Vermiculture 101: Composting with Red Worms

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My family has composted with Red Worms for a long time, and this year I started my own.

Red Worms will give you some of the best soil improvements and fertilizer for your gardens out there, no need to buy fertilizer from the store, and all you need is a few bucks in materials and things you already throw away in your home!

The worms will provide you two things…

Castings: Basically Worm poop, they are several times high in nitrogen, phosphates and potash than the surrounding soil.  They will result in a healthier plant and because of that health more resistant to disease and implant good microbes and enzymes into the soil.

Worm Tea/Leechate: While not technically a compost tea, this is what is commonly referred to as the “juice” that drains out the bottom of the bin.  It is actually best that as you drain it you return it for a second time through the bin so that the worms can redigest it and make sure no harmful toxins from the plants themselves (leeched during decomposition) are in the tea.  You can also Aerate the Compost tea from worms or straight compost using this method.

You can use the juice straight if you want but dillute it 20:1 and spary on productive trees on their leaves, or a 1:1 – 1:5 for liquid fertilizer in your plants, it has a high PH so you need to be careful and test a bit before you go crazy.

 

There are multiple ways to build your bins so I will give you the plans for both.

 

1 BIN SYSTEM

Materials:

  • 1 Rubbermaid Tub (10 Gal.+) Opaque (not clear). You CAN buy these through Amazon, but I found mine through the Dollar Store and since its the Garage sale season I would fart around those on a saturday and see if you can pick some up for cheap.

  • 4-6 Inches shredded newspaper/cardboard (black and white newspaper, not glossy!)
  • 1-2 lbs of Kitchen Scraps (at the bottom of this page I give you a list of what IS ok and what is not)

 

The reason a rubbermaid type tote is recommended is that surface area/volume is better than a bucket, you want spread out worms not a sheer vertical drop like a bucket would do.  Not saying a bucket CAN’T be used.  Only that it is not as ideal, and you will not get the same return as you would a tote.  Check around discount stores or find some friends who may have a few laying around.  Just make sure it is NOT clear, light kills worms, so anything that is not clear will work.  You can construct the bin out of wood if you so choose, its up to you how much work you want to put into this.

First take your container and mark out where you want to put the vents and mark with a permanent marker around them to mark where you will drill/cut the hole.

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Do the same for the spigot, you will want this at the bottom where the worm juice will pool up.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have that you can use a SPADE Drill bit to drill out the holes, you can also just carefully cut the hole out with a knife or box cutter, i prefer the drill because it is a no b.s. correct size hole.  If you do not want to buy roofing vents you can cut many many many 1/8′ holes along the top of the Bin (see picture below)

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Then you will cut out the hole for the spigot and thread it on, inside the container.  Pour some water in and tip it so that it covers the hole spigot, see if there are any leaks.  If so use a non-toxic sealant like a silicone bead sealant for windows, etc.

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Now you will  add the “bedding” for the worms, this is the shredded newspaper and cardboard.  Before you add it you will want to get it wet.

 

When i say wet i don’t mean soggy, i mean wet/damp.  So you can do this one of two ways.  You can use a spritzer (that hasn’t been used with chemicals) and spray and spray the newspaper until it gets nice and damp.  You can also soak it in little bits of water until the desired wetness is achieved.  I just took it in the bowl and put little bits of water in it until it was nice and damp.  If you squeeze it and a few drops come out then it is ok, if 3-5 drops come out, it is too wet.  Worms like dampness not soggy and soaking wet, this is why during a rain they come out, so they don’t drown.  Once it is wet enough, then put it in the bottom of the bin, but make sure it is “fluffed” and not all packed down.

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Next sprinkle some kitchen scraps into the bin and bury them into the bedding, then sprinkle a layer of good dirt/topsoil.  The topsoil is not 100% necessary but it does help to add some dirt for their diet, which is good for the little guys. (NOTE: I took the picture with Orange Peels in the mix.  I ended up removing these as orange/Banana peels will give you a nice flock of fruit flies)

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Then dig a little hole in the middle of the bedding and dump your worms into this.  If they came packed in peat moss that’s great.

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Then sprinkle a layer of wet bedding (newspaper/cardboard).  This will completely bury the food scraps/worms and will help to keep the fruit fly population from starting up. If you have an issue with flies, its a matter of too much food and or exposed food, make sure its covered/buried.

 

A issue that I had was some worms trying to escape, I found that this is common and the amount is what tells you if there is a problem or not.  If you have a then it may help to put a layer of dry cardboard on top of the last bit of wet bedding.  Then i also put a piece of cardboard inside over the top of it, this makes a dry layer where they dont want to go past (they like it damp).  If you still have a problem see if putting the bin in some light with the top off for 5 minutes helps, if not then go to 10 then 20 then put the top on, if a few still are trying to get out or just laying there then it is probably ok, they are just sick or confused, discard them.

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If you continue to have a lot of worms escaping you may want to sprinkle some water on them.  peel back the dry layer and pour a few splashes of water here and there and replace the dry layer.

