Vermicomposting is the process of using worms, usually “Red Wigglers,” to turn food scraps, newspaper, coffee grounds, etc. into the highly valuable organic fertilizer known as worm castings. The term worm casting is just the fancy name for worm poop! This is what the worms will turn your food scraps, newspaper, coffee grounds, etc. into. Worm castings are a valuable, nutrient and microbial rich fertilizer that can be added to soil or placed into a sack and placed in water to make “worm tea” that is used to water plants. Remarkable results come from the use of worm castings and worm tea on plants!
The graphic above outlines a vermicomposting tower built with 4 five gallon buckets that can be purchased for about $3 each. So here is how this works…
- The bottom bin, I call it the Leachate Collection Bin, is just a five gallon bucket with no modifications. You will add small amounts of water to the top of your tower to make sure your worms don’t dry out and this bottom bucket will collected that water after it has leached through the entire system. Many people call this “worm tea,” but in fact it is not! It contains only partially processed nutrients and therefore, should be used to re-water the worms, so they have a chance to fully process the nutrients. After a few weeks of re-water, you can use the leachate on your plants and start with fresh water.
- The second bin, I call it the Finished Castings Bin, used to be the Casting Production Bin a few weeks prior, but is now fully processed. Red Worms are adapted to survive in decaying, composting materials, but not in their own poop (aka “worm castings”). Therefore, when they have fully processed the rotting veggies, coffee grounds, and bedding material, they will crawl up through the drainage holes into the New Food Bin that you have been preparing for them. At this point, you can empty the castings and re-purpose the bucket to the top of the stack.
- The third bin, I call it the Casting Production Bin, is where your Red Worms will thrive, digesting and pooping out all of the rotting veggies, coffee grounds, and bedding you have prepared for them. This is where all the rich biological action takes place.
- The top bin, I call it the New Food Bin, is where you will place new food sources from the kitchen and allow them to rot a little before the Red Worms move up and start feasting.
As you can see this is a continual process that involves the New Food Bin becomes the Casting Production Bin and the Casting Production Bin becomes the Finished Casting Bin and the Finished Casting Bing becomes the New Food Bin as the worms move up and do their thing. The rate at which the bins are processed and moves depends on a few things:
- How many Red Worms you have in the system.
- The temperature (worms like cool temperatures).
- The lighting (worms like dark places).
- The quality of the food (Red Worms like a balanced diet of greens in the form of fruits and veggies except onions, citrus, or if pepper/salt/butter/etc. were added and browns in the form of shredded newspaper bedding and coffee grounds.)
- The quality of the grit (Red Worms, like Chickens, need grit to digest their food, so mix in some dirt or ground up eggshells.)
So where to get the Red Worms…? I dig my own Red Worms because they are rather expensive to order online. They are actually pretty easy to find in most places if you know what you are looking for and you know where to look. Remember that Red Worms are adapted to live in composting materials, so the place I have the best luck finding them is in the compost pile. They can be found right in the layer between the finished and unfinished compost. If you don’t have a compost pile, shame on you, now make one! Simply make a pile of grass clippings with a little saw dust mixed in. In a couple weeks you will be able to find Red Worms right in between where the original dirt and where you dumped your grass clippings. Here are some tips for identifying Red Worms:
- Red Worms are generally much more slender than Earthworms
- Red Worms have a reddish color, like a good tan, whereas Earthworms tend to be paler.
- Red Worms dig their tunnels in composting material while Earthworms dig their tunnels in the dirt.
- Red Worms are generally very wiggly! If you pick them or throw them into a pale they will often “flip out” and flop around. Earthworms aren’t this excitable.
Be patient and keep looking until you find them! Once you find them, you will know it and finding more because easier and easier. Whatever you do, don’t settle for Earthworms in your vermicomposting bin as they are adapted for digging and living in dirt, not decaying material. Earthworms will likely just die in your bins. Below is a picture of a Red Worm.
Are you feeling ready? It’s time to build your first tower… below is a photo tutorial on how to do this.
The first step is to obtain 4 five gallon buckets. Don’t do anything with the first bucket (this is the Leachate Bin), but drill 1/4 or 3/8 inch holes about 1-2 inches apart in the bottoms of the other three. These holes will provide drainage for the leachate and a passageway for the worms as they crawl up into the next bin. In addition, drill a ring of holes halfway up the side of the bucket. Finally, drill additional holes around the top rim of the bucket. These holes in the sides and top will provide some airflow into the tower.
Next, prepare your bedding by ripping up the newsprint portion (NOT the GLOSSY or COLORED ADS) of a dozen or so newspapers. Newspaper rips easily into strips as long as you tear it in the right direction (either side to side or top to bottom depending on the paper). Place all this shredded newspaper into a bucket and sprinkle a little rainwater on it. Tap water works too, but rainwater from your rainbarrel will provide a kick start of microbes and won’t have fluoride or chlorine in it! You should mix up the paper so it’s pretty damp, but not soaking wet. This will serve as bedding to keep the worms moist and they will eat it! Don’t worry, newsprint is printed with soy ink on biodegradable paper, so it won’t poison the worms.
Finally, its time to assemble your tower. Place the bucket without holes on the bottom. I put a block in mine to serve as a spacer so that the next bucket didn’t settle all the way in and cut off air supply to the holes in the site. Next, put the first bucket with holes into the bottom bucket and prepare the bedding and food by adding alternating layers of loose bedding, partially rotten veggies, and a fist full of dirt for grit. Fill the bucket about half way up with this food. The first and last layers should be wet newspaper bedding. Don’t forget to add the worms in the middle! The next bucket will serve as your New Food Bin where you can start adding newspaper and veggies after a couple weeks depending on how hungry your worms are. You won’t use the final bucket until the worms move up and you need another layer.
The information, concepts, or opinions from CatastropheNetwork.org are intended for informational purposes only and must be evaluated by the reader, in consultation with a professional, to ensure viability for their individual situation.