Worm Food

Vermicomposting helps your garden grow



NATALIE ANDREWSON

You could toss banana peels or coffee grounds in the trash, but there’s a better option for keeping food waste out of the landfill: Feed it to worms. Vermicomposting, which uses earthworms to break down kitchen scraps into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, is simple and inexpensive. To help you get started, Rhonda Sherman, an extension solid-waste specialist at North Carolina State University, shares five steps for setting up a worm bin. 

Establish a bin. Choose a container that is 12 to 18 inches deep—a shallow plastic storage container with an air-tight lid works well, but be sure to drill small holes into the sides of the container for air circulation—and line the bottom with about 6 inches of bedding (strips of paper, chopped leaves, or coir are the best choices). Worms like a moist environment, so Sherman advises soaking bedding materials in water for at least ten minutes and squeezing out the excess water before putting the bedding in the bin.

Buy worms. Instead of digging up worms with a shovel, purchase them from a worm grower like Carolina Organic Depot in Concord. “There are thousands of different species of worms, and just seven are suitable for vermicomposting,” Sherman explains. Expect to spend $25 for one pound of red wigglers, the most common worms used in vermicomposting. When the worms arrive, place them on top of the bedding. Be gentle; worms are sensitive.

Choose the right location. Unlike compost piles that use heat to break down organic matter, vermicomposting relies on the worms to eat the organic matter and digest it into worm castings, or soil. In fact, the worms will die if it gets too hot or too cold; the internal temperature should range from 55 to 85 degrees. Sherman, who once stored a worm bin in the master bathroom, suggests keeping yours indoors to protect the temperature-sensitive worms.

“If you’re doing it right, it won’t be stinky at all,” she says. Outdoors, choose a shaded spot that is protected from the elements.

Placing an ice pack in the bin helps keep the worms cool in the summer; in the winter, wrap the bin with a blanket to insulate the worms from the cold.

Feed the worms. You can place foods like vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and moist bread in the worm bin. Place food scraps underneath the bedding and cover them; wait until all of the food has been eaten before adding more.

Never feed worms meat, dairy products, or greasy foods.

“You’ll attract pests and the bin will smell,” Sherman explains. It’s essential not to overfeed the worms: Under the right conditions, one pound of red wigglers can eat about a quarter of a pound of scraps per day.

Reap the rewards. Within three to six months, the worms will create enough castings to harvest. Start feeding the worms on one side of the bin and, as the wigglers migrate to the scraps, remove castings from the other half. Add fresh bedding and repeat on the other side. Use the soil amendment sparingly, mixing it into potting soil or working it into garden beds.

“It’s very potent,” says Sherman. “You only need about 10 percent [vermicompost] by volume to have a significant impact on your plants.” 

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