day, or we’re on vacation or busy. You don’t need to micromanage your worms. You don’t have to feed them a pound of food every day.
  • Sometimes we produce more than a pound of kitchen scraps, or your worms aren’t eating as fast. If this happens, simple put the scraps in a container or baggie and put that in the refrigerator until it’s time for a feeding.
  • Worms don’t like light, so be sure to keep your bin in a quiet out-of-the-way place. They like warm, dark places.
  • If your bedding dries up, spray it with a bit of water. Fluff the bedding once-a-week to give the worms some air.
  • If you live in a cold climate and have your bin outside, be sure to bring it inside.
  • Rotting food will produce a strong odor. Stop adding food until your worms have caught up. Adding air by stirring the contents will help.
  • If the worms are crawling out of the bedding or onto the sides or lid, they may need more air, the bedding is too wet, or the bin is too acidic. Did you put too many orange peels in there?

Need other ways to compost in a small space? Check out this article!

Now we want to hear your wormy stories! Do you practice small-space vermiculture? Tell us in the comment below.

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The post Small-Space Vermiculture, Step-by-Step appeared first on The Grow Network.

How to Start Worm Composting

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How to Start Worm CompostingThe very first time I heard about worm composting I was intrigued. The idea that you can feed food scraps to a bunch of worms and they’d turn it into rich nutritious compost for your garden…And you don’t need a ton of space to do it…And, you can even do it inside…Well, that’s something I definitely wanted to try!

This month, I finally got my chance to try it. And today, I’m gonna show you what I did to get started so you can try it too.  

What is Worm Composting?

Worm composting (a.k.a. vermicomposting) is the process of using worms to recycle food scraps into a high nutrient soil amendment called vermicompost or worm compost. To put it simply, the worms eat your fruit and veggie leftovers and their waste, (a.k.a castings) becomes your garden’s black gold. Nice, right?

Why Compost with Worms?

Because it’s good for your garden (and good for the Earth). Healthy soil is the key to growing healthy plants. When you add worm compost to your garden you are putting organic matter back into the soil which has the nutrients plants need.

Organic matter is simply any type of living or dead plant or animal material. Worm compost is one type of organic matter that you can add to your garden soil. And, it may be the best. More organic matter in your soil means enhanced soil structure, better soil drainage, and a better environment for nightcrawler earthworms to live, eat, poop, and tunnel. ~wormcompostinghq.com 

Also, like I mentioned earlier, vermicomposting doesn’t require a lot of space (It can even be done inside!) so it’s a great way for urban families to start composting.

What Do You Need to Get Started?

Worms

Obviously. :) But will any old earthworm, do? No, not all worms are suitable in a worm composter. The best type of worms for vermiculture are Red Wiggler (Eisenia foetida), Brown Nose Worm (Lumbricus rubellus)  or European (Belgian) Nightcrawlers (Eisenia hortensis) variety. You can find these types of worms at bait-and-tack shops or online.  And once you find a supplier, you’ll need 1 pound or approximately 800-1000 worms to start.

Bedding

Inside a worm composter, worms don’t live in dirt. They live in bedding and the bedding is made up of “browns” which is carbon-based materials. “Browns” include shredded or torn newspaper, office paper, cardboard, leaves or combination of these items.

Food

What do worms eat? Your recycled kitchen scraps! Worms love fruit and vegetable scraps (raw or cooked) and their favorites are tomatoes, lettuces, melon rinds, banana, potato and carrot peels. They even eat egg shells, coffee grounds, bread and tea leaves! But be sure to skip the onions, citrus, meat, fish, dairy, fats and oils.

A Worm Bin

You can make your own worm bin or you can purchase one like this cool Worm Factory 360 eartheasy.com sent me. The Worm Factory is a compact, nice looking system that includes everything you needa durable, plastic, stacking tower, bedding made from coconut coir, pumice and shredded paper, thermometer, hand rake, mineral rock dust, an instruction book and DVDto get started. You have the option of purchasing the factory “with worms” or “without worms”. If you choose the “with worms” factory, like I did, it comes with a worm voucher. Basically, you go to the website listed on the voucher, type in a code and they send you the worms by mail.  Easy peasy.

How to Start Worm Composting

The Worm Factory 360 consists of a plastic tower made up of 4 stacking trays that have holes in the bottom. To give you an idea of how this works, the worms start in one tray and as they eat and fill that tray with compost, you’re adding additional trays with newer food to the top of the tower. The worms migrate upwards towards the new food and you’re able to harvest the compost from the lower trays.

I really like the Worm Factory 360. It’s a done-for-you option. Everything you need to get started comes together and you can easily set it up in minutes.

How to Set Up a Worm Bin

You want to make sure your bin is set up and ready before your worms arrive.

Here are the exact steps I followed:

1.Find a good location for your worm bin. Place your bin in a location where temperatures get no higher than 90º F and no colder than 40º F.  Some places to consider are a porch, patio, balcony, garage, basement, laundry room, or even under the kitchen sink. You can also keep the worm bin outside in the yard as long as it’s in the shade and is protected from wind and rain. Since the height of the Worm Factory 360 is taller than the space I have under the sink, I opted for the garage.

2. To start, you will use one stacking tray as the “starter tray” and set the other 3 stacking trays off to the side.  

3. Mix up the bedding.  The Worm Factory 360 came with a brick of coconut coir, minerals, pumice and shredded paper.  I moistened the coir in a mixing bowl, added the shredded paper, some pumice and 1 tablespoon of the minerals and mixed it all together. It’s a good idea to add one or two cupfuls of garden soil or compost because it contains organic organisms that will make the environment hospitable for the worms and help them digest the food. The bedding mixture should be moist, not dripping. It should feel like a wrung out sponge.

