10 Sep Vermicomposting 101
Over the summer, I was able to tackle one of the projects that I had been wanting to try for a while – building an at-home vermicompost bin. Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to naturally turn our organic garbage (kitchen scraps) into nutrient rich compost that is one of the best possible fertilizers for gardens.
I first heard about vermicomposting in one of my favorite movies, The Biggest Little Farm. The film features the beautiful story of Apricot Lane Farms, a regenerative, biodynamic farm based in Southern California.
When the owners, John & Holly, were first trying to get their farm going, their dirt was completely devoid of nutrients and organic matter. They hired a consultant who advised them to build a giant commercial vermicompost structure. It was a huge bin filled with millions of worms, and from it, they extracted “compost tea” – basically a liquified version of the compost, that they then sprayed all over their land. In a matter of a few years, their many different regenerative efforts have turned their land from a barren desert into a lush, fertile oasis.
After watching the movie, I was intrigued and started looking into worms as a nutrient source for my garden. It turns out, tons of people around the world have been buying or building worm bins for at-home use. There are all sorts of worm bins you can buy online, many are made of plastic. In fact, you can build a super simple worm composting system with just a tupperware bin.
But I wanted to practice my woodworking, so I decided to build one out of wood (scroll to bottom for pics!). I also knew I wanted to build a layered one, for easier filtering of the worms from the compost.
I sourced my plans by watching a few different YouTube videos and researching on various websites. Ultimately, I based my build on two sources: this website (“How to Make Our Custom Worm Bin”) and this YouTube video (“How to Build the Ultimate Plastic Free Worm Composting Bin”).
What is Vermicompost or Worm Composting?
Here are a few basics of vermicomposting:
1 / There are only a few types of worms that optimal to use in vermicomposting. The worms you dig out of your backyard are probably NOT the right ones, so don’t try it with backyard worms. The most commonly used are Red Wiggler worms. I bought a handful of red wiggler worms from a local Homestead Supply shop to get my worm bin started. You can also buy them online!
2 / A good healthy worm bin requires a somewhat balanced mix of organic scraps and what we call brown matter (see next point). There is a lot of info on what you should and shouldn’t feed your worms. But generally you’re safe with fruit/vegetable scraps (but nothing too acidic), egg shells, used coffee grounds and tea leaves. Meats, fatty or oily foods, and processed foods are a no-no.
3/ Make sure to mix in an even amount of brown matter such as newspaper, paper egg cartons, cardboard (without ink or glue/tape), and dead leaves or plants. Some people say a good ratio is 70% brown matter to 30% food scraps.
4 / The key to knowing if you’ve reached a good balance is that your worm bin should NOT smell like a nasty garbage can. There might be the smell of food fermenting & decomposing when you open the lid, but it shouldn’t smell terrible. When the lid of my worm bin is shut, I don’t smell it at all. If it smells rancid, chances are you have too much food scraps and not enough brown matter. On the flip side, if you have too much brown matter, then the bin will be too dry (as paper soaks up the moisture), and the worms may be dying from not being able to access the food.
5 / The worms eat the food scraps and brown matter and turn it into worm poop, more commonly called worm castings. Worm castings are what provides the amazing nutrients that make up the compost. There are so many different ways to use the worm compost, here’s a great article on it (“5 Simple Ways to Use Worm Compost in Your Garden”.)
6 / Don’t let the worm bins get too cold over winter. The natural composting processes do keep the bin warm to some degree, but many cold days can still be harmful to your worms and bin. We are keeping ours in the garage for now, but I’m wondering if there might be a better way to keep them warm through the Colorado winter.
Other fun worm bin facts
Just some fun little things we’ve learned from having the worm bin for a few months.
– Egg shells are important to add to your worm bin because it helps balance the PH of more acidic food items like fruits. I’ve also read that egg shells seems to help worms make more worm babies!
– Digging through my worm bin, I’ve learned what worm eggs look like. They literally look like tiny chicken eggs, but with the look and feel of a worm.
– We threw cantaloupe seeds we had scooped from a cantaloupe we ate into our worm bin and cantaloupe sprouts started coming up by the dozens! It’s not unusual for seeds to sprout in your worm bin, because the environment is so fertile for them! We took a few out and through them into our garden, just to see if anything will become of them. But with the recent cold snap, it’s likely they all died.
– I started back in June with a half a pound of worms, and in just a few months, my bin is filled with worms of all sizes! It’s exciting to see how well they’re doing and to think about all the wonderful ways their castings will benefit my garden next year.
So Many Benefits!
In short, the reasons I love using worm compost in my garden are:
– It’s free – I haven’t had to spend a dime on fertilizer in stores
– It’s easy – I just mix a few spoonfuls with water and let it sit for about a day, then water my plants with it
– It’s pretty foolproof – you can’t really accidentally use too much. It’s so gentle on plants, you can apply it directly to their roots, or you can dilute it with water. It won’t burn your plants up.
– It works! I immediately saw improvements in my garden within a day or two of watering with the worm compost tea
Do you have questions about worm bins and vermicomposting? I’d love to hear! Let me know!