You will know you have the right moisture if you follow the wrung sponge rule of thumb.  When you put your fingers into the bin in different spots it should feel like a wrung out sponge, not dry or soggy.  If its dry add some more splashes of water/wet bedding into the mix.  If its to soggy, add some dry bedding into the mix to help it absorb a little bit.

Put the lid on the top, presto all done!

 

 

2+ BIN SYSTEM

 

Materials:

  • 4-6 Inches shredded newspaper/cardboard (black and white newspaper, not glossy!)
  • 1-2 lbs of Kitchen Scraps (at the bottom of this page I give you a list of what IS ok and what is not)

 

This will be the same as the first bin as far as the setup for the first bin, however for a two bin system in the corners of the first bin (bottom) you will  put in 4 soda (or like) cans in the corners to be used as supports, or not, its up to you and depends whether you will have multiple bins on top. (you can also drill holes and insert PVC pipes  horizontally in the first bin to use as supports for the second bin).

For the second bin, insert the air vents the same as the first.

Then drill 1/4 or larger holes in the bottom of the second bin, this will allow the worms to migrate to the second bin for harvesting.

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When you are ready to harvest the first bin for castings, insert wet bedding, etc (same as you did for the first bin to get your worms ready) and then insert it over the top of the first bin.  give it a month or two and the majority of worms will migrate up to the top and into the second bin through those holes where food is plenty, away from the old bin with little food in it.

You can start this process by waiting until your first bin is NEARING completion and then inserting the second bin.  Some worms will continue to stay and eat what is left and then migrate up.

Once you have given it a week or so, drain the remaining worm juice, etc and remove the bottom bin.

What few worms are left can be tossed in to the second bin and if there are some food scraps left you can place them in the second bin as well.

Take out the castings and put them in whatever storage container you want, you can mix this in with soil for planting or make compost tea with it.

 

HOW MUCH SHOULD I FEED THEM?

After a while you will get the hang of it.  Don’t add any more food scraps for a week or so.  Before you do, check to see how they are doing, if there is still a lot of the food you initially put in there don’t add more, wait a few more days.  If it smells there is too much food in there because the worms are not eating it and bacteria is breaking it down faster than they can consume it.

Worms can eat their weight in food per 24 hour period, so roughly .5-1lb per 1000 worms per day.  The nice thing about worms is that if there is plenty of food they will start to mate and reproduce and make more worms, if there is too little food they will not reproduce and some will die off.  They have a way of maintaining the correct balance in the system.

The nice thing about worms is if you need to leave for a vacation you can add some extra food, and even if the food gets scarce they will slow down and not reproduce!

You do not need to grind their food, you can cut up say some rotten potatoes, or larger items, but no need to grind the food, put it in as is.

I recommend placing the new food in a new section of the bin every time, this way they will follow the scraps across the whole bin and not be everywhere.

 

WHAT DO I FEED THEM?

 

YES:

Vegetables

Fruits

NOTE: Peels of Fruits can and do create fruit flies, orange rinds and apple cores are ok, or if you dont care then throw it all in.  I personally toss the fruits and other items that the worms DONT like but can be composted in another bucket for the compost pile outside.

Coffee grounds

Tea Bags

Breads/Grains

Egg Shells (is also good for PH)

Orange Rind

Cardboard

Newspaper (Black and White and NOT glossy inserts)

Dry Leaves

Mature Manure

 

NO:

Many of these things will attract rodents/pests

Meats

Dairy

Any Oils (This includes veggies cooked in oil)

Orange Peel/Citrus (This will attract Fruit Flies)

 

 WHAT CAN I USED THE WORM BYPRODUCTS FOR?

worm castings

(photo courtesy of tentgardens.com)

Worm Castings can be put and mixed in with the soil that you will be planting into.  They are the most potent fertilizer you will find and are ready to be used by your plants right away no need to break down as they are the natural food of plants in nature.  If you are harvesting these castings AFTER you have already planted, I would dig in around the plant without disturbing its roots and push these down around it.  You can also just sprinkle them around the base of your plants and dig them in slightly if you are worried about damaging the roots.  You don’t need a lot to get a big effect however you can’t overdue it so that’s not an issue. Its a bit unnecessary but you can use this to make a worm casting compost tea, using it straight or mixed with other composted materials (I say unnecessary because you are also getting worm juice so need to make it into a tea you will be getting both solid and liquid fertilizer!)

 

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(photo courtesy of gippslandgardener.wordpress.com)

Worm Juice (Tea) is the liquid byproduct of worms breaking down your compost.  Using this is simple, just pour it into your container gardens at the base of the plant or if you are getting a lot of it and/or have a large amount of plants and trees you want to treat you can spray it using something like this…

I would dillute the mixture 2:1 (2 parts water 1 part juice) to maximize its benefits and have it last longer if you dont have a large system.  Once again there is NO detrimental effect whatsoever to pouring “too much” on your plants or trees, this is 100% beautiful liquid gold that your plants will eat right up, like that first cup of coffee in the morning it will get them going!

 

If you have any questions feel free to email me rmorgan(at)greatnorthernprepper.com (replace the ‘at’ with @)

 

 

 

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