Making compost is one of the most crucial jobs in an organic garden. But which method you choose to use can be important.
There are a range of different ways to compost in your garden. Vermicomposting is one potential method that you could choose. Is it the right option for you?
There are a number of different options to consider. You can simply make a compost heap, or an outside compost bin for cold composting.
Another option is composting in place – making lasagna beds or hugelkultur heaps and allowing organic materials to rot down right there in your growing areas. You could also consider a hot composting system. But vermicomposting could be the perfect solution in a wide range of settings.
Read on to find out what vermicomposting is, why it can be such a good idea. Keep reading for a complete guide to setting up such a system in your own home or garden.
What is Vermicomposting?
In vermiculture or vermicompost systems, worms will help do the work of breaking down organic waste into a useful, usable compost. Vermiculture is the word used to describe keeping worms. Vermicomposting is the name used to describe using these worms to create compost.
The worms in question are special types which are specialists in their field. They are incredibly good at turning waste and organic matter into a friable, fertile compost that can be used in your garden. The worms will be kept in a special container, usually called a wormery.
You’ll find out more about wormeries, and the special worms that they contain, a little later in this article.
Why Compost With Worms?
Composting at home is, of course, always a great idea. Composting is crucial. It allows us to take organic matter from the garden, kitchen scraps and biodegradable household waste and return their nutrients to the natural system. This can help us to grow our plants. It keeps the soil ecosystem healthy and functioning well.
Composting makes it easier (and more affordable) for us to keep nature’s cycles turning, and to grow our own food. Of course, composting can also help us reduce our food waste.
The less organic waste we send to landfill, or for processing off our homesteads, the more eco-friendly we can be. Unfortunately, food waste and other organic matter sent to landfill can be a huge problem.
As organic matter undergoes a process of anaerobic decomposition in landfill, it releases methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. It contributes significantly to global warming.
Even where organic waste is burned rather than buried, the sheer volume of food waste we generate can be a problem. There is also the carbon cost of waste transportation to take into account. Domestic composting is one solution we can employ to tackle this problem.
5 Reasons Vermicomposting Is The Best Type Of Composting
When deciding which type of home composting system to choose, there are a wide range of different things to take into account. Here are some of the reasons why vermicomposting might be the best solution:
1. Worms Can Help Speed Up the Composting Process
Enlisting worms to help with your composting can speed up the process and break down of the materials more efficiently. Worms in your wormery will eat through fruit and vegetable scraps and the other organic matter you add. It will pass through their digestive system and be re-emitted as ‘worm castings’.
This process, as well as the movement of the worms through the compostable materials, helps to facilitate a faster break-down of the items in your wormery. The compost can be ready a little sooner than it would be when other systems are used.
2. The Compost You Create Is Enriched With Worm Castings
The worm castings (worm poo) in your compost make it particularly good for amending the soil in your garden and growing your plants.
‘Worm castings’ enhance the finished compost so you can rest assured that you can create a high-quality and incredibly useful product for your home growing.
3. Worms Aerate the Mix To Help Ensure Good Conditions For Aerobic Decomposition
What is more, the worms help to make sure that there is enough oxygen through your composting materials. As they live and eat, they tunnel through the mix, creating a good, aerated structure.
Composting in a home setting usually involves aerobic decomposition. This means that oxygen is present, and microbial life that depends on oxygen can continue to do its job.
4. Wormeries Can Work Well in a Wide Range of Settings
Another great thing about vermicomposting is that it can easily be implemented in a wide range of settings. Cold composting heaps or large bins, or composting in place both involve having a decent amount of outside space. Vermicomposting can work well even when no outside space is available at all.
As long as the worms have the right conditions, a vermiculture system can potentially be set up inside or outside your home. If you have space for a couple of 5 gallon buckets, then you have enough space to compost with worms.
Even when you do have a large property, and plenty of space, vermicomposting can still be a beneficial addition to your composting system. By using a wormery to compost food scraps from your kitchen before you add them to an outside heap, you can avoid issues with rodents or other pests in your garden.
5. Vermiculture Does Not Only Provide Compost
Another thing to think about is that vermiculture can provide additional yields. As well as providing a valuable source of compost, it can also give you other things.
One thing that many wormeries can provide is a great liquid feed. Many well designed wormeries allow the excess fluid from the compost to be drained away. This wormery fluid can be collected and used as a very valuable liquid feed for your plants.
It is also worth bearing in mind that a vermiculture system can also allow you to breed the worms themselves. Over time, the worm population in a well kept wormery will increase. You could consider these additional worms as another yield.
Extra worms bred in a wormery could be used as:
- An additional food source for backyard chickens or other poultry.
- A food source for fish in a backyard pond or aquaponics system.
- Bait on fishing trips.
- To sell on to others looking to start their own vermicomposting systems. (This could be an interesting diversification for a homestead, and an additional revenue stream.)
Sourcing a Wormery
If you decide to adopt vermicomposting on your homestead, the first thing to decide is whether you will buy a ready-made wormery or make your own. Your budget for your project, and how much waste your household generates will be important considerations when making this decision.
There are a range of ready-made wormeries available online – though some are better than others.
Our Top Pick
The Worm Factory 360 Worm Composting Bin is our top pick.
It comes with a standard 4 tray set-up making it super easy to harvest your finished compost. Plus you can also stack extra trays, up to a total of 8, to give you more capacity.
It comes with a worm tea collector tray and spigot to easily drain away the excess liquid to feed to your plants.
And it also comes with a handy “What Can Red Wigglers Eat?” refrigerator magnet so you can quickly check what food you can add to your worm bin.
The reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive and it comes with a range of useful accessories such as a thermometer, hand rake and scraper – as well as full digital instruction manual to get you started and vermicomposting successfully.
Get more details here.
It is important to make the right choice, since worms that are unhappy may try to leave – and in the worst case scenario, may even die if you get it wrong.
Remember, worms are living creatures. As such, they need to be able to breathe. Whether you buy or make your wormery, it is important to make sure that it is not airtight, and that there is adequate airflow.
The wormery should also be able to maintain a fairly constant temperature, wherever it is placed, and not get too hot or too cold. The space needs to remain moist, but not too wet, and be reasonably dark.
There are also a number of other practical things to consider, whether you buy or make a wormery:
In addition to considering the basic needs of the worms themselves, you should also think about how easy the bin is to use, maintain and empty of the compost once it is ready without losing your worms.
A good wormery should ideally have:
Sufficient space to accommodate the waste generated by your household.
Think about how much food waste you typically generate in your home. A single person will generally require a much smaller wormery, while if you have a large family, there will obviously be far more to compost – you will require more worms and therefore a bigger wormery.
Common sense is a good starting point. If in doubt, it is generally best to start off small, and work up to a bigger system once you have the hang of things if required.
A lid that is easy to open.
This is essential because you will have to add organic materials (worm food) little and often. The lid should allow oxygen to get in, but should keep worms from escaping, which they will try to do if conditions are not quite right.
More than one section.
Some worm bins are simply one large container. But buying or creating a worm bin with more than one section can make your life easier. The sections should stack one above another. They will make it easier to retrieve your finished compost once the worms have done their work.
Once the lower section is full and composted, an upper section can be added. As you add scraps to the upper section, the worms will slowly migrate up through holes to the top section and after a time, the lower section can be removed. You can then use the worm-free compost in your garden.
A faucet and liquid catchment area near the base.
A wormery should not be too wet. A faucet and sump area makes it easier to avoid an overly wet environment. They also mean that you can easily collect the excess liquid from your compost and use it as a liquid feed.)
Think about these things when buying or making your wormery and you can avoid many of the common problems and pitfalls encountered by those new to vermicomposting.
Creating Your Own Wormery
The most affordable and eco-friendly option is to avoid buying the new, plastic wormeries on the market, and opting instead to make your own.
Wormeries come in many shapes and sizes. Provided that you think about the design necessities and features mentioned above, it is a relatively easy DIY project.
There are a range of different materials and methods that you can employ. Often, you can make use of materials that might otherwise have been thrown away. For example, there are plenty of instances of old food or storage containers being used for the purpose.
Larger wormeries can be constructed from old barrels or bins, or made using old wooden pallets or other scrap wood with some sort of lining placed inside.
Here are some DIY wormery ideas from around the web:
Inexpensive DIY wormery @ permaculture.co.uk.
Make a Worm-Composting Bin From Plastic Buckets @ thespruce.com.
Worm Composter @ instructables.com.
Of course, these are just some elegant solutions. There are a great many ways that you could customise the above ideas to create the perfect wormery for your composting needs.
Where to Put Your Wormery
As well as thinking about what sort of wormery you would like to make, and with what, you will also have to think about where you will put your wormery once you have bought or made it. The location for your wormery will also have a bearing on which option will be right for you.
Where you put your wormery will usually depend on where you live, and the climate and general conditions to be found there. It will also, of course, depend on the size of your home and homestead, and how much space is available.
When deciding where to put your vermicomposting system, you will have to make sure that you make the right choice for the worms. But it is also important to make the right choice for you – to make using the bin as easy and straightforward as possible.
Making the Right Choice for Your Worms
The position that you choose for your wormery will obviously have to be somewhere with the right conditions to keep your worms happy. It is, first and foremost, important to understand that worms will do best within a certain temperature range.
