Basic Guide to Composting Using Worms

Recycling organic wastes from our households allows us to restore badly-needed organic matter to the soil. Composting is our way of participating in nature’s cycle and cutting down on garbage going into mushrooming landfills. And one of the best, if not easiest ways, is worm composting.

In a nutshell, worm composting is a process for recycling food waste into a rich, dark, earth-smelling soil conditioner. One of its advantages is that it can be done indoors and outdoors, allowing year-round composting. Worm composts can be made in containers filled with moistened bedding.

The compost can be mixed with potting soil and used for houseplants. If it is screened, it can be added for potting mixes for seedlings, and finely sprinkled as a conditioner. The worm compost is a perfect soil conditioner.

Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set up & Maintain a Worm Composting System, one of the most famous available publications that tackle this process, attests to the practicality and purposefulness of worm composting.

Getting Started

The use of wood and plastic containers is recommended; may it be an old dresser drawer, trunk, or discarded barrel — built, bought or second-hand — so long as it’s absorbent and serves as a good insulator.

Then, try weighing your household food waste for one week and providing one square foot of surface area per pound. The container depth should be between eight and twelve inches. For easier lifting and moving purposes, opt for smaller containers rather than a large and heavy box.

Provide aeration and drainage by drilling 8 to 12 holes (1/4 – 1/2 inches) in the bottom, depending on the size of the container. Plastic bins may need more drainage, especially if the contents get too wet. Place the bin on bricks or wooden blocks, and a tray underneath to capture excess liquid which can be used as liquid plant fertilizer.

Cover the bin up to conserve moisture and provide shade for the worms. A sheet of dark plastic or burlap canvas placed loosely on top of the bedding is enough if the bin is indoors. For outdoor bins, something solid lid is preferable to deny entry unnecessary scavengers and liquid, but be sure that the bin is sufficiently ventilated.

Additionally, it is crucial to provide damp bedding for the worms to live in and to bury food waste in, which includes tattered newspaper and cardboard, dead plants, seaweed, sawdust, leaves, chopped up straw, compost and aged manure. To provide more nutrients for the worms and to create richer compost, try varying the bedding in the bin by adding handfuls of sand or soil to provide essential gravel for the worm’s digestion.

Picking the Worms

There are two types of earthworm best suited for worm composting: redworms, commonly known as red wiggler, brandling, or manure worm; and lumbricus rubellus, both often found in aged manure and compost heaps. Unlike other large worms found in soil and compost, redworms and lumbricus rubellus are likely to survive.

Though worms can be purchased in stores like Earthworm Sanctuary in Quezon City, a good place to look for earthworms are horse stables where manure piles are abundant. Mary Appelhof recommends that the correct ratio of worms to food waste should be one pound per day of food waste. If you are unable to get this many worms to start with, reduce the amount of food waste accordingly.

Compost food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peelings, pounded egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds can serve as food for the worms. It is advisable not to compost meats, dairy products, oily foods, and grains because of problems of smells, flies, and rodents. Make sure that there are no glasses, plastic or tin foil in the bin.

Always bury the food waste by pulling aside some of the bedding, dumping the waste, and then covering it up with the bedding again to prevent unnecessary problems.

Foul odor, which is caused by lack of oxygen in the compost, is one of the most common problems in worm composting. This is due to the overloading of food wastes. The solution is to stop adding food waste until the worms and micro-organisms have broken down what food is in there, and to gently stir up the entire contents to allow more air in.

Bin Maintenance

The advantage of portable bins is that they can be moved when weather conditions change. Indoors, warm, dark and dry locations are best, as long as temperatures are between 40 and 80 °F. Outdoors, bins can be kept in sheds and garages, on patios and balconies, as long as they’re out of hot sun and heavy rain. If temperatures drop below 40° F, bins should either be moved indoors, or well insulated outdoors.

If the ratio of surface area to worms to food scraps is correct, there is little to do. Just add food until about two and a half months have passed. By then, there should be little or no original bedding visible in the bin, providing brown and earthy-looking worm castings, which is usually a good sign.

It is imperative to pull out the worms from the finished compost; otherwise the worms will begin to die. The quickest way to do this is by moving the finished compost over to one side of the bin, placing new bedding in the space created, and putting food waste. Worms will progressively move over and the finished compost can be skimmed off as needed.

Afterwards, you can dump the entire contents of the bin onto a large plastic sheet and separate the worms manually. Also, watch out for the tiny lemon-shaped worm cocoons which contain between two and 20 baby worms. By separating the worms from the compost, you save more worms for your next bin. Mix a little of the finished compost in with the new bedding of the next bin, then store the rest in plastic bags for use as required.

Worms are both the latest and the oldest trends in earth-friendly gardening and with the right ingredients and care, worms will thrive and make compost that is both beneficial for you and the planet.

Where to get worms?

  • CRTD-PBSP, San Isidro, Calauan, Laguna, (049) 568-1068
  • Teresa Orchard & Nursery in Teresa, Rizal, 0917-9976194
  • Bio Research, 8362 Dr.A. Santos Avenue, Sucat, Paranaque City, 826-3535
  • VermiPhil Farm, 0918-938-5726

Author: Hans Audric B. Estialbo, Marid Digest

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