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Worms Deepening our Connection to Food and Soil Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly
Worms Deepening our Connection to Food and Soil Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly
Worms Deepening our Connection to Food and Soil Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly
Worms Deepening our Connection to Food and Soil Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly
Worms Deepening our Connection to Food and Soil Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly

Worm Digest, through its website and quarterly newspaper, teaches people how redworms can convert organic waste into valuable fertilizer via a process known as worm composting, or vermicomposting. Whether it’s plans for your first worm bin, some troubleshooting advice, or a system to handle an entire business’ food scraps, Worm Digest is your resource.

The Art of Small-scale Vermicomposting:

Turning Garbage into Gold

of Small-scale Vermicomposting: Turning Garbage into Gold A Bin to Call Home A simple box or

A Bin to Call Home A simple box or bin is all you’ll need to get started. A worm bin is any shallow (12"- 15" tall) bin, typically of wood or plastic, with a lid and plenty of holes for aeration and drainage. The size of the bin will depend on what you eat — or, rather, what you dont eat. Worm wisdom says youll need roughly one square foot of surface area per pound of weekly food waste. Either weigh your scraps or use the following esti- mate: a household of two requires a bin with four or so square feet of surface area. Rubbermaid tubs come in many sizes and work well (wash plastic residues out before using them). Do-it- yourselfers can construct a box with 1 / 2 "exterior-grade plywood.

Aeration is Key to Keeping Redworms Happy Next, drill aeration holes, 1 / 4 "- 1 / 2 " in diameter, in rows 2" from the bottom and 2" from the upper edge of the bin. This will promote air flow throughout the bin and keep your microorganisms, larger compost critters and redworms happy. If you dont want to create your own bin, there are many

If you don ’ t want to create your own bin, there are many Beds for

Beds for Their Little Heads Bed your redworms down in any carbon-rich bedding. In combination with nitrogen-rich food waste, bedding provides a balanced diet for the bin ecosystem. Newspaper is a good, widely available bedding material, as is office paper. Simply shred paper into strips 1" wide or thinner. Coir (shredded coconut husk fiber) is becoming popular and chopped straw or shredded brown leaves will work well. Mixing more than one type of bedding helps to promote better aeration. Water your bedding until its as damp as a wrung-out sponge and fill your bin within a few inches of the top with bedding (dont com- pact it, though). Now set your worms on top and watch them wiggle downward, moving away from any light.

Finding Your Little Waste Managers Giving your bin a good start requires a pound or more of redworms (for a small bin of two square feet in area). Eisenia fetida the species name for the common redworm sold by your local worm farmer or fishing supply store. A pound is roughly a thousand worms and costs about $15 plus postage. You could pick them yourself from a (cool) compost heap or manure pile, but it might take all day! Do not confuse these epigeic (surface-dwelling) earth- worms with those that burrow in the soil (anecic and endo- geic). Nightcrawlers and other soil-dwelling worms require a soil environment to survive and are definitely not adaptable to your worm bins environment. Conversely, redworms will only live in garden beds that have been mulched with a good layer of decaying organic matter.

designs and models available for purchase. Worm Digest has published reviews of home-scale worm bins in issue #23 and of larger bins in issue #24. All reviews are available in the bin reviews section of our website at www.wormdigest.org. Your bin can be kept indoors near the source of food waste or in the garage or outdoors. The bedding temperature should be kept between 40°-85°F, and the system will process waste fastest when bedding stays between 65°-75°F.

Bon Appétit, Friends! Its best to feed your new pets lightly for the first couple of weeks. An ecosystem needs to form within the bedding and food waste. As the populations of bacteria, fungi, microor- ganisms and other critters increases, the bin will be able to process more. You can jump-start the process by mixing a bucketful of material from another worm bin or compost

pile into your bedding when you set up your worm bin. After this start-up period, you can feed your new pets after each meal, once a day, even once a week. Theyll eat most foods, though youll want to leave out meat, dairy and fats, which have a tendency to putrefy. See how easy it is to care for these new pets? As a very rough guide, your worms will eat half their weight in food waste (and bedding!) each day, and increase in population to about a pound per square foot area. Because worms have no teeth, they rely on bacteria and fungi (the primary decomposers) to begin growing on and consuming the organic waste first. The smaller the pieces of food waste, the more quickly it will be available to bacteria and fungi. So, chop your scraps, but dont blenderize them, as a slurry tends to lock out oxygen and cause a stink! Always bury food several inches deep in the bedding, and either spread it out or feed in a pattern, choosing a new spot for each feeding. Finally, add bedding now and then to maintain a several-inch layer on top.

