If you do any gardening at all, you really should be composting. Compost is free fertilizer for your garden without all the yucky chemicals involved. It is also good for the environment. The EPA estimates that 26% of trash pickup in the United States is for organic materials like food waste and yard stuff (grass clippings, leaves, etc). Not only is that harming the environment via unnecessary transport, storage, and so on, it is also harming the households that waste is coming from. By sending leaves and grass clippings from your yard to the landfill, you are essentially giving away nutrients that your little patch of earth needs to grow and thrive. What’s especially sad is the same people giving away these free nutrients are probably also paying to have their yards fertilized. What a waste!
Soon, I’m going to build (hopefully) a full size compost bin for your reading pleasure. I already have one, but am in need of another and had a reader request that I teach you how to do it. Until then, I’m going to show you my worm bin. A worm bin is small, easy to make, and produces results much faster than a regular, old-fashioned, wormless compost bin.
You can buy fancy, delightful, expensive worm bins. Or… you can just buy a Rubbermaid tote. (You probably already have one sitting around.)
Really, every vermicompost expert seems to have differing opinions. The truth is: the whole process is quite simple. Even if you don’t get it exactly right, your worms will probably still be okay.
Next I mixed everything together and soaked it with water (from our pond because I have chlorine phobia, but I am sure that regular water would be fine). The bedding should be damp, not soaking. (It’s okay if you get too much since you do have those drainage holes in the bottom!)
Next we add the worms. You need a lot of worms, as in one pound per every pound of trash per week you plan to produce. You should buy red wriggler worms, or at least that is what all the worm composting literature says. I don’t know. I’m really cheap, so I actually used worms that I dug up from a neighboring cow field. They’ve still produced compost, but probably not as fast as they would have. Also, worms need a small amount of dirt, so be sure to add some of that, too.
Add the worms to your compost bin. (Be sure to bury them deep in the middle, not just throw them on top.) If you think you don’t have enough, don’t worry too much. Just feed what you have and theoretically they should multiply. Red wrigglers double their numbers every 90 days.
Cover it all back up with your lid. (Remember, it should have holes in it, too.) The hard part may be finding a place to put them. Some people keep them under their kitchen sink but most keep them in a garage or basement. (Be sure to put something under the bottom to catch any drainage if you go this route. Another plastic tub works well. Use the liquid collected for garden fertilizer as well.)
Oh, I almost forgot the best part—feeding your worms! Worms are hungry little critters and will eat almost anything, except citrus fruits. They also don’t like huge amounts of onions. They will even eat meat—but you might want to avoid that since it will make your compost smell. Give them all your kitchen scraps, any rotten veggies that you forgot to cook, crushed up egg shells, coffee grounds (just don’t overdo it!), tea bags, corn cobs, pasta, and breads, too. If you notice the worms haven’t eaten something after a few weeks, just remove it and mark that on your list as something they won’t eat. Be sure you bury the food in the bin instead of throwing it on top so that the compost won’t start to smell. After a few months, pull back your top layer. You’ll be shocked at all the lovely black gold underneath:
I’ve had my worms over a year now and they’ve made lots of great compost for the garden. A few times the bin seemed to have some gnats hovering around it, so I just cut back on how much food I was giving the worms and the problem resolved itself. There are lots of websites that will go into more detail about how to build and care for a bin. This is just meant to be an introductory course.
Oh, and if you want to know more about worm composting, be sure to read Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System.
I’d love to hear about your composting experiences!