Why Compost With Worms?
I had known about worm composting for quite a while but had never done it. However, a few years ago a friend had a working worm composting system for sale, and I jumped on the opportunity! This was around the time that we had a bear overturn and rummage through our outdoor compost bin (we live in the woods at the end of a dirt road). The worm composter is a vertical system that already had worms (red wigglers) and worm “food”! It allows us to compost almost all of our household kitchen waste in our house, year-round, without odors, and without attracting bears.
(Note: Our worm composting is in the mud room of our not-yet-finished house, so cleaning up the outside of it has not been a priority. That said, you probably don’t want to have it in your living-room!)
Our worms have been happily dealing with 2 to 4 pounds of kitchen waste per week or so. They self-regulate their population to deal with the food supply. We benefit both from having the kitchen garbage dealt with, and from the rich worm castings soil. I mix it with potting soil for house plants or it can be used in the garden. The worms have been very happy this summer, and I have been able to “harvest” worms to give away to several other people to get started with worm composting; this makes me feel good! Red wigglers can also be purchased online.
I have found the red wigglers to be very tolerant. Besides kitchen scraps, they like some “bedding” – partially composted leaves or straw or shredded paper or similar – and something gritty, like coffee grounds or cornmeal or ground up eggshells. Red wigglers are not native to Vermont and will not survive winter outdoors. They like being about room temperature and so do not like a “hot” compost system. They also do not like light but generally stay within the top few inches of food/bedding.
There are many ways to set up worm composting. Systems like ours are available for sale, but there are also do-it-yourself plans, both vertical and horizontal. All systems will need a way to drain excess moisture from the bottom. There is lots of information online and good books as well. Some of the information is especially for people in business either to sell worms or to sell the worm castings.
During the summer, we store our food scraps in the refrigerator, primarily to avoid fruit flies. We use a metal canister and also an old plastic bucket. The worms do not like citrus peels, are very slow to eat banana peels (which also tend to attract fruit flies), and don’t eat meat scraps. Whole eggshells don’t break down but powdered eggshells are good for providing minerals. Things with seeds (squash, melon, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) are fine, but the seeds remain in the castings and generally do sprout eventually.
We collect the things the worms don’t break down and take them to the food scrap collection at the local recycling center which accepts meat scraps. When we have a lot of something that would be too much for the worms, like big kale stems, we’ll put them in our outdoor bin (apparently the bears don’t like kale!).
I really enjoy my “pet” worms!