Living with less waste – Worm composting

7787472496_1683ccee0a_oIf you know me or are a regular reader of this blog, you may have come to realize that I like to take on random projects in my life. One such project (particularly random) is my worm composting bin (AKA vermicomposting). They’ve been going strong for over a year and it’s about time I share the worm wonder with you all!

Why do I have 600 pet worms, you ask? Well, I eat lots of fruit and vegetables and it bothered me how much of it I was throwing away (either scraps or by going bad).  Then, I read that excessive food waste in landfills is actually a problem. The rotting food doesn’t have the conditions to compost, so it emits methane gas into the air. Creating my own little compost project seemed like an easy way to do my part.

Living in a condo, I don’t have a yard in which to place a nice, big compost pile or bin. So I researched other methods and found that I could keep a smaller bin that turns over faster with the help of lots and lots of worms. Not only am I giving them a happy home, but in return they give me nutrient-rich fertilizer for my other plants, or to give my gardener friends (which they love).  Here’s my process for setting up and maintaining my first worm composting bin.

Step 1 – Prep your container

I picked up two identical, 20-gallon, plastic storage bins from Home Depot. I drilled small holes all over one of them (lid, sides, and bottom) to allow for airflow and drainage. That bin sits inside the other one and will be filled with bedding material.

IMG_3796

Step 2 – Fill your container

Some folks say you can use leaves, shredded newspaper, and other natural bedding materials. I decided to go with coconut coir (which I bought on Amazon).  It comes in bricks (see pics below) to which you add water and they expand into a soil-like material. The pH level of coir is ideal for vermicomposting and I didn’t want to take any chances with 600 tiny lives at stake! Here’s a video that I used for some of this info.

coconut_coir
Step 3 – Add your worms

Red wiggler worms are what you need for worm composting. Regular garden earthworms won’t cut it. I started off with purchasing 100 from a fishing tackle store here in LA, but that wasn’t nearly enough for the size of my container. I bought an additional 500 on Amazon. I read that worms will reproduce to fill the size of container they’re in, but mine don’t seem to be getting it on too much. Now a year later, I feel that I could easily add more with the amount of scraps I need to toss.

IMG_3797
Step 4 – Feed your worms

After they’ve had a few days to get used to their new home, start dropping in your fruit and veggie scraps! As I go through my week of food prep and cooking, I set aside my scraps (apple cores, outer leaves of brussel sprouts, asparagus ends, wilted greens, carrot tops), cut them up finely, and stick them in a container in my freezer. Chopping and freezing/thawing the food will help your worms break it down faster. It also prevents me from having a potentially stinky compost bin on my kitchen counter.

Best things to feed: raw fruit and vegetables, coffee grounds (in moderation, as they are acidic), egg shells (rinsed), tea bags

You can include, but may cause odor issues: raw onion, garlic, ginger

Don’t feed your worms: Citrus fruit, meat, dairy, processed/junk food, pet feces

IMG_3968

When starting out, you may need to experiment with how much your worms can handle. Ensure you don’t overfeed by waiting until all is gone before adding more, as the food could rot if they don’t eat it fast enough. I give my 600 about a cup each week. I produce more than this, so I just purchased an additional 500 worms.

In order to harvest a smaller amount of castings more frequently, I feed my worms on one side of the bin at a time. I just dig a hole with my hand on one end, drop the food in, and cover it up with coir (which helps prevent insects from finding it). I continue to feed on the same side for a couple of months. When that’s ready to harvest, I start feeding on the other side, the worms move over, and I can scoop out the castings. Then, I backfill that side with fresh coir.

Step 5 – Harvest your castings

Here’s where you need a bit of patience. It took me about 4 months before I harvested my first batch of castings. The coconut coir is a chocolate brown color and castings are more like espresso in color, but I still find it difficult to know what’s what so I give it plenty of time. Tuck your composting bin aside on your balcony, patio, or even under the kitchen sink. I check on it once a week to feed and be sure the environment is still damp. I only have to spray water inside every couple of months. When it rains, some of my little dudes try to escape and I just toss them back in.

I’d love to hear about your experience with worm composting! Once you get set up, it’s super easy to maintain and you’ll have less stinky, rotting food in your kitchen trash can. And I’m sure some of your quirkier family and friends would appreciate receiving a gift of worm poop topped with a little bow!

(Top image: phuthinhco)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *