Vermicomposting: Guide To The Best Worm Farm

If you have no or little space in your backyard, or if you live in an apartment but still want to use your leftovers to feed your indoor plants, you might want to try vermicomposting.

Vermicomposting is a civic ecological activity that everybody can put into practice in his apartment or house. Most importantly, it is a natural process in which worms play a major role in transforming putrescible wastes into compost. Moreover, the practice is a win/win situation: we provide worms with the organic waste they adore, and in return, they lighten our dustbin, and they produce vermicompost which is a high quality organic amendment.

Vermicomposting enables to reduce the quantity of waste, to recycle it independently, and to produce a 100% free and natural fertilizer. In other words, it is also an excellent way to reproduce the natural cycle of the organic substances:  you use your wastes to nourish other vegetation.

In this article, we go through all the important aspects that you need to master in order to perform the activity in an efficient and enjoyable way.

Importance of worms to Mother Nature

worms

This little animal is one of the most important elements of the biomass and has some phenomenal faculties. The vermicompost resulting from the digestion of organic wastes has incredible properties.

Annelids to which worms belong are soil inversion specialists. In a yard, worms improve soil quality and its structure by boosting microbial activity. They also aerate the soil by making tunnels inside of it permitting better water draining.

Inside the house, when put in an adequate vermicomposting bin, they can eat leftovers and eliminate decomposition smells thanks to the enzymes they have in their intestinal transit. They produce then some high quality fertilizers.

Farmers alose use worms in gardening and as food to their animals. They decompose the excrements and are excellent food to chickens thanks to their high protein content (between 50% and 70% of their mass).

Lately, wastewater processing experts use them as well.

Without worms, there will be no humus, no vegetation, no roots, which will cause in the long term, the agony of all the species including Humans.

What type of worms to use in vermicomposting?

Red worms

red worm

Worms used in vermicomposting are special red composting worms that you can find in manure or in the forest. Experts use three species: Eisenia Foetida (also called red wigglers), Eisenia Andrei, and Eisenia Hortensis. Unlike earthworms that aerate and stir the soil by digging and making tunnels in it, red worms are rather more comfortable in the upper layer of the soil, in which a great deal of decomposing organic substances.

We recommend to use two species of composting worms in the same bin (ideally Eisenia Foetida and Eisenia Andrei). The compost they mutually produce is proven to be richer.

If you are not able to get one of these species in manure or forest, you can get them at specialized vendor stores.

Why red worms?

These species are ideal for vermicomposting the following reasons:

  • As they breed faster (when they get 8 weeks of age), the population can double in as soon as 2 or 3 months.
  • They are able to transform a quantity equivalent to half if their weight daily.
  • They are very resistant: they can live 2 to 3 years in different temperature, moisture and acidity conditions.

Composting worms are fascinating creatures: with no eyes nor ears, they have 4 hearts. More important, they never sleep which means constant labor. Having no lungs, they use their skin to breath. As a consequence, they need to live in wet environments.  Furthermore, they are also very sensitive to light, they will quickly hide in the wastes if you open your vermicomposting bin.

Like snails, worms are hermaphrodites. Nevertheless, they mate to breed. The bulge you see on their bodies are in fact clitellum. It is the organ that will later secrete the viscid sac in which the eggs will be deposited. The presence of the clitellum means that the worm is an adult and can thus procreate.

Make your own worm farm

vermicompost bin

Photo credit: Tim Musson via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

There are several vermicomposting bins available in stores. If you are doing it on a budget, you can still make your own worm bin at a low cost. Here we present the vertical vermicomposting bin. There are other horizontal bins, but the vertical one is easier to use.

You will need some plastic cases: you can find them in DIY shops. Other types of plastic, wooden or polystyrene build-in or stackable cases can be used as well.

As for the dimensions, for a family of 3 persons, a suitable case would be 10 inches long, 8 inches large and 5 inches deep. 4 cases are needed: 2 for composting, 1 to store the final product, and 1 to raise the whole thing from the ground. A lid is essential to cover the bin.

Follow these steps to build successfully your first worm farm.

Step 1

Draw straight lines in the two composting cases horizontally and vertically. One inch space should be between each two of them. In the intersections of these lines, you will make 0.1 inch diameter holes.

Step 2

Make small holes in composting cases’ and lid’s edge. This will enable good aeration. Make sure these holes are small enough to prevent midges from penetrating to the inside of the bin.

Step 3

If the bin handles are open, you need to cover them using synthetic (non-degradable) material.

Step 4

Make a hole and install a tap in the bin in which the compost ends up. This tap will enable you to control the flow of liquid you get. This kind of taps is available in all DIY stores.

Step 5

Cut the bin placed below (to raise the composter) in a way that enables you to put any kind of container to receive the compost.

