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Indoor Vermiculture: Let Worms Eat Your Garbage

Published on February 27, 2013 by

 by Lynne Lamstein

I love composting. I love taking kitchen scraps and garden waste and watching them turn into rich organic food for my soil. Feeding homemade compost to my gardens gives me as much pleasure as feeding home grown food to my family. But in the northeastern U.S. not much composting goes on in winter; it's just too cold for microbes to work their miracles. That's why I've become a huge fan of vermiculture, or worm composting.

With vermiculture worms help break down food scraps and turn them into nutrient-rich compost. Because you can grow worms in the house, you can compost all year round.  Worms eat garbage and give back great soil.

Did I say grow worms in the house??  Am I mad? Let me clarify. You grow the worms in a container—they don't crawl around on your carpet or get in your beds!

Worm composting is also great for city dwellers. You can grow your worms in a cupboard and use the compost for houseplants.  Besides using up scraps (that would otherwise be trucked to a landfill) and creating an amazing soil additive, worm composting is fascinating and fun—a great project for children.

How to Compost with Worms

Worm composting is more popular than you might think—and easier. All you need is a container, bedding, worms, and food scraps.

Container

  • Find or build a wood or plastic container that is 8"-12" high. It can be any length or width, just not too big to handle. The bigger the container the more food scraps it can hold. A 16"x19"x12" bin takes 2-3 pounds of food scraps a week.
  • You'll need a cover for over and a tray for under the container. For an indoor bin, use a burlap or plastic cover or a lid with holes.
  • Drill about ten ½" holes in the bottom for ventilation.
  • Raise the container up on the tray (try blocks or bricks). The tray will collect the extra liquid that runs out of the bin. Mix the liquid with 10 parts water for "worm tea" fertilizer.

Bedding

  • Fill the bin ¾ full with materials like shredded paper, chopped up leaves and straw, seaweed, dry grass clippings, aged manure, compost, or sawdust. Add a handful of soil.
  • Moisten the bedding so it’s as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Leave the bedding loose for good air circulation.

Worms

  • It's tempting to use earthworms from the garden, but they don't work in vermiculture. You need red wrigglers (Eisenia fetida), which you can buy or maybe find in your compost pile or in an old manure pile.
  • As a rule of thumb, you need about 2,000 red wrigglers (about 2 pounds) for every pound of food waste you plan to add every day.

Food and Care

  • Feed the worms eggshells, tea bags, flowers, plant trimmings, coffee grounds, vegetables, and fruit. Don't feed them fats, meat, fish, bones, grains, or dairy.
  • Bury the kitchen scraps in the bedding 2"-3" deep. Bacteria and other microorganisms break it down, then the worms eat everything: the scraps, bedding, and microorganisms.
  • Keep the container where the temperature stays between 40 and 80 degrees F. Worms like it where it's dark and quiet: closets, under sinks, basements.
  • If the bedding starts to smell there's too much food, not enough air, too much moisture, or too many acidic foods. Stop adding food, gently stir the contents, clear out drainage holes and/or drill more holes, or cut back on citrus and coffee grounds and add eggshells.

Harvest

  • In 3-6 months you will have dark brown compost. Separate the worms from the compost and use the worms to start a new bin.
  • Use the compost in the garden or mix it with equal parts soil and vermiculite for a well-drained potting mix.
  • You'll have more worms than you started with, so you can give some away and add some to your compost pile when the weather warms up.

Good for the Garden/Good for the Environment

Worm composting reduces garbage, trucks on the roads, chemical fertilizers and methane gas from landfills. It improves your garden and helps keeps the air and water cleaner. Try it--it'll worm its way into your heart!

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