The last time I went to visit my parents, I spent at least an hour out on the porch, picking worms out of nutrient-rich, fragrant soil that my father had collected from his worm bin. And while that may not sound like the best dad-daughter time, it was actually pretty fun–and reminded me that composting with worms is an easy, eco-friendly thing that anyone with even a hint of a yard can do to reduce their environmental impact, boost their garden harvest, and cut down on waste.
My dad has been, as my mother so lovingly calls it, “playing with his worms” for at least half of my life. But worms have been breaking down everyday food waste (think coffee grounds, egg shells, banana peels, and other organic matter that would otherwise end up in a landfill) and turning it into nutrient-rich soil for basically as long as they’ve been around, which is ages upon ages. And in the last few decades, more and more savvy humans have been utilizing this power.
Unlike regular compost, worm bin compost (which is called vermicompost) is way richer, which means you can use less of it, and even mix it with regular dirt from your yard. Just a little goes a long way–and it’s so much less wasteful than just tossing your scraps, cores, pits, and skins. Vermicomposting is also able to be accomplished in smaller spaces (even inside), and takes less time than simply pitching your trash into a pile in the yard and waiting for it to become soil.
Worm bin composting is also pretty easy. Basically, the worms do all the work; all you have to do is provide them with a home (which we’ll get to), give them some food (which is your kitchen waste) and a bed, and then collect the soil and the “worm tea,” which is the super plant-powering liquid that can be extracted from the bins.
Are you sold yet? Of course you are.
To get started with worm bin composting, you have to do a few things. First, you need the right kind of worms. Regular old earthworms won’t work (they don’t fare very well in enclosed spaces), but red wigglers or nightcrawlers (which are often sold in bait shops) will do the trick. You can get worms from a garden supply store that specializes in them. Just Google around in your area.
To decide how many worms you need, figure out how much space/trash you’ve got. It’s usually assumed that vermicompost worms can process about half their own weight in garbage in a day–so a half pound of worms can process about a quarter pound of scraps per day.
Next, you need to get a house for them. You can either buy a pre-made worm bin outfit–my dad has a really cool three-layer set-up, like The Worm Factory. Or you can make your own out of RubberMaid or other tubs with snapping lids. And if you’re crunched for space, you can still do it–just a small composting stack can provide the perfect amount of mulch for a little garden or terrace.
The best way (in my experience) to operate a worm bin situation is with three layers. The first layer is where the garbage goes, the second is where it starts to look like mulch, and the third is where the good stuff is. All of these need to have holes for air (the worms need it), and the second two need to have holes for the worms to migrate upward through the system (which they’ll do). It’s also good to have holes so that the worm tea can drain out and be received in a bucket or other kind of collective device.
Then, you stack the three on top of each other, and voila! You’ve got a nice little system.
Of course, there’s a little more to it than that–and there are others who can explain more in-depth set-ups, and how to exactly build your own. For more information, I’d suggest checking out Grow and Make, Red Worm Composting, and TreeHugger. Or, you can head down to your local home and garden store and ask an attendent for more information.
Image: edenpictures via Flickr