The last 5 years have seen a lot of change in our household. We do everything we can to reduce, reuse and recycle. As a result, we are avid composters. We have a lawn compost bin, two actually, for our leaves and grass clippings, and a compost bin for our kitchen. The compost bin for our kitchen gets the most interesting comments from friends and family. It sits right outside the kitchen door in the garage, and houses about 4,000 worms.
No, the worms don’t get out and make a break for freedom, and no, it doesn’t smell, well not badly. If you open the bin and stick your head in it, it smells just like a walk in the woods after a rain. If you walk by it, you can’t smell a thing at all. No one knows that’s what the bin is even for until I tell them. The lack of smell is the biggest surprise to those not familiar with vermiculture. The next big surprise to those new to this kind of composting is how easy and well it works. We throw everything in there except protein (worms are vegetarian!) and our 4,000 worms handles all the scraps this family of 5 makes with ease.
So, if you want to turn all your kitchen scraps into the most perfect garden fertilizer you’ve ever used, fall in love with love wild, wonderful worms!
The first thing you need is a big bin. I used a Rubbermaid plastic tote, because they are cheap, readily available and durable. Drill 1/4″ holes all around the top for air and 1/16″ holes all over the bottom for drainage. You will need 2 lids for the bin, one to use as an actual lid and one to use underneath to catch any liquid that drains from the bin. It’s important to have adequate drainage for two reasons: one, you don’t want your worms to drown, and two, the liquid that you catch is called worm tea and it’s gold for plants. Use it as a fertilizer for your indoor potted plants and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Once your bin is done, next fill it with bedding. You can use newspaper or cardboard. We use newspaper, it’s a great way to recycle it. Just tear it into strips before you put it in the bin and moisten it. White paper and coated cardboard is no good, so don’t start thinking you can recycle all your paper goods here, stick with good ole newspaper or plain cardboard. The worms need it for air circulation, so once you moisten it, fluff it up for them. Don’t let it get too wet, just damp like a wrung out sponge. Feel free to throw a handful of dirt or sand in there too, the worms need the grit in their diet too, although egg shells do a great job of giving them the grit they need.
Now your bin is ready for your worms! You want to get red wigglers. They are small, multiply easily and are fairly hardy. They are not the best for your actual garden since they do multiply fast and can take a garden over quickly, but they make the perfect vermiculture worm. They will multiply to meet the demand of the food you give them, but won’t multiply so much that they outgrow their bin, so it’s perfect. Try to get them locally as that’s the most earth friendly option, but if you can’t find a worm farmer close by, there are lots of worm farms online as well and they will ship them to you.
You need 1,000 worms for every 1 lb. of kitchen scraps generated daily. When you collect your scraps and are ready to feed your worms, just throw on some rubber gloves (I keep mine right on top of the worm bin with the extra newspaper and a spray bottle of water), clear a corner, throw in the scraps and cover the scraps with bedding. The worms will do the rest. Rotate which corner you add to each time. If you get any fruit flies or other bugs, stop feeding them for about a week, as that’s a sign there is too much food for them to handle. Either let them multiply a bit and catch up, or get more worms.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the bin itself, you’ll want to reap the rewards and harvest the amazing castings for use in your garden. Castings are worm droppings and are the best compost material around. Harvesting them is surprisingly easy. Just dump the whole bin out onto a tarp or large piece of cardboard and spread it out into a nice, thin layer, about 3 inches deep. Let it sit in the sun for a bit, and the worms will go straight to the bottom since they are not fans of the light. Scoop off the top layer of castings and add them to the garden. When you are left with little but worms, just start the bin again with fresh bedding, food and put the little guys back in their home.
Mix the castings in with vermiculite, peat moss and some manure and you have the perfect soil mix for growing just about anything. Add more castings each spring to your garden and you’ll never have to feed your plants and vegetables anything else.
It sounds a bit complicated, but in practice could not be easier. We keep a compost crock inside on the kitchen counter that we put our chopped scraps in. Once a week I dump them into the worm bin and about once a month I mix the whole bin up with a garden trowel. I harvest the castings twice a year, once in the spring before I plant the vegetable seeds and once in the fall when I am putting the garden to bed for the winter. So, for about 5 minutes a week and about 1 hour twice a year I have reduced our household waste considerably and I get free, incredible fertilizer. Like I said, these are wild, wonderful worms!