I am an avid vermi-composter and also an active Master gardener through University Of California's Cooperative Extension. UCCE has very little information on worm cosposting, so I am putting together a lecture for Master Gardeners in training, teachers, and nature centers in our area. I am hoping that a few of you might take the time to read it, to see if there is anything important I've missed, or that may be inacurate. I would really appreciate ANY feedback you are willing to provide! Thanks!
OUTLINE TO FOLLOW:
WORM COMPOSTING 101
Vermicomposting, the process of worm composting, produces odorless, humus-rich granules called worm castings, one of the most nutritious compost byproducts available for your plants and soil. Worm castings are totally organic, non-toxic, and can be used indoors or out to keep your plants healthy and resistant to disease without the risks of synthetic fertilizers
DID YOU KNOW
Â One pound of worms can eat more than Â½ their body weight in food daily Â thatÂs over Â½ pound of food per day!
Â The average person in the U.S. throws away almost Â½ pound of recyclable food waste daily.
Â In Orange County alone, Worm composting could eliminate millions of tons of food waste from our landfills per year.
Â Worms are extremely efficient, and can compost food waste faster than any other composting method. Worms do the work for you, eliminating most of the labor associated with traditional composting.
Â Worm composting is ideal for people with little or no yard space. Worm composting can even be done indoors.
Â Worm composting in a properly built bin is virtually odorless, and will not attract flies, rodents or other pests
Â A worm composting bin is easy and inexpensive to build. All of the materials you need (except for the worms) can be found around your house or in your local storeÂs hardware department.
Â Kids LOVE things that squirm! Worm composting is a fun and informative hands-on way to teach kids about recycling, as well as science, nature and math.
SO WHY NOT BUILD ONE TODAY?
(Next page is a Materials list and Instructions on building a bin, including worm species selection. It is an Excel spreadsheet handout which will correspond to a live bin-building demonstration, and could not be inserted here. Care instructions ot follow....)
WORM CARE AND FEEDING:
Red Worms (Eisenia foetida) and Red Wigglers (Lumbricus rubellus) need an environment that is moderate in temperature, impenetrable to outside pests, situated away from sources of vibration. Inside their bin, they require darkness, moist, "fluffy" bedding, adequate air circulation and appropriate quality and quantities of food. Worms breathe through their skin, and will literally drown if their bedding is allowed to become too wet. Therefore, adequate drainage and "air-space" in their bedding is imperative for a healthy worm bin.
Keep your worm bin inside, in an insulated garage or in a consistently shaded area. Do NOT ever expose the bin to sun ÂIt will heat up quickly and kill the worms. Optimum worm bin temperature is between 68Â° - 77Â°F. Worms become stressed over 85Â° F and will not survive extended hot temperatures. Keep in mind that the decomposition process can also raise the temperature in your worm bin, so monitor your bin when outside temperatures get over 80Â° F.
In the winter, your worms will be less active and will eat less. Feed them only after they have eaten much of their previous meal. Some of your worms will live through temperatures as low as 40Â° F, but none will survive freezing temperatures.
Red worms can be fed a wide range of organic household and yard waste. If your worm bin environment is satisfactory, you can expect the worms to eat up to half their body weight in food each day. Since they do not have teeth, their food must be soft in order for them to eat it. Harder foods must break down before they can be eaten, therefore they will take longer to compost. Microwaving raw vegetable and fruit food scraps will not only kill any insect larvae that may exist, but will also help with breaking down the food so the worms can consume it more quickly.
All food scraps must be kept completely covered with bedding in the bin so there will be no odor, fruit flies, or molds. Each time you feed, check the moisture level in your bin. If the bedding is too moist and is "matting down", mix in enough dry bedding to soak up the excess moisture and allow air circulation.
The worms can be feed up to 4 times per week depending upon how quickly they are eating. The speed with which they eat will depend upon how close to optimum conditions their bin is kept. Optimum conditions include a pH of 7, temperature of 68Â° - 77Â°F, a moist environment and adequate food. The worm bin should be checked regularly to determine whether the food last put in the bin is being eaten. If it is, add more. (You can save your accumulating kitchen scraps in a plastic bag or container in the refrigerator until you are ready to feed your worms.)
When burying the food waste in your bin, divide your bin into imaginary sections (any number of sections between 4 and 16, depending on the size of your bin) clockwise around the bin. Every time food waste is buried, place it in the section adjacent to the section in which the last food was buried, and cover it with bedding. Try to keep each pocket of food less than two inches thick so that the pocket does not become too dense for the worms to eat quickly. By the time food has been buried in all of your sections, go back to the first section in which food was originally buried, and start the cycle again. This will give each section adequate time to break down and be eaten by your worms. (With a multi-layered bin, you can feed more frequently. Just add another layer to your stacking system and start again, above the previous level.)
