by Cheryl Soldati Clark
What is Vermiculture?
Vermiculture is more than just a funny word, it is the process of using worms to decompose food waste. The worms turn the waste into nutrient-rich material that will ensure healthy & happy plant growth. It is nature’s way of recycling! This method is a sustainable way to save energy, water, landfills and it reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers. You can feel good about not throwing your kitchen scraps down the kitchen disposal or contributing to the over-crowding of our landfills. You can even have a worm bin indoors without any odor or mess!
How to Get Started on Your Indoor Worm Bin…
You Will Need:
Cardboard (Optional) – Can be used to cover bedding to lock in moisture
Rubbermaid or Wooden Container with Lid – Recycled containers work great, just make sure that they have never been exposed to chemicals. A 1’x2’x2’ bin can hold kitchen waste from families of 2 people. A 1’x2’x3’ bin can hold kitchen waste from families of 4 to 6 people. You don’t want a very deep bin because worms feed in the top layers of bedding.
Bedding (Newspaper) -Black ink on newspapers is made of Carbon and oils and is not toxic to worms. Colored ink should not be used.
Yard Waste (Optional) -Decaying leaves from your yard makes a great composting material to add to your worm bin.
A handful of Soil – Provides the grit that worms need to break down food in their gizzards because they don’t have teeth.
Red Wiggler Worms – Number of worms depends on your daily food waste. One pound of worms can eat ~3.5 lbs. of waste per week.
Moisture – To wet down your bedding & worms also need moisture in order to breathe.
Step by Step Instructions:
Use a drill or hammer & nail to poke 1/8-1/4” air holes in your bin 1 inch apart. You want some holes on the bottom for drainage, on the lid of the bin and along the top of the four sides. Make sure to raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks with a tray underneath to catch the excess liquid that can be used as a liquid fertilizer for your plants.
Shred newspaper (black & white ONLY) into 1-inch strips. Moisten strips and squeeze out excess water. The newspaper should not be soggy, just damp. Fill ¾ of the bin with moist shredded newspaper, decaying leaf litter (optional) and a handful of dirt and then mix it all together. You want the bedding to be fluffy not packed down. Let bin sit for a day before you add your worms.
Separate your vermiculture worms from the packing material that they came in. Scatter them in your bin. Feed them slowly at first so they can acclimate to their new environment and to monitor the rate at which they break down waste.
Feed your worms foods that they love and avoid the foods that they dislike (listed below). Don’t forget to harvest your compost every couple of months because your worms will continue to break down their bedding material.
After you have fed your worms for 3-6 months you will see some worm compost/castings on the bottom of your bin. It will be very dark in color and extremely rich in nutrients. You can harvest what is there or you can wait until your bin is really full. Worm castings are toxic to worms, so if you have mostly compost and not a lot of food or bedding left in your bin, then it’s time to harvest. Whatever method you choose, the key to harvesting is to separate your worms from the compost. Your worms will not survive if you put them in your garden with the compost.
To harvest your compost, you have a couple of different options:
- Your worms will be in the top 1/3 of your bin. You can remove the top 1/3 of worms, bedding & food and set that aside. Once you remove the compost from the bottom of your bin, then you can put your worms and remaining bedding/food back into the bin, add fresh bedding and resume feeding and maintaining your bin.
- If you have a larger bin, then you can push all of the material in your bin to one side and add new material to the empty half of the bin. After a month or so, when it appears that the worms have moved over to the new side, then you can harvest the compost from the other side.
- Spread the contents of your worm bin out on a plastic sheet/table cloth in the sun or under a bright light. Your worms will start moving down into the compost to get away from the light. About every 20 minutes you can scoop up the top layer of compost and the worms will move down again. Repeat this method for a couple of hours until you are left with a wiggly pile of worms that have been separated from the compost. Return the worms to their bin with fresh bedding immediately.
*You can’t save all of the worms, but using one of the three methods listed above will help to ensure that you save the majority of them!*
Here is an instructable with more information and photos: