Vermicomposting is particularly suitable for people who don’t have much room, such as apartment dwellers.
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Worms are the master composters. Their entire purpose in life, besides producing more worms, is to decompose organic matter. There are thousands of different types of worms, but only a handful are suitable for vermicomposting.
Just tossing fruit and vegetable scraps around your garden is not an efficient way of adding nutrients. You need a way to help decompose these scraps first so that their nutrients are readily available in a usable form for your garden.
The first stage of decomposition is done by bacteria, which can quickly multiply into huge numbers to break down organic matter with enzymes.
Worms are the second stage in this process. They take in both the bacteria and broken down organic waste to accelerate the process. They digest the organic matter and add more bacteria to the mix, helping to speed this process up further. In the end, you get worm castings, which to your plants are worth their weight in gold.
To control this process of vermicomposting, you need a way to house and feed your worms. The size of the container required will depend on your needs. You can either purchase plastic kits for this purpose or make your own out of different types of material. Plastic is probably the best choice as it won’t rot. Anyway, there are pros and cons for each type of material.
No matter the material you choose, the container requires holes for aeration, and bedding, such as newspaper, to control humidity.
Because bacteria are the first stage of breaking down the organic material, the important thing is what you feed them, not the worms. So remember to only use plant-based material, not meat or dairy products. Grain products are also fine to use. If you put eggshells in, rinse them first and crush them up.
There are various sources to how you can best make use of the gardening power and benefits that worms offer when you compost in your garden.
Your container shouldn’t smell. If you notice a foul odor, you may need to adjust the moisture level, temperature, or oxygen.
- If there’s an ammonia smell, that means there’s not enough oxygen and things are decomposing anaerobically. This often means the container is waterlogged, so you will need to drain off the excess moisture. Add some dry material, and stir up the mixture to aerate it well.
- If you notice a lot of fruit flies, bury the food scraps, and cover them with bedding material.
When all the material has been processed and broken down by the bacteria and worms, there are two things you can do with the rich compost you now have. You can add this directly to your plants, or you can make a compost tea out of it. Put some of the compost into a fine mesh bag, and put it into a container of water to soak for several days. You can aerate this with a small pump. The tea can be applied with a spray bottle to your plants or poured around them directly.
Remember to save your worms first. You can either handpick the worms and egg cases out of your compost, or place one bin on top of a newly prepared bin, shine a light on the top bin to drive the worms down, and they should go into the new bin.
Maintain the environment
Most of the worms in your garden aren’t native to North America. They have come in from Europe, Africa, and other areas. Some of these can cause detrimental changes to local ecosystems.
There are some dos and don’ts with your vermicomposting system:
- Source worms from a reliable local dealer. Don’t get them shipped in from overseas.
- Use red wigglers (Eisenia foetida) rather than red earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus), as red earthworms can withstand freezing winters and possibly become an invasive threat.
- Don’t throw worms or compost into wooded areas or waterways, as they can survive there. This is like dumping your pet fish into a waterway.
- Freeze your vermicompost for a week before using it. This will ensure that only nutrients will be transferred to your garden.
Involve the entire family
Vermicomposting is a great way to get the entire family involved. Instead of just letting your compost bin sit in a corner, experiment around with it. See how long different foods take to decompose. Test several seedlings using nothing with some, compost with some, and compost tea with others to see if there is any difference in growth. This is a great way for both you and your kids to learn about sustainable living and how nature works. Happy vermicomposting!