Aristotle called worms “the intestines of the earth.” Cleopatra credited them for the fertility of the Nile River Valley. Farmers have relied on them for fertility and fruitfulness for millennia. Earthworms are gardener’s best friends. In this Worm Farm Composting Guide, we are investigating the benefits of a worm farm and offer a practical guide to worm composting.
These tiny, slimy creatures can eat and digest up to half of their body weight and their excrement provides perhaps the most effective fertilizer for gardens.
As the earthworm’s diet passes through its digestive tract, it makes its way back to the soil, enriching it with water-soluble nutrients and thousands of microbes that help plants thrive and fight off disease.
Because of its numerous advantages, many gardeners turn to worm farms to help breed more of their greatest assets.
What is a Worm Farm?
It does not take long to spot earthworms in garden soil that has been tilled. But farming worms can provide a gardener with more worms, more organic fertilizer for soil, and, ultimately, more fruitful plants. For this, you need a worm farm.
A worm farm is essentially a place where many worms can live, breed, eat, and excrete in a controlled environment. Worm farms can exist in small composting bins or as large commercial businesses. But the goal is the same: more worms, more excrement, more fertilizer.
The process in which worms convert their food into fertilizer in a worm farm is called vermicomposting, or worm composting. Worm composting can be both simple and cost-effective. It can be done virtually anywhere – indoors, outdoors, in a wooden box, plastic container, or even a large bucket.
Worms cannot tolerate cold temperatures, direct sunlight, or too much dry heat. For worms to thrive, they require a moist, dark, and warm environment with air ventilation and, of course, food.
Kitchen scraps make great worm food, help households cut down on waste, as well as provide quality nutrients for the worms. Raw fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and dried or damp bread are great options for worm food.
Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, and potatoes are also excellent food sources for worms. Try to avoid oils, dairy, and meat products because they are made of more complex substances and take longer to decompose.
Also, avoid citrus and other acidic fruits, as they take longer to break down and can also attract fruit flies.
Indoor Worm Composting
One of the great things about worm composting is its versatility. A composting bin can easily be fashioned indoors using a large, plastic container and can be kept either inside or outside. Just make sure the temperature is maintained between 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because kitchen scraps make great worm food, one convenient option is to store the composting bin under the kitchen sink.
Another reason to consider indoor worm composting is that it protects worms from outdoor elements. As we have already established, worms require warmth, but cannot tolerate direct sunlight. Keeping them indoors helps ensure they get enough darkness and moisture.
Indoor worm composting is also a great option for those who live in apartments or an in a city and do not have the outdoor space for a composting bin. Tossing kitchen scraps into a composting bin is also an excellent alternative to adding them to trash bins that will serve their worm bins.
Outdoor Worm Composting
Outdoor worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is an environmentally friendly method of turning organic waste into nutrient-rich compost with the help of worms.
To set up an outdoor worm composting system, you will need a few key components:
- Worm Compost Bin: Choose a suitable container for your worm population to live in. It can be a plastic or wooden bin with a lid to protect against extreme weather conditions. Ensure that the bin has drainage holes to prevent waterlogging and maintain proper moisture levels.
- Bedding: Create a comfortable bedding layer for the worms using materials such as shredded newspaper, cardboard, coconut coir, or aged leaves. This bedding provides a habitat for the worms and helps maintain moisture levels in the bin.
- Worms: The most commonly used worms for composting are Eisenia fetida, also known as red wigglers or red worms. These worms are voracious eaters and thrive in organic food waste. Start with a sufficient number of worms to handle the amount of waste you generate.
- Organic Waste: Collect a variety of kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells. Avoid adding meat, dairy, oily food, or large amounts of citrus, as these can attract pests or slow down the composting process.
Outdoor worm composting offers numerous advantages. It reduces the amount of organic waste sent to landfills, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. The resulting vermicompost is a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer that improves soil structure, enhances plant growth, and promotes healthy microbial activity in the soil. Additionally, the process of vermicomposting helps to reintroduce valuable nutrients back into the environment, completing the cycle of sustainability.
Remember to monitor your outdoor worm composting system regularly, adjusting the feeding and bedding as needed. With a little care and attention, you can successfully convert your organic waste into valuable compost while benefiting the environment.
Worm Composting Bin
A worm composting bin, also known as a vermicomposting bin, is a specialized container designed to house and facilitate the process of vermicomposting. It provides a suitable environment for worms to thrive and efficiently convert organic waste into nutrient-rich compost. Worm bins come in various sizes and designs, catering to different needs and space constraints.
Here are some key features and considerations when setting up a worm bin:
Size and Capacity
The size of the worm bin depends on the amount of organic waste you generate and the space available. A larger bin can handle more waste and accommodate a greater number of worms. However, it’s essential to maintain a proper balance between the quantity of waste and the number of worms to avoid overloading the system.
Worm bins are typically made from plastic or wood. Plastic bins are lightweight, durable, and easy to clean, while wooden bins provide better insulation and aesthetics. Regardless of the material, ensure that the worm bin is non-toxic and free from chemicals that could harm the worm population.
Ventilation and Drainage
Adequate ventilation is crucial to maintain oxygen levels in the bin and prevent the buildup of unpleasant odors. Look for a worm bin with ventilation holes or a breathable design. Additionally, the bin should have drainage holes or a tray at the bottom to allow excess moisture to escape, preventing waterlogging.
Lid and Light Protection
A well-fitting lid is essential to protect the worms from extreme weather conditions and pests. It also helps regulate moisture levels within the worm bin. Consider a bin with a dark or opaque lid to shield the worms from direct light, as worms prefer a dark environment.
A good worm bin typically includes a layering system to facilitate proper waste decomposition. This system typically consists of multiple levels or trays that allow worms to migrate between them as they consume the organic waste. The trays can be stacked, making it easier to add new waste while harvesting compost from the lower trays.
The bedding material is crucial for creating a suitable habitat for all the worms and maintaining moisture levels. Common bedding materials include shredded newspaper, cardboard, coconut coir, and aged leaves. Ensure the bedding is moist but not saturated, as worms require a damp environment.
Maintenance and Harvesting
Regular maintenance is necessary to ensure the health and productivity of the worm bin. This includes monitoring moisture levels, adjusting bedding as needed, and removing any undecomposed waste or finished compost. Harvesting the compost involves removing the bottom tray or layer, which contains mature compost, and replacing it with an empty tray at the top to continue the process.
Worm bedding is essential to a worm farm or composting bin’s productivity. Newspaper strips are probably the most common bedding used, but a variety of materials can be considered, such as shredded cardboard, aged compost, straw, hay, dried leaves, wood chips, and even aged manure.
Make sure that worm bedding is damp, but not soaking wet. Occasionally, more bedding should be added to the worm farm, as worm population will also eat and digest the bedding, along with their food scraps.
Remember to avoid materials with sharp edges or abrasive textures, as worms have very delicate skin that can be damaged. Only use materials that will hold moisture and are not too dense for airflow.
These are the finished product of worm composting. A worm cast is a mass of football-shaped excrement – essentially worm poop – that can amend the soil and provide nutrients to almost any type of plant.
Unlike some pre-packaged fertilizers, it is completely safe to use on every part of the plant, as it will not scorch or damage its roots or leaves.
Harvesting Worm Castings
After the worms have eaten through most of the contents of their composting bin, it is time to harvest the them. There are a few different options for gathering the castings. To use the pyramid method, wait until most of the worm compost container has turned into worm casting, then pour out the contents of the container onto a tarp or drop cloth on a sunny day.
Form a few small piles into a pyramid or cone shape. In an effort to avoid the sunshine, the worms will burrow down into the pyramid, leaving behind only their castings. Brush off the outer layer of castings and set them aside. Repeat this process until all the castings have been harvested and only the worms are left.
Another option employs a screen or hardware cloth and also needs to take place on a sunny day. Simply place the screen or hardware cloth on top of a container and dump the contents of the worm composting bin onto the screen.
The worms will burrow down under the screen to avoid the sunshine and only the worm castings will be left on the top of the screen where they can be easily harvested
For these methods to be used effectively, they require sunshine and the outdoors. However, another solution is to simply reach down into the compost bin and pull out the castings by hand. It may not be as thorough, but it can be done indoors and with less hassle.
What is Worm Tea?
Worm tea is a liquid substance made from harvested worm castings that adds good bacteria, protozoa, and actinomycetes to plant soil. Basically, it is a highly nutritious plant juice.
To make worm tea, add harvested worm castings to a porous fabric such as pantyhose or an old t-shirt, and tie the loose ends together fashioning a tea bag of sorts. Next, place it in a five-gallon bucket of water to steep overnight. The contents of the castings will seep into the water and, Viola! The worm tea is finished.
To use the tea for potted or house plants, dilute the worm tea with equal parts water and worm tea. Using a watering can or spray bottle, apply the liquid to the plant’s soil or spray it directly on the plants.
How to Build and Maintain an Organic Worm Composting Bin?
Considering the benefits of worm composting, it should be noted that making an organic worm composting bin is both simple and cost-effective. To make your own worm bin, you will need:
- A power drill or a hammer and nail
- A large plastic storage container with a lid (a five-gallon bucket will also work)
- 2 cups of dirt
- 1 cup of composting worms
Using the drill or nails, make two rows of holes around the top of the worm bin. These will serve as ventilation holes for the worms and should be spaced 3-4 inches apart. The holes should not be more than half an inch wide. Do not put holes near the bottom, as it will cause leaking.
Place worm bedding, such as shredded cardboard or newspaper in the bottom of the bin. Wet the bedding by drizzling water over the top of it. The bedding should be damp, not soaking wet. There should not be standing water in the bottom of the bin.
Once there is 4 to 6 inches of bedding in the bin, add about 2 cups of soil. Toss all the contents together to mix it.
Finally, add the worms, along with food scraps such as fruit and vegetable scraps (worms especially love squash!), coffee grounds or bread. Worms eat rotting food, so allow a few days for the food to start decomposing before expecting the worms to devour it.
