Composting With Worms: Pros, Cons, & How-Tos

Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is one of the fastest natural and organic ways of getting manure from waste.

This composting method is also easy and you can scale it for use in large and small gardens. It’s no wonder that this is very popular in urban areas.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting duplicates the natural way that worms, bacteria, and fungi degrade organic waste. The difference is that vermicomposting is faster.

The waste breaks down quickly because the vermicomposting system ensures an optimum number of worms are working under the best conditions to create worm castings. Excreted by the worms, the worm castings (or manure) are rich in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many micronutrients. These are precisely the elements lacking in most garden soils!

Building a Vermicomposting System

Setting up a worm composting system requires a few materials and some extra preparation. But, your reward for this preparation will be manure that’s ready in a short time – just two to three months. T

The materials you’ll need include bins, screening material, scrap paper, water, worms, and waste, which will act as the food for the worms.

Bins

You can use bins made of wood, plastic, or glass. Get two containers, measuring 5 to 10 gallons (19 to 38 L) so that you can stack one on top of the other. The bottom bin will collect the liquid leachates, rich in minerals, which you can use as liquid manure both indoors and out!

The top container should be no more than 15 inches (38 cm) deep since the worms like to live in the top 6 inches (15 cm) of the soil.

Drill two holes that are 1 inch (2.5 cm) in width at the top for aeration. You’ll also need four to five holes, measuring 1/8 inch (0.3 cm) wide in the bottom to allow fluids to drain. You can cover these holes with screening material to stop the worms from moving from the top bin to the bottom bin.

Worms

For vermicomposting, the worms you need aren’t the earthworms usually found in a garden. This is because these don’t feed on pure organic materials. What you need are manure worms.

There are two types, both of which can be used: red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and redworms (Lumbricus rebellus). You can start with about 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of worms since they’ll quickly multiply.

Building the System

The system has to provide the best conditions for worm composting to occur.

For this, the worms need air, bedding, moisture, warmth, and food.

  • Air: The holes drilled near the top provide air for the worms
  • Bedding: Cut newspapers into strips to provide bedding, which should measure 3 in. (7.6 cm) deep. Mix the paper with 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of soil and compost and put it in the top bin. Even compost of a normal backyard variety will have the necessary microbes and fungi to kick-start the decomposition process and help the worms do their work.
  • Moisture: To provide moisture, wet the bedding with some water. The paper should only be moist, not soggy. The bedding should measure 3 in. (7.6 cm) deep after it’s damp.
  • Temperature: The ideal temperature for the worms is 55 to 77°F (12.7 to 25°C). So, you’ll have to bring the bins indoors in places with cold winters.

Once the bedding is in place, scoop out a hole in the center, add the worms, and cover them with some bedding. Close the system and let them settle into their new home. Then start adding the food after 24 hours have passed.

Food

The materials that you can use as food for the worms include kitchen and garden waste. Avoid greasy food, dairy products, meat, and bones since these aren’t easy for the worms to eat. The waste that goes uneaten by the worms will rot and stink.

When it comes to garden waste, the worms can’t degrade woody substances. So, you can only use grass clippings and old leaves in vermicomposting.

Collect your kitchen scraps or garden waste for a week so that you only add the food to the system once a week. The worms work best when left alone. So, there is no need to stir or mix the materials in the bin. Keep the top bin covered with a loose-fitting lid at all times.

You shouldn’t add paper with chemical paint, plastic, or fabric. Chemical paint could be harmful to the worms and they won’t eat plastic or fabric.

When the bin is nearly full, stop adding new food. After about three months, there will be little or no bedding left. The bin will be filled with compost and ready for harvest.

Harvesting

Stop adding new food to the bin at least two weeks before harvesting. Before taking the compost and adding it to the garden, one more step is necessary: you need to remove the worms from the compost.

One way to do this is to tip the compost onto a plastic sheet and to pick the worms out of the compost by hand.

The other method requires more time, but less effort.

For this, you’ll need to pile all of the compost on one side of the bin. Then add new bedding and food on the other side. Leave the bins alone for two weeks. During this time, the vermicomposting worms will leave the finished compost pile and move to their new food source. Now you can remove the vermicompost and use it in your garden and use the new worm-filled bedding to start your next batch of compost.

Pros and Cons

There are more pros to using vermicomposting to treat organic waste than cons.

Pros

  1. The speed: Composting with worms provides ready-to-use manure in 2 to 3 months while other composting methods require 6 to 9 months.
  2. The location: Vermicomposting can be done both indoors and outdoors. In fact, you can even place the composting bins under the kitchen sink. This is one of its biggest advantages over other composting methods. Just make sure to cut the organic matter into small bits so that the worms can eat it quickly and keep the system odor free.
  3. The extra worms: At the end of the composting cycle, you’ll have more worms than at the start. These worms reproduce and double their population once over 90 days. You can add the extra worms directly into your garden to enrich the soil or use them as animal feed.
  4. The E. coli count: After being kept for 21 days, vermicompost will reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria to permissible levels, according to recent research.
  5. Decentralization: Since this can be easily adopted in rural or urban homes, it helps you avoid transporting organic waste to centralized places. This, in turn, saves on fuel used for transportation, bringing down the cost for the community and reducing CO2 emissions.

Cons

  1. The pathogens: Pathogens aren’t killed as quickly in vermicomposting as in normal compost since there’s no heat build-up.
  2. The cost: The initial cost of setting up a vermicomposting system can be high since you’ll need to purchase the bins and the worms, too.
  3. The fruit flies: The bins, once filled with organic matter, can attract fruit flies. But, you can avoid this by adding food in quantities that the worms can eat and by covering it with soil.

A Win-Win Solution

Vermicomposting is a win-win solution to produce manure anywhere. The few disadvantages it has can be prevented if you properly maintain and take care of your system.

3 Comments

Marta

Very helpful-thank you

Vicky

? I have 2 compost bins outside I just threw red wigglers in them years ago. They even moved to the farm w/me. They get food scraps, t. p. rolls, (no leaves as cut down all the walnut and other trees so could grow food), cover with old potting soil to keep bugs down. I’m trying to use more of my weeds and clippings in compost. Can I put garlic chive stems in there or are onions bad for worms? I also don’t put spuds or peels in.

    InsectCop

    The worms should be able to deal with garlic and onions as well, though it might take a while. It also might get smelly. It’s generally suggested to avoid garlic and onions, though, it shouldn’t cause them much harm if you do go for it.

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