Worms will thrive when kept at temperatures between around 50 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
At colder and warmer temperatures, they can slow down, and may even die if extreme temperatures are reached. Of course, therefore, it is important to provide temperatures somewhere within this range.
In cooler climates, you may like to position your wormery inside. This could be within a utility space or cupboard inside your home, as long as other conditions are suitable. It could also be in a colder storage space such as a garage, shed or cellar.
You may also be able to position your wormery outside, as long as you provide it with adequate insulation. A sheltered spot will likely be best in order to avoid wind cooling. Bear in mind that even when air temperatures are much lower, there are methods you can employ to keep the temperature inside your wormery much warmer. It is also worth remembering that the composting materials will themselves give off some heat as they decompose.
If you are in a warmer climate zone, or keeping your wormery indoors, you will also have to make sure it does not get too hot. Make sure that you pay attention to shade and ventilation, and when indoors, avoid positioning the wormery somewhere where large swings in temperatures are experienced.
Making the Right Choice for You
While the main thing is keeping the worms happy and working well, you should also think about your own needs. When choosing where to put your wormery, be sure to think about how easy it will be to access and use it.
Bear in mind that you will be adding food scraps etc. to your wormery most days, if not every day. It is very important to make it quick and easy to do so. If you don’t, you’ll be far less likely to keep up to it properly.
Make sure that the wormery is easy to access from the kitchen. The kitchen, after all, is likely to be where most of the source material or ‘worm food’ for your vermicomposting system comes from. Don’t position it too far from there or you could waste a lot of time trekking back and forth.
Zone your home and garden and think about the patterns of movement. Considering the routes you take around your home and garden can help you create a layout of various elements. Be sure to think what will work best for you. This can save you time and effort as you move around your homestead.
Sourcing Worms for Your Wormery
Two types of worms are commonly used in vermicomposting. Most people setting up such a system will choose between two species: Eisenia hortensis and Eisenia foetida.
Eisenia hortensis are also known as European Nightcrawlers. You can purchase half a pound of them (approximately 300 worms) from this page on Amazon.
Eisenia foetida are also known as red wigglers. You can purchase a pound of red wigglers (approximately 1000 worms) from this page on Amazon.
These can be sourced online, though before you order your worms for delivery through the post, consider asking other gardeners in your area whether they might have some to spare.
How Many Worms Do You Need?
How many worms you buy or source will depend on the size of the wormery. Of course, it will also depend on the scale of the operation and how much waste you are dealing with.
However, many who turn to vermiculture start with a 0.5kg/ 1 lb pack of worms, which is suitable for the average sized wormery. If you have a small wormery, you could begin with half this weight, but it is best, in order to establish a viable worm population, not to order less than this amount.
If you are receiving worms through the post, it may feel rather odd. Many people are astonished to learn that live worms can be sent to you in this way.
However your worms reach you, remember that they are living creatures, and so should be handled with care and kindness. Be sure that you are ready to receive them, and put them into their new home as quickly as possible. Make sure that the transition goes smoothly, so you get your vermicomposting off to a good start.
Providing that you prepare well, and provide the right conditions for the worms, they should be happy in their new home.
In a successful vermicomposting system, the worms will breed and the population will multiply over time. So if you get things right, you should not have to buy any more.
The worm population in your wormery should roughly double in around 3 months, providing that everything is as it should be and your worms are happy.
Preparing Your Wormery For Your Worms
Before your worms arrive, you should make sure that your wormery is ready for use.
In order to prepare for the wriggling arrivals, you should make sure you have bought or created and positioned your wormery. You will also have to make sure that there is some ‘bedding’ for your worms.
Worms can make do with bedding of shredded newspaper or torn up cardboard. However, this is not ideal. Worms will do much better if you provide them with ‘bedding’ of garden compost.
Not only is this preferable for the worms, it also gives the composting system a head start. Compost will be full of beneficial soil biota – bacteria and fungi – and these will get everything started nicely. The bedding in your wormery should ideally be at least 8 inches deep.
You can, if you wish, add a thin layer of kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps and a layer of shedded, untreated cardboard or paper above your compost layer. But do not add too much worm food until the worms have moved into the compost and created their colony.
Make sure that the bedding is moist, but not wet. If the mix is too wet, the vermicomposting wormery can become anaerobic, and, in extremis, your worms can drown. But like other living creatures, your worms need some water content to survive.
Give your worms a few days to settle in before you begin adding all your food waste. And for the first few weeks especially, be sure to add little and often.
Using Your Wormery
Once your worms have moved into their new home, it is time to start using your wormery.
Start adding small quantities of compostable scraps to the wormery. But do not add too much food waste at one time. If you do, the system (and your worms) can easily be overwhelmed. Start slowly, and ease into the full operation to give the worms time to adjust.
