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    vermicomposting

    The Basics of Vermicomposting

    Benjamin Kilbride, Editorial Assistant at The Old Farmer’s Almanac

    Learn how worms can be used to speed up the dirty work of composting.

    What Is Vermicomposting?

    Vermicomposting is a method of composting that uses special kinds of worms, most commonly red wrigglers, to accelerate the process of turning organic material into compost.

    What Are the Benefits of Vermicomposting?

    The process of vermicomposting is much faster than traditional composting methods. The worms have voracious appetites and will eat through a pile in half the time it would take normally. A colony of red wrigglers in a compost pile creates a thriving ecosystem that results in extremely rich compost: Healthier compost means healthier plants! 

    Where Do You Get the Worms?

    Red wriggler worms can be purchased from gardening stores and online (yes, you can order worms online!), or you can get them from someone who has a thriving colony of worms in their own vermicompost pile. The worms come tightly packed together in a wriggling ball.

    Note: Do not use earthworms for vermicomposting—they will not work.

    How to Make a Vermicompost Bin

    Start vermicomposting on a small scale: Purchase an Exaco ECO Worm Composter or make your own vermicompost bucket. Store the bucket underneath the sink or in a floor-level cabinet for easy access.

    You Will Need . . .

    one 5-gallon bucket

    2 bucket lids

    3 or 4 black-and-white newspapers

    2 dry quarts of organic material (coffee grounds, dead plants, grass clippings, vegetable scraps)

    2 dry quarts of gardening soil

    1 handful of red wriggler worms (1 lb.)

    tools (as needed): drill, 3/16-inch drill bit

    1. Drill holes evenly spaced all over the 5-gallon bucket: 5 to 10 holes in the bottom, 25 to 30 in the side, and 5 to 10 in one of the lids. Use the remaining lid as a tray for any liquid that spills out of the bottom of the bucket.

    2. Take sheets of newspaper and rip them into long, 2- to 3-inch-wide strips. Continue until all of the newspapers have been used. Crumple the strips into loose balls. Fill a bowl with water and dunk the newspaper balls into it one at a time. Squeeze excess water from them and then drop them into the bucket. Continue until the bucket is half-full of damp newspaper. Save any extra strips of newspaper for later.

    3. Add the organic material and soil to the bucket and mix with the newspaper.

    4. Gently pull the ball of red wriggler worms apart and spread them throughout the material at the bottom of the bucket. Cover the pile with more crumpled strips of newspaper.

    5. Put the lid (with drilled holes) on the bucket. Place the bucket on the second lid (without drilled holes) in a warm, dark place. The second lid will act as a tray for any excess liquid.     

    How to Maintain the Vermicompost Bucket

    Feed the worms 1 to 2 pounds of vegetable scraps twice a week. Cover the food with partially composted material and strips of newspaper. Cover the top layer of material with strips of newspaper. 

    Tips:

    • Chop vegetable scraps into small pieces to make it easier for the worms to digest.
    • Keep the vermicomposting bucket in a warm place between 60° and 70°F for best results.
    • Limit the amount of liquid added to the bin: Too much liquid can drown the worms. If there is excess liquid, soak it up by adding strips of newspaper to the bottom of the bucket.
    • Add only plants and plant-based organic material to the compost: Avoid fish, meat, and dairy products, fatty or oily foods (such as peanut butter), materials containing chemicals, and pet waste.

    When Is the Compost Ready to Be Used?

    The composting process is finished when kitchen scraps are no longer identifiable and the material is the color and texture of soft gardening soil—in this case, after about 3 months.

    How to Harvest the Compost

    Stop feeding the worms 1 to 2 weeks before harvesting the compost. Under bright lighting, dump the contents of the bucket onto a plastic sheet and separate the material into tall piles. Wait for 10 to 15 minutes—the worms are photosensitive and will burrow to the bottom of the piles. Collect the top material from each pile and repeat the process until only the worms are left. Complete steps 2 through 5 from the directions above to continue vermicomposting. Add the harvested compost to garden soil or potted plants.