Kathleen Reed, Extension Agent – Agriculture & Natural Resources, VCE-Roanoke
Finding worms while digging in the garden is a good indicator of healthy soil. Worms aerate the soil, consume organic matter, and leave behind valuable deposits of rich fertilizer as they move through the yard! These beacons of soil health are a valuable resource. But did you know that worms can provide a valuable resource inside of the home as well? Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is an increasingly popular way to recycle household food scraps. By starting a worm bin, you are keeping food waste out of the landfill, reducing indoor and outdoor plant fertilizer costs, and improving the health of your plants!
If you’re interested in learning more about vermicomposting or are thinking about starting your own worm bin, here are some things you need to know:
Worms – Not all worms are suited for a compost bin! Digging up big night crawlers or garden worms from your backyard will only result in dead worms and rotting food. Red Wigglers, Eisenia foetida, are one of the best composting worms. They are voracious eaters, live in the top 12” of soil, reproduce quickly, and survive well in confined habitats. To know how many worms you may need, measure your average fresh food waste each day: one pound of worms can consume about half a pound of food scraps each day!
Bins – There are a plethora of worm bins available for purchase. However, it is just as easy and much less expensive to create your own worm bin from a lidded plastic storage bin. Your bin should be deep enough to cover food scraps, but should not be deeper than 15”. Worms require good air circulation inside of their bin. To accomplish this, drill rows of ¼ to ½ inch holes in the bottom of the container and in the lid. Set the bin on top of bricks or other sort of makeshift stand to allow air to reach the bottom. Place a tray underneath to catch any liquid that comes from the bin. This liquid can be used as fertilizer when watering plants.
Bedding – The proper bedding provides a cool, moist environment for the worms. The light-sensitive worms burrow into the bedding and spend their time tunneling and digesting food scraps and bedding material. Good sources of bedding include strips of newspaper, shredded corrugated cardboard, and peat moss. Worms breathe through their skin and need proper moisture to live, so be sure to keep bedding moist but not soaked. If there is either too much or not enough moisture in the bin, your worms will let you know by trying to escape! If all conditions are right, you will never have to wake up to fleeing worms!
Food – Worms require a steady supply of food scraps in order to grow and reproduce. Feed them 2-3 times a week by digging a hole in the bedding and burying chopped food scraps. Cover the scraps completely to avoid fruit fly problems. Chopped fruits and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tealeaves, crushed eggshells, and bread are all great sources of food for the worms. Never add citrus, meats, fats and oils, dairy, or pet waste to your bin.
Maintain the right environment for your worms and they will return the favor with endless entertainment and a nutrient-rich fertilizer!