Nurturing the health of your soil is equally, if not more important, than nurturing the health of your plants in the garden. Without good soil, and without rich organic matter, your plants will struggle to get the vital nutrients and minerals they need to grow strong, fight off pests and disease, and produce the bountiful harvests and flowers that we all seek.
Compost is a vital source of organic matter, and one that almost all gardeners use to feed their soil. But did you know that there are multiple different kinds and sources of compost? I didn’t either until I started gardening. In my quest to learn everything and anything about gardening, I stumbled upon the term “vermicomposting”. Upon further research, I learned that vermicomposting is composting with worms.
Worms are Mother Nature’s fertilizer producing machines, and they are damn good at their jobs. These amazing critters both aerate the soil and break down kitchen waste into perfectly balanced, nutrient rich castings that plants basically salivate over. So what are worm castings exactly? The short answer is…worm poop! Yes, you read that right and I’m going to tell you why you should get on board with vermicomposting.
HOW DOES IT WORK
Composting is the recycling process of organic materials breaking down over time to form a rich soil amendment. That soil amendment is then used to feed the garden, and once their life cycle has ended, those spent plants are then used to create more compost. Beneficial microbes and worms are responsible for the breakdown process.
Vermicomposting applies the same principles, but utilizes worms as the decomposers in an enclosed system. Similar to how you throw your kitchen waste into a compost pile, you do the same with the worm bin. Over time, the worms turn the waste into rich castings.
Using worms to compost is the perfect solution for those who want to compost in an urban setting. When we think of composting, our minds generally go to a massive 4×4 pile in the corner of a backyard. Ain’t nobody got space for that in Los Angeles, am I right? Well in contrast, vermicomposting can be done in as little as a 1×1 space. This is the footprint of my wormery and it works wonderfully for me. The excuse of “I don’t have a backyard” doesn’t really apply anymore, guys. You can vermicompost on a balcony with no problem.
TYPES OF WORM BINS
There are tons of different avenues you can take when it comes to acquiring a worm bin. Youtube and Pinterest are teeming with videos of DIY systems ranging from a simple plastic tote, to more complex stackable systems. The choice is yours. Many people vermicompost in a plastic tote and love the simplicity of it. I chose to go with a vertical flow-through system because I wanted something with a smaller footprint.
In a flow-through system, as the worm population grows, you have the option of adding additional vertical trays, increasing the square footage without increasing the footprint. Flow-through systems also make it much easier to harvest because of the modular layers. For me, ease of harvest and having a system that would essentially self regulate was key for me, so I purchased mine on Amazon after hours of research. You can find it here.
WHAT DO YOU FEED THEM
Worms will eat pretty much anything organic, though there are some guidelines to follow to ensure that they’re happy. As a rule of thumb, do not feed them meat and dairy— keep it to vegetables and fruit, but avoid the super acidic ones like lemons. Make sure to feed them food that has not been cooked with oil, butter, or seasoning, and if you can, chop it up for them. Increased surface area aids the breakdown process and makes it easier for the worms to eat it. Worms have a gizzard, they do not have teeth, and the smaller the food particles, the better. I like to use the leftover pulp from my juicer to feed them. Worms also love coffee grounds and tea leaves. I’m a religious 2 cup a day coffee drinker, so I love being able to compost those grounds instead of dumping them in the trash.
Outside of food scraps, worms also will break down paper products. I’m talking TP rolls, napkins, paper towels, grocery bags, newspaper, and my favorite, JUNK MAIL. We all get so much junk mail every day and this is the perfect way to dispose of it. I sort the junk mail, removing the colored and glossy pages (credit card applications, you are my nemesis), shred it, and use the shredded paper as bedding in the worm bin.
WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT
Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint, while also simultaneously creating rich amendment for your garden. But the benefits go beyond that. Below are just a few:
It doesn’t smell: Ok I wouldn’t necessarily include this as a reason why you should do it, but I KNOW it is a concern that would potentially stop many of you from trying it. Worms. Don’t. Smell. In fact, the worm bin has a pleasant, earthy aroma. It smells like fresh dirt. If the worm bin ever smells unpleasant, it means it’s too wet or you’re feeding it too much. In that case, it still would not be the worms you’d be smelling, or their castings. The foul smell would be from the anaerobic bacteria and rotting food.
You reduce your plastic usage: If you’re buying bagged compost at the nursery, chances are it’s cased in plastic. Though you may not be able to produce 3 cubic feet of vermicompost at a time, you’re definitely going to be able to space out those trips to the nursery for compost, and thus reduce your plastic usage.
You reduce your trash: This is a no brainer, but trust me when I say you will be shocked at how much less trash you take out. Even recycling too. When my garden was at the peak of the season and my worm bin was also thriving, I was taking slightly less than one bag of trash out per week.
They’re low maintenance: Once you get the moisture level down in your bin, the worms will basically take care of themselves. They self regulate their populations based on their living conditions. If they’re too crowded, they don’t reproduce until their numbers drop, and vice versa. Plus, don’t worry about being meticulous about your feeding. If they run low on their food scraps, worms will happily start eating their bedding. I promise it won’t interfere with your busy schedule.
You’ll save money: Yes, vermicomposting requires an initial investment, but you can start for less than $100, and that includes purchasing the worms. Over time, assuming your worms are happy, they will multiply. And if you have a flow-through system that you can add trays to, you’ll be able to start producing castings faster and faster. Not to mention that when you amend your soil, you’re actually adding worms to it because your castings will be filled with cocoons. When they hatch, baby worms will then inhabit your new bed and slowly start to work that soil.
So guys, vermicomposting is a win-win. I love knowing that I’m reducing my carbon footpring, feeding my garden, and caring for some fat, happy composters. If you have any questions or hesitations about vermicomposting, please leave them in the comments! I hope you consider adding some wriggly worms to your life!
Get your worms here!
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