Compost the easy way with worms

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Patty Peterson explains the steps in worm composting. Photos: Kristi Garrett

If you’ve ever wished there was an easy, compact and clean way to use your food scraps while feeding your garden, a worm bin may be just the thing. Compared with large, unwieldy compost piles outdoors, vermiculture can be easily accomplished indoors in just about any size space.

“Worms are a no-brainer. I can’t tell you how easy it is,” says master gardener Patty Peterson from the Sacramento County University Extension program.

Vermiculture, or the process of collecting worm castings as fertilizer, has several benefits:

• The materials are inexpensive and easily available
• The bin can be conveniently located in the kitchen to encourage use
• The bin is easy to move and leave untended for weeks
• Harvested compost is easy to remove and use

The equipment

Peterson recently showed me how simple it is to create a worm bin.

Wood shavings or shredded paper make a good bedding for the worms.

Wood shavings or shredded paper make a good bedding for the worms.

Start with a plastic bin with a lid. A variety of styles and sizes can be purchased at any variety or home improvement store. Choose one that’s no more than a foot deep. The size will depend on the number of people you’re cooking for, and the space you have available. For instance, begin with a bin just 2 feet long to keep it easy to move. With experience, you can place a larger bin — perhaps 4 feet wide by 2 feet long — outdoors to serve a family of four.

Drill ¼-inch holes in the bottom and sides of the container to allow air to circulate. Remember, you’ll be hosting living creatures inside!

Place the bin on blocks or bricks to allow for circulation. If the bin seems to seep liquid, place a tray beneath the bin.

The bedding

Your worms will begin their work on some sort of bedding material. You can use pine shavings, shredded paper or cardboard, or dry leaves. Soak the bedding and wring it out before adding to the bin. Bedding and compost should always be moist.

Fill bin about three-quarters full of bedding and add a handful of garden soil to help the worms digest. Cover the bedding with black plastic and a towel. You can also use newspaper or cardboard to keep the bed dark, but plastic helps retain moisture.

Keep the bin at a temperature that’s comfortable for humans, between 55-75 degrees F.

The worms

Once your bin is prepared, add worms. Master gardeners recommend red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, which can be purchased at bait or fishing supply stores. Suppliers can also be found online, such as The Worm Farm, which ships nationwide.

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Feed your worms

Now for the fun part: fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells and used coffee grounds can be used to feed the worms. Never feed worms meat, dairy, processed foods, onions or citrus peels. Chop up large pieces to make them easier for the worms to digest.

Rotate where you place new scraps and keep the food covered with bedding material to avoid flies and odors. Your worms will do the rest!

“It’s worm Disneyland in there,” says Peterson.

Reap your harvest

You’ll notice small dark grains appearing in the bedding. Those are the worms’ castings, and that’s what you’ll be harvesting to feed your garden.

Tiny brown worm castings are the desired result.

Tiny brown worm castings are the desired result.

As castings proliferate in one area, move them to the side and continue to add new food to the opposite side of the bin. Uncover the side of the bin with the ripe castings and the worms will get the message. They’ll move over to the dark side of the bin to consume the new food.

You can then remove the dark castings and sprinkle them in your garden. If you find worms, place them back in the bin where they can continue their work!

Questions?

If you have further questions about how to compost with worms, refer to this guide from the Master Gardener Patty Peterson at the Cooperative Extension – Sacramento County. Many insect and odor problems are easily treated to keep your worm composting venture enjoyable.

Kristi Garrett

Kristi Garrett is the Publisher, Editor and Chief Veggie Enthusiast of Little Green Wheelbarrow. After 16 years in journalism and corporate communications, she figures it's time to get some dirt under her nails.

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