What are Those?!

As you continue to operate your worm bin, youll begin to notice many other inhabitants. Among the most commonly- seen ones are Colembola. These are tiny, white crawling insects that eat decaying matter. Some are called springtailsbecause of their tiny spring-like organ, (a fercula) at the back of their abdomen that allows them to jump quickly. Youll likely also see hoards of tiny round red, brown or white mites, especially where theres fruit scraps. There may be sow

bugs or roly polysand short, skinny white worms

called potworms (a different species than redworms). Another possible visitor is the soldier fly maggot, which appears a dirty

Mites are generally found on the sur- face, and are among the most numerous inhabitants of the worm bin.

and are among the most numerous inhabitants of the worm bin. white/ grey, is segmented and

white/ grey, is segmented and about 1 / 2 " long. While ugly, theyre also a voracious consumer in your worm bin system. Fruit flies are a very common nuisance in the bin and bury- ing food waste helps to reduce their numbers. All these crit- ters work to decompose what you feed your bin ecosystem. They live and work there because conditions are good for them and their only interest is in decaying organic matter they wont bother your house or garden plants.

Troubleshooting Your Bin Your worm bin ecosystem is pretty easy to maintain and keep on track. It should smell good. Now and then it helps to check for and remove excess moisture that may collect in the bottom of your bin (particularly common in plastic bins). Standing liquid will promote the growth of anaerobes, whose by-products stink, and is not good for plants. Wooden bins breatheand will tend to experience more drying than plas- tic bins, particularly in dryer climates, and so may require occasional rewetting.

Stinkin a worm bin is a sign that too little oxygen is reaching part or all of the worm bin system. If you find an area that stinks, where food waste and/or bedding are very wet or compacted, youll want to mix in more dry bedding. Stink may also happen where there is too much nitrogen- rich material in one place. Again, add more bedding to bal- ance the situation.

Harvesting the Gold After operating your bin for three to five months (or even more if you prefer dark, very finished-looking vermicom- post), its time to harvest your bin. Dump out the contents onto a plastic-covered table in daylight or under a bright lamp and form many small piles of material. The worms will dive down, and in a few minutes you can remove a small amount of vermicompost, free of worms. Ten minutes later, the worms in each pile will have gone down again and you can continue to remove the vermicompost. When youre fin- ished, rebed the worms and youre done! The vermicompost you harvest can be used directly in your

garden or on your houseplants. Its an excellent fertilizer that you can use sparingly. Because it the comes from an earth- worm, however, it will not burn plants if you use more. Mixing

it with coir (coconut husk fiber), topsoil, compost and vermi-

culite or perlite in equal amounts creates a good potting soil.

The following are a few of our educational resources. Visit our websites Corner Market for a complete listing. You may order online or directly from our office. All prices are U.S. postpaid.

Our WormEBook is our 90-plus-page electronic book on worm composting. A full description is found at www.wormdigest.org

A subscription to Worm Digests 24-page newspaper costs $14

per year ($12 electronic sub.) and brings you the best current information about worms and worm composting. Individual back issues are $3.50 each. Topic sets include four issues on

a subject, bound, including: The Worm Business, Home & Garden, and Schoolworms. $12 each.

Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof (176 pgs.), is the foremost practical guide to small-scale vermicomposting. $13.

Worm Bin Creatures Alive Through a Microscope, a 31- minute video by Warren Hatch, shows us springtails, mites, bacteria, fungi & more. $28.

©2002 Worm Digest. Feel free to copy and share this flyer with everyone! Worm Digest is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

PO Box 544, Eugene, OR 97440-0544 Tel/Fax 541-485-0456