Grow Hack: Use Worms For Simple DIY Composting

Photo by Vortex Farmacy

Traditional composting requires a lot of work and special conditions; why not let worms do the work for you? Vermicomposting, as it’s known, makes use of worms to digest kitchen waste and create extremely fertile compost perfect soil amendments or as a top dressing.

How does vermicomposting differ from traditional composting? First of all, it’s not really composting at all. What we normally think of as composting is either hot composting or cold composting.

Many composters that throw kitchen scraps into a bucket in the backyard are actually cold composting, which takes much longer than hot composting. Hot composting requires a certain ratio of carbon to nitrogen in the materials you add in order to allow the microbial population to thrive, generate heat and cook off pathogens and weed seeds.

Hot composting requires large quantities of material and must be done in batches, making difficult to do in small space like an apartment. Cold composting works in small volumes, but it takes far longer as you have to wait for all your kitchen scraps to slowly rot.

Vermicomposting allows an indoor home gardener to turn just about any kitchen scrap (except for meat, dairy or oils) into an extremely fertile soil amendment that can be harvested on a regular basis.

A basic system involves three five gallon buckets. The bottom bucket (Bucket 1) has 1/8-inch air holes drilled along the top rim. The two top buckets (Bucket 1 and Bucket 2) have the same 1/8-inch holes drilled near the top in addition to 3/16-inch holes drilled at the bottom for drainage. You’ll only need one of the lids, and it needs 1/8-inch holes drilled in it as well.

Place Bucket 1 on the ground and place Bucket 2 on top. Add three to four inches of damp shredded newspaper or cardboard (called worm bedding), a quarter pound of worms, and a handful of kitchen scraps. Close it with the lid and put it in a dark, cool place like under a sink. You can add food every day or less, but at least every five days.

Once the material has broken down and resembles soil, place Bucket 3 on top and fill it with damp news paper or cardboard and more kitchen scraps. Once the worms have eaten all the food in Bucket 2, they migrate through the holes into Bucket 3 in search of fresh grub. After about two weeks Bucket 2 should be worm-free and ready to add to your soil. You can keep the process going continuously by rotating Bucket 2 and Bucket 3.

In the mean time, make sure to drain the liquid that accumulates in Bucket 1. Like a rich compost tea, this liquid is rich in beneficial microbes and goes great on any organic soil.

For vermicomposting you’ll need a certain type of worms: Eisenia fetida and/or Eisenia andrei. Unlike earthworms, these worms can tolerate moist environments and don’t need deep ground.

Use this incredibly simple method of making rich, fertile compost to add to your indoor or outdoor garden. You can scale the process up if you have the space, but the five-gallon bucket method creates enough compost for a few houseplants.

Don’t miss our previous Grow Hack: Benefits of Using Using Cover Crops for Green Manure

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  1. Thanks for this insightful and educational article. Organic growing and building healthy soil is the future of food/flowers with longer shelf life and better smell and taste! It’s a lot of fun to raise and care for your own worms. It’s environmentally friendly, and mother earth’s way to give healthy bacteria, fungi and hormones that plants absolutely love! Worm castings can promote soil aeration, balance pH, retain moisture, improve fertility and contains beneficial bacteria which assists plants with disease suppression. The amount of worm castings from your bin might not be enough for commercial growers. If you need bulk amounts for outdoor grows or agriculture use, you can contact Vermisterra!

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