To maintain the bin, be sure to keep it moist and dark with a lid or cover. If the contents of the worm bin start to get too soggy, add more bedding and mix it in with the soil to absorb the extra moisture.
About once a week, add more bedding and food scraps and check on the progress of the composting worm bin.
Commercial vermiculture bins are also rising in popularity. It may be convenient to purchase a kit for help getting started.
Check out our reviews of the best compost bins if you want to have a pre-built solution right now.
You may also want to consider the transportation of the compost, for example with a fairly popular garden cart.
What are the Best Worms for Composting?
Generally, any type of soil-based worm is referred to as an earthworm. But when farming worms for vermiculture or vermicomposting purposes, not just any earthworm will do. It is helpful to know what types of worms make the best composters and reach an informed decision.
Red Wiggler Worms
Red Wiggler Worms – The Best Worms for Composting?
Red Wiggler worms are ideal candidates for composting. Not to be confused with soil-dwelling worms which can also be red or purplish in color. Red Wiggler worms love manure and rotting foods, which makes them the stars of the vermicomposting world.
Like most earthworms, they are hermaphrodites, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive organs and can reproduce very quickly.
Red Wigglers have also been known to live up to 8 years. They eat and digest at rapid rates, meaning they also excrete at rapid rates and provide high yields of worm castings to be harvested.
Red Wigglers may be purchased in some local areas – usually rural – from a worm farm, but a plethora of online retailers also offer the worms in varying quantities.
European Night Crawler Worms
European Night Crawler – The Runner Up for Worm Farms
European Night Crawlers are often the preferred composting worm in the United Kingdom. They grow up to two times longer than the Red Wiggler. European Night Crawlers are quick breeders as well, but not quite as quick as their wiggler counterparts.
Because they are larger, they do typically need a little more room in their worm farms and composting bins.
While they eat a little less than wigglers, they still have hearty appetites and can double their population in three months if given the right conditions.
The European Night Crawlers may also be found in some local worm farms, but because they are not as popular in the United States as the Red Wigglers, it may be easier to order them from an online retailer.
Tiger Worm or Eisenia Fetida
The Eisenia Fetida, more commonly known as the Tiger Worm or the Branding Worm is another favorite in the United Kingdom, though they are growing in popularity in the U.S.
They reach maturity and can begin producing at 6 weeks of age, making them excellent candidates for composting, as well.
Famous Worm Farms in the World
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm
Commercial worm farms breed and sell worms for vermicomposting or fish bait, and often sell worm castings as fertilizers. They may also sell pre-made composting worm bins to individuals. Most worm farms offer their products online.
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has been breeding and selling quality worms and castings for over 40 years. One product that Uncle Jim’s offers is a Red Wigglers kit that includes 1,000 live composting worms, instructions on how to use the composters for beginners, and is guaranteed to be free of mites and insects.
Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm also sells European Night Crawlers. This one-pound pack includes 600 live worms that can compost larger foods that are less decomposed. These night crawlers are mid-range dwellers that can till and aerate the soil, as well as produce large amounts of castings.
All things considered, worm farming is an eco-friendly, cost-effective way to make the most of the commodities nature has already given us. Worm composting is a method that has been employed for centuries: utilizing worms to create organic fertilizer and nutritious plant food.
The concept is simple enough for individual gardeners, and the method has been perfected to the point that it can produce a commercial business. All safe, all natural, and all thanks to these tiny champions of the dirt – the worm.
All in all, worm composting and having a worm farm is one of the best things you can do for your garden, the plants, and the general well being of your yard. We have included this in the Top 5 Things to do in your Garden this Fall article, among other must do actions!
Can I Put Compost Worms in My Garden?
Adding composting worms directly to your garden is not typically recommended. While compost worms can technically survive in a garden, they are not soil worms and may not stay in the area. However, it’s worth noting that compost worms can live in a garden if certain conditions are met: a moist environment, a thick layer of organic mulch, and creating microhabitats.
Where to Buy Worms for Composting?
You can buy composting worms from local garden centers, online retailers specializing in vermicomposting, worm farms or vermicomposting suppliers, or through local classifieds or community groups. Ensure you choose a reputable source that provides healthy worms for your composting needs.
What Kind of Worms Are Used in Worm Farm Composting?
Nightcrawlers (European and African species) are versatile worms suitable for various types of vermicomposting, whether indoors or outdoors. They can thrive in worm bins, outdoor composting systems, and windows, making them a flexible choice for composting enthusiasts.
How Long Does it Take for the Worms to Compost the Waste?
The time required for the worms to compost the waste varies depending on factors such as the type and quantity of waste, temperature, moisture levels, and the number of worms. Generally, it can take a few months to several months for the composting process to complete.
Can I Have a Worm Farm Indoors?
Yes, you can have a worm farm indoors, provided you have a suitable container, proper ventilation, and manage any potential odor or moisture issues. Indoor worm farms are a convenient option, especially for those with limited outdoor space.