Adding Compostable Materials
The layers of food waste and other compostable waste that you add should be no thicker (at full operation) than 3-4cm in depth. If you add too much compostable material at once, the worms won’t be able to work their way through it.
Too much nitrogen-rich material decomposing on its own can raise the heat in your wormery too much. You also run the risk of making your composting system anaerobic. (And it can begin to stink).
As in other forms of composting, it is important to get the balance right. You need to get the right mix of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) materials. These different types of material should be added in thin alternate layers for the best results.
Every time you add some kitchen scraps, these should be covered with a similar quantity of brown materials, like untreated paper, card, or dead leaves, for example. Chopped up toilet roll tubes, for example, might be one source of brown material from your home.
If you do not cover over your fruit and vegetable scraps etc. you may encounter a common problem. Fruit flies may move in making using your wormery extremely unpleasant. If, however, you cover over your scraps with drier carbon rich materials, this is far less likely to become an issue.
What Not To Add To Your Wormery
You should not add anything to your vermicomposting system that you would not put into any other composting system. Of course, you should take care not to put anything non-biodegradable into your bin. You should also avoid adding anything that could introduce pathogens to your food producing areas, such as human waste or dog waste, for example.
If you have a large garden, it would be best not to include bulk materials such as prunings or grass clippings in your vermicomposting system. Compost these in a traditional cold composting system or in place. Keep your wormery for vegetative kitchen waste and other compostable household materials.
Avoid placing any tough or very woody material into your wormery. These things will take too long for worms to deal with.
Do not put meat, fish or dairy directly into your wormery. However, you can ferment these things first using a bokashi bucket system before adding the fermented mixture to your wormery, so the decompostion process can continue.
Onions and other alliums can be added to your wormery. But make sure that you add these only in small amounts. Add too much and this can make the environment unpleasant for your worms.
Citrus peel may also make the wormery too acidic for your worms. Add only small quantities of citrus fruits if you add them at all. And use the peels in other ways around your homestead. (For example, dry them to use as an eco-friendly firelighter for your wood burning stove.)
Troubleshooting Your Vermicomposting System
Over time, if you add too much watery material, the composting system may get too wet. Be sure to drain off excess fluid (as mentioned above, this is easier if a faucet is installed).
If the mix is too dry, worms will not be happy, and may even die. Make sure that the mix remains moist, adding a little water if necessary.
If your worms are not happy for some reason, you may see them trying to move out. If worms keep trying to climb out of your wormery, something is wrong with the environment. Check:
- The temperatures inside the wormery are not too high or too low.
- The wormery is not too wet or too dry.
- The mix between nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials has been maintained, and the wormery is not imbalanced.
- That you have not added something too acidic, or other materials the worms don’t like.
If the wormery smells, you have likely added to much nitrogen rich material in one go. The compost may have become anaerobic.
If there are flies in your wormery, make sure you add carbon rich materials on top of your food scraps. Take some time to separate the worms from the compost, dispose of the mix in your bin, and start again so you don’t have to suffer generations of flies emerging from the wormery. Clean out the wormery well to get rid of any flies and eggs before you start again.
When the Wormery Section is Full
Keep adding small quantities of suitable compostable materials until your wormery (or the first section of your wormery) is full. This is when having a wormery with more than one section really comes in handy.
With a multi-section wormery, you will not have to undertake the laborious process of separating the worms from the compost. Instead, you can simply add a new section on top of the old one, making sure that there is access for worms to travel up between them. You can allow the worms to migrate to the new section on their own.
Add bedding to the new section, and a little food for the worms, then simply wait a week or so until the worms have migrated upwards. Then simply keep adding compostable materials as you did before.
The first section should now be full of worm-free compost, that you can use to fill containers and grow food on your windowsills indoors, or use outside in your garden. Empty this section out, and then it will be ready to use again once the next section is filled.
By now, you should be beginning to see the benefits of such a system for yourself. You’ll be hooked on composting with the help of worms!
Our Quick Start Vermicomposting Guide
- Consider if vermicomposting is for you.
- If it is, source a high quality worm bin or make your own. Look for a wormery with multiple sections and a spigot for draining “worm tea”. This Worm Factory 360 Worm Composting Bin is our top pick.
- Position your worm bin in a location that provides the right conditions for the worms and is easily accessible for you.
- Provide a layer of bedding material for your worms.
- Source some worms from a local supplier or purchase worms online, for example these red wigglers or these European Nightcrawlers.
- Add your worms to your worm bin and allow them a few days to “settle in”.
- Start adding kitchen scraps and “brown” waste for your worms to feast on.
- Enjoy the continuous supply of nutrient-rich compost for your garden,