The job is done, your vermicomposting bin is ready. You only need now to put the worms and the litter box.

How to use the worm farm?

Location

vermicompost

Photo credit: Tim Musson via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

You can place the vermicomposting bin either inside or outside the house. Whatever your choice is, make sure that appropriate conditions for worms growth and development are available.

Weather and temperature

Compost worms perform better in temperatures between 15° and 30° Celsius. A temperature below 15° makes their production slow. Below a temperature of 5°, worms hibernate and do not transform anything. Extremely hot or cold temperatures (below 0° and above 30°) are fatale to compost worms.

Do not expose your vermicomposting factory to the sun nor to abundant rain. Your worm farm should always be covered. Also, as the process needs oxygen, airstream is necessary.

Litter box

soil

For the worms to be in optimal conditions and accomplish well their duty, it is important to provide them with an adapted space that copies the essential characteristics of their natural environment. The litter box is also their source of food that they will gradually transform into compost.

To make your own litter, use soil, compost and peat. If you buy compost or peat, make sure it doesn’t contain any kind of pesticides that can harm the worms. Also make sure that you water well the mix. A constantly wet environment is necessary.

Putting worms

worms

Photo credit: hans s via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Once the litter is ready, put  a large enough piece of cardboard in the bin placed at the top to cover its bottom. This will prevent litter from falling down to the bin where you recover the liquid. Then put in it the worms. You should keep the bin uncovered for the first minutes so that the worms, fearing the light, get in the litter.

Let them get along with their new place for a week before you supply them with food. Don’t worry, hunger won’t kill them as long as they start decomposing the litter. After that, the operation can begin. That is, you don’t want to put too much waste in the beginning. Keep in mind that they eat up to half if their weight daily. If you have one lbs. of worms, do not supply them with more than a half lbs. You can put more food as the population of worms grows.

Moistening mat

moistening mat

Photo credit: jeffschuler via Visualhunt / CC BY

This mat is placed just under the lid and directly on the fresher wastes. It enables you to keep moist on the surface while having enough aeration. Your little wigglers would feel as if they were just under soil and would happily eat what you put to them. It is also useful in keeping the midges away. The mat can be made of paper, cardboard, or even you old clothes. When degraded, it can be a great source of carbon as long as it is biodegradable.

What do red worms eat?

Worms eat a large variety of food as long as it is biodegradable. Fruits and vegetables peels, damaged fruits and vegetables, tea leafs and tea bags, crushed eggshells, flour, bread, cereals… and the list is long. Coffee ground is  great for your worms. It helps them digest better. It is also good for their reproduction. Crushed eggshells regulate the acidity and help the worms digest.

Keep in mind that the smaller the waste pieces are, the better. It enables to increase the contact surface with bacteria. The decomposition and transformation process is thus quicker.

Carbonaceous material is to be regularly added. It is essential for bacteria development and moist regulation. Ideally, it should constitute up to 30% of the total quantity put in the vermicomposting bin. Paper, cardboard and tissue are the best source of carbon.

Other types of food are just not suitable for them. We can cite meat, fish, dairy products, vinegar, and non-degradable pits…etc.

Daily upkeeping

vermicompsting upkeep

Photo credit: booizzy via VisualHunt / CC BY-ND

Decomposition starts when bacteria begin to naturally develop on organic wastes. These creatures need oxygen to develop. When decomposition is done, the role of the wigglers is to complete the transformation into compost.

Excess moisture can cause lack of aeration. Excess content is also detrimental to aeration. In both cases, the decomposition is made without oxygen (anaerobic decomposition) and causes bad smells.

Given the importance of oxygen in the process, aeration is paramount. If you think there is not enough air, you can brew the content. Do not worry, it doesn’t bother the worms.

We recommend to extract the liquid regularly to keep moisture at adequate levels. You can also let the tap open and put a container below it.

The vermicomposting bin, either you made it or you bought it, contains a number of trays. At first, you’ll only use one of them in which you will put the worms, the litter, and wastes. When it is full, you can put another stray below the initial one. Each time you put a new stray, it is recommended to put some transformed compost so to attract bacteria. When the third tray is full, the compost from the first tray is then ready to use. It needs 5 to 6 months to get the first compost depending on the quantity of organic waste.

The products of your worm farm

Leachate

Leachate is the liquid you get from the bin’s tap. It is an excellent fertilizer. It needs to be diluted before use because it is very concentrated.

Vermicompost

After 5 or 6 month, the content of the vermicomposter is ready to use. It is a mix of organic decomposed substances and excretion.  You will need 2 handfuls of vermicompost per plant. Use it as soon as you get it because it tends to lose its properties in no more than 6 months.

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