How to Start Worm Composting4. Take one or two sheets of dry newspaper and line the bottom of the first stacking tray. Then add the bedding mixture and spread it evenly around the tray.

How to Start Worm Composting

5. Add 2 to 3 cups of food in one corner.  The Worm Factory 360 instructions recommends feeding worms an even mixture of “browns” (shredded newspaper, cardboard, leaves) and “greens”(fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds).

6. Gather 5-10 full pages of newspaper and wet until it is damp. Fold the newspaper so it fits in the stacking tray and lay it on top of the bedding to create a moist newspaper cover. Place the tower lid on top of the starter tray and wait for your worms to arrive. 

What to Do When Your Worms Arrive

When your worms arrive, open the worm bin and remove the moist newspaper cover. Add the worms (including all the bedding they came in) to the bin and replace the moist newspaper cover. 

How to Start Worm Composting

Replace the moist newspaper cover and put the plastic lid back on the worm bin.  It’s a good idea to leave the worms alone for two or three days so they can acclimate to their new home. 

After a few days, open the lid and lift the moist newspaper. If the worms aren’t moving around in their food, replace the newspaper cover and lid and wait two more days. If the worms are moving around in their food and feeding, it’s time to start adding food to your worm bin.

If you’d like to learn more or see how my worms are doing, join me in GROW…my Facebook group for beginner gardeners. 

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The Easiest Way To Compost During Frigid Winter Months

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The Easiest Way To Compost During Winter

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Were you one of those children who loved to pick up wiggling worms after a rain? You can still play with these helpful friends as an adult gardener. Worms are actually quite the composters themselves and through the art of vermicomposting, they are helping us grow healthy, organic food.

What Is Vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is a process of composting whereby worms of many different varieties are used to make rich compost – in this case, worm poo. Red wigglers are the most common worm used, as they eat the most and the quickest, followed by white worms and earthworms. In addition to worms, you must include healthy food scraps, moist bedding and vegetable waste. Worms don’t like extreme temperatures, so you will have to keep this in mind.

This worm and waste mixture creates a fertilizer that is natural, organic and rich with nutrients. It is a great way to compost indoors during the winter, and you can do it year-round. This type of composting can be done anywhere, even in apartments.

Why Use This Type of Composting?

Vermicomposting is quick and easy. All the worms need to do is eat and poo. It doesn’t smell, though you need to make sure you do it properly.

This New All-Natural Fertilizer Doubles Garden Production!

Another reason to use vermicomposting is it is natural and creates a rich fertilizer you can use on everything. It is also very convenient as you usually will have it right at your fingertips.

How to Vermicompost

What you will need

  • Container
  • Bedding
  • Worms
  • Scraps
  • Water

Steps to vermicompost:

  1. You can buy worms if you want a good jump start. Red wigglers are often recommended. They consume a lot more than the regular garden worms, and live in small spaces very well.
  2. Keep your worms and compost at room temperature. Do not let temperatures drop to below 10 Celsius or 50 Fahrenheit. Also, don’t sit your worms in hot, sunny areas, either. Keep your worms inside all year long; it is much easier this way.
  3. Put your compost and worm bin in an area that is easily accessible, for example: a bathroom, basement, warm garage or under the kitchen sink.
  4. Place a tray under your bin or container to collect any moisture or drips. You can use this moisture to fertilize any indoor or outdoor plants.
  5. Moist bedding is needed in the bin for your worms. Shredded newspaper, (not magazines or glossy flyers) works well. Make sure the bedding is moist, but not soggy. Worms need a layer to be covering them all the time.
  6. Do not pack the bedding down. It may be a surprise that not all worms are good at burrowing. At the beginning, add a handful or two of dirt, not too much. Vegetables, fruits – even used tea bags and coffee grounds as well as eggshells are good to add to compost often. Eggshells will help control acidity.
  7. Some food scraps should be avoided. Pineapple and papaya in particular contain an enzyme that can kill your worms. Also avoid adding too much citrus, onions and garlic which can cause the soil to become acidic and send your worms crawling up the sides of your container instead of making valuable compost.
  8. Collect food and “feed” your worms twice a week. Chop the food into small pieces and put it in the bin. Cover the fresh food with a thin layer of bedding. Overfeeding will attract fruit flies and cause a smell.

How To Maintain Your Worms

vermicomposting 3 -- growingagreenerworldDOTcomFeeding: Keep feeding on a routine and harvest whenever needed.

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Check dirt: You must keep an eye on the moisture content of the bin, as your worms can drown if there is too much that is wet. To help with this issue, you can put holes in the bottom of your container or bin to help drainage and prevent soggy conditions. It is a good idea to check regularly, and add bedding when needed.

Use properly sized container: Containers need to be about eight to 12 inches deep; this will help the worms eat easily. If the container is plastic, do not close the lid tightly. Leave it loose when closed.

Bedding and its sources: Shredded cardboard, shredded paper, peat moss and commercial worm bedding are all good. Bedding should make up 2/3 of the container or bin. Wet the bedding with water, and squeeze it all out before adding to the container.

Acquiring worms: You can order worms from garden centers, catalogs, bait stores or even gardeners who are already vermicomposting and have a good stock. You will need about ½ to 1 pound of worms to start.

Watch the diet: While worms are omnivores, adding meat scraps is not recommended as it can attract rats and mice that will not only eat the worms, but take up residence in your home. Vegetables and plan-based scraps are best. Remember to start slowly; it takes time to build up enough bacteria for the composting.

Worms are a simple, easy and affordable way to always have compost at your fingertips. Vermicomposting is one fun way of ensuring a truly organic garden. It can be done by those of all ages, and it doesn’t matter if you are new to gardening or an old pro. The worms won’t judge.

Have your vermicomposted? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:  

Every Year Gardeners Make This Crazy Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.