FEEDING DO'S AND DON'TS:
FRUIT & VEGETABLE SCRAPS: Worms love almost all cooked and uncooked fruit and vegetable scraps. Just rinse off seasoning, sauces, dressing and any oily or acidic residue, and use the following guidelines:
Â Avoid fertile seeds. Tomato, cantaloupe and similar seeds can germinate in bin or in your garden, robbing nutrients from your worm castings.
Â Avoid hard seeds, pits and very tough parts. Use the "GARBAGE DISPOSAL TEST"ÂIf you can't put it down your garbage disposal easily, your worms probably can't eat it. Hard seeds and pits, corn cobs, avocado skins, artichoke leaves. Tough fibers are almost impossible for worms to digest within a reasonable amount of time.
Â Avoid acidic citrus or hot, spicy, oily, salty or pickled foods. Use the "EYE TEST"ÂIf putting it in your eye would sting, your worms probably won't like it either. Limit citrus peels as they are both acidic and oily.
Â Avoid introducing pests. Microwave or freeze any food suspected of contamination by flies, fruit flies or other pests to kill any pests, larvae or eggs and avoid contaminating your bin.
CEREALS, GRAINS, BREAD, BEANS, RICE AND PASTA - Rinse off any sauce or greasy residue. Cook raw whole grains and legumes so they soften and cannot sprout.
COFFEE & FILTERS, TEA BAGS - Coffee and tea grinds are usually acidic and should not be added in large quantities, unless first neutralized by adding crushed eggshells. Remember to remove staples from tea-bags.
EGG SHELLS - Always wash or microwave uncooked eggshells to avoid salmonella contamination. Crushing or grinding greatly speeds up decomposition.
YARD WASTE: Green or soft plant parts such as leaves and flowers that have not been treated with pesticides. Do not use diseased or insect-infested plants, grass-clippings, or parts with viable seeds. Avoid sticks and twigs.
Â No foods that contain oil, fats, vinegar, excessive salt/sodium, or spices. (No chips, fries, pizza, nachos, salsa, hot sauce, jalapenos, salad dressing, etc.) These can be harmful to your worms.
Â No dairy, fish or meat products. Worms will eat it but these items can smell bad and attract pests.
Â No waste from meat-eating animals, which can harbor insect larvae and harmful pathogens.
If your worm bin is maintained correctly you should not have any problems, however occasionally things can go wrong. Below are some possible problems and suggestions on how to remedy them.
Worms try to leave the bin: Check the moisture and the pH of the bedding. Also check that the bin is not situated near a source of vibration. Be sure your worms are not being subjected to extremes of temperature.
Bedding is very wet: Check that drainage holes are not blocked. Mix in some dry bedding until the excess moisture has been soaked up. Limit high water-content foods, or cook and drain before adding to bin.
Bedding is too dry: Mist with water until bedding is moist but not wet.
Bad smells coming from bin: Either the bedding is too wet or you may have over-fed your worms. Check the moisture-level, especially at the bottom of the bin. (See: 'Bedding is Very Wet', above) If they have been over-fed, stop feeding until they catch up, and cover the food with more fresh bedding.
Ants: If ants are a problem in your area, take the following precaution when setting up your bin: Use a deep bin tray, such as an aluminum turkey-sized oven tray or cement mixing tray. Elevate your bin on bricks, making sure that neither the bricks nor the bin is touching the sides of the tray. Then fill the tray with 1" to 2" of water (making sure that the bin's feet elevate it at least Â½" above the water level). You are essentially creating a moat of water between your bin and the ants. Ants will not swim to get food. If ants have already gotten into your bin, hose off the outside of your bin and physically remove as many ants as possible, and continue with the instructions above. Use boric acid-based ant baits on the outside of bin, ONLY if the baits are securely away from of children and pets. Do not put ant baits inside of bin. Never spray pesticides near your bin, as it can kill your worms!
Fruit flies: Make sure the bin lid closes tightly, and that all of the air/drainage holes are protected with fine screening, nylon mesh or landscape fabric. Cover fruit and vegetative matter with enough bedding material to thoroughly cover it or wet several sheets of newspaper and lay flat on top of the bedding.
Happy D Ranch:
A great on-line source for worms and supplies, pictures and information on worms' life cycles and worm-bin creatures.
GardenWeb's Vermicomposting Forum:
A great learning and troubleshooting resource!
Worms Eat My Garbage:
Written by worm expert Mary Appelhof, Worms Eat My Garbage
guides you through setting up and maintaining a system for using
red wigglers to process organic waste. A staple, and a consistent
favorite of teachers and worm composters. 176 pages.