Living Frugal
Worm Composting for Your Home Vegetable Garden

Worm composting is an efficient way to turn your kitchen scraps, junk mail and cardboard into high nutrient compost for the home vegetable garden.

It has often been said by gardeners everywhere, that worm compost produces the best results that help your plants thrive. The waste product from worms (called castings) provide rich nutrients for your garden soil and help the environment.

How does it work?

Worms are very hard workers and spend their entire life breaking down organic materials and returning nutrients to your garden soil.

Buy or build your own worm bin

  • You can buy terrific worm bins online but if you opt to make your own, there are several avenues you can take.
  • While you can use rubber, plastic or wood, rubber makes the best worm bin. Wood eventually breaks down and plastic will harden and crack while rubber seems to last forever.
  • The bin should be well ventilated with several holes in the top and 4 inches from the bottom. It's up to you on how large you want the bin. The bigger the bin, the more worms it can hold. No matter how large, the maximum depth should be no more than 2 feet because worms will not go any further down.
  • Keep the bin covered to prevent drying out the compost. You can make your own lid out of an old burlap sack or tarp. It doesn't have to be pretty (worms don't care) but it does need to keep out the light and be removable should you need to open it if the compost is too wet. 

Make the bedding

  • Use shredded paper, egg cartons, cereal boxes (no paper with ink or that is glossy).
  • Soak the paper bedding for 12 hours in water, squeeze out all the water and add it to the worm bin.
  • The worms will turn it into nutrient rich compost.
  • Then you'll need to make them a new bed and harvest the compost.
  • Don't use pine, redwood, bay or eucalyptus leaves for bedding as they can act as insecticide and kill your worms.

What kind of worms do I want?

  • It is not recommended to dig your own worms from your back yard. You can buy worms from a local vendor or off the internet. The recommendation is a pound of worms. 
  • A pound of worms will reproduce fast. After a worm has reached 90 days old, they produce about 20 babies every week.
  • The most commonly recommend composting worm is the Epigeic (Eisenia fetida) otherwise know as the red wiggler. They are small red/brown worms approximately 1.5 to 2.5 inches in length.
  • They can eat up to 1/2 their weight in feed per day and are the most adaptive to moisture and temperature extremes. This greatly increases the worms survival rates if you have unexpected weather and are keeping them outside.

Feeding Your Worms

  • Don't feed your worms too much. 
  • If you notice the bin starting to smell you are feeding more than the worms can process. This could also cause their bedding to heat up and kill them. 
  • Worms need the temperature to be between 30 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Also, adding large amounts of greens (grass, leaves) will cause a heat increase and could cook the worms. The same is true for fresh cow manure. It will cause a temperature increase and thus kill the worms.

Don't feed your worms any of the following items

  • No more than 1/5 of the total worm food should be citrus.
  • Never feed them meats or fish of any kind
  • Scraps that have excess oil or fat
  • Dairy
  • Animal manure (cat or dog)
  • Wood or Branches

Harvesting the Worm Compost

  • After 3-6 months, it's time to harvest the worm compost.
  • You may not be able to save all your worms, but you can save the majority by using one simple technique. Move all the contents to one side of the bin while adding food, water and fresh bedding to the empty space. The composting worms will migrate towards the food. It may take them a couple of weeks but it will happen.
  • If you don't have the patience to wait on them to move, you can go ahead and harvest. You will lose some worms but they reproduce so quickly, it wont' be noticable and you have plenty to continue composting.
  • Scoop out a handful of worms and compost and place it on a newspaper. Gently brush back the compost in layers and eventually you'll end up with a pile of compost and a pile of worms.

I think you'll enjoy reaping the benefits of worm composting. You'll reap the rewards in your home vegetable garden each year.

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