A Beginners Guide to Worm Composting

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Getting started with worm composting can seem daunting at first but once you get the hang out it, it’s such a simple way to decrease your food waste. Don’t get overwhelmed by all the “compost rules” you hear. While there are some rules you must follow, once you learn them, worm composting will feel like second nature to you. 

The Complete Beginners Guide to Worm Composting

What is worm composting?

Worm composting, also known as vermiculture, is the process of using worms to recycle food waste and other organic material into soil. The finished product is called vermicompost, or worm compost. 

The worms recycle these nutrients by consuming the organic matter and then pooping out the finished compost! Sometimes my kids refer to vermicompost as “worm poop”. They aren’t wrong!

The finished vermicompost is nutrient rich and a wonderful soil amendment for growing healthy plants. Vermicompost is known to increase plant yield and growth as well as suppress pests and diseases. 

Benefits of worm composting

1. Vermiculture makes nutrient rich soil

The biggest benefit of all types of composting is making nutrient rich soil from something that is typically wasted. Composting, whether with worms or other methods, reduces waste and returns nutrients to our Earth.

2. Worms regulate their population

Worm composting is a fabulous way to get started with compost because once established, the worms do all the work! Worms are so easy because they regulate their population based on how much food they have. 

If you provide a lot of food waste they will multiply quickly. If you don’t feed them too much then they will reduce their population size. Vermiculture done right can be really easy and rewarding.

3. Worm composting can be done in small spaces

Our favorite benefit of worm composting over other compost methods is that it can be done in a relatively small space making composting attainable for people in apartments or with small yards.

Cons of worm composting

While worm composting can be easy and rewarding there are a few cons. Take these facts into consideration before setting up a worm bin.

1. Worms can’t process a ton of waste quickly

Even though worms are pretty great at regulating their population, it is possible to put too much food in a worm bin. One worm bin can only eat half of its body weight in one day. To put that in perspective, 1000 worms weigh about 1 pound! That means if you have 1000 worms in one bin you should only compost 8 ounces a day.

In order to compost more food, we have two vermicompost bins: a Subpod compost system and a worm factory

RELATED POST: Subpod Compost System Review

2. When not done correctly, worm bins can have pest and pathogen problems

Traditional compost heats up hot enough to kill pathogens, bugs, and weed seeds. Since worm bins need to stay cool enough to keep the worms alive, these pathogens and bugs can be an issue. 

However, if you make sure to only add fruits and vegetables this can decrease the possibility of pathogens. Covering your food scraps with brown material can help too! 

3. Harvesting finished product can be time consuming

Because the worms are in the finished product, it can be hard to harvest the compost. There are two methods we use:

  1. We love the worm towers that allow worms to process on top while dropping the finished vermicompost down to the bottom bins. 
  2. You can also expose piles of vermicompost to the sun so that the worms go to the bottom. You can simply scoop off the top that has no worms!

How to Pick the Right Worm bin

Now that you know the pros and cons of vermiculture, you need to figure out what kind of worm bin you want. There are so many vermiculture options! You can buy a ready made worm farm or you can make your own.

Interested in making your own worm bin? Head here to learn how to make your own worm bin out of 5 gallon buckets. 

Want to buy a worm bin instead? I’ve personally used this Worm Factory worm bin for the past 7 years with great results. It has held up well over the years and has always produced beautiful vermicompost. 

RELATED POST: The Best Worm Compost Bins on the Market

I’m also a big fan of the Subpod vermicompost bin. I’ve been using it for a few months now and really enjoy the fact that the bin is nestled into my garden bed. If you want to learn more about the Subpod, check out my review here

You can save 10% on a Subpod by using my code COMPOSTCULTURE10

Watch me Make a Worm Bin

Before writing articles for The Compost Culture, I owned Naples Compost. Here’s a video I made for the Naples Compost YouTube channel on how to make your own worm bin out of 5 gallon buckets. 

How to set up a worm bin

No matter what kind of worm bin you choose, you need to set it up correctly. Follow these simple steps for setting up a worm bin:

  1. Prepare the bedding– cover the bottom part of your bin with a layer of newsprint or old paper bags torn into strips. 
  2. Lightly moisten the bedding- use a spray bottle to moisten the bedding. 
  3. Fluff the bedding- you want the bedding to be fluffy, not soaking wet. Fluff it up with your hands and add some dry bedding if needed. 
  4. Add soil- sprinkle a layer of soil on top of the bedding to introduce beneficial microbes. Any soil will do, but if you can get some vermicompost from a friend, this will be a great help in establishing your bin.
  5. Add worms
  6. Bury food scraps under bedding- make sure to cover your food scraps with fresh newsprint or simply cover with the soil in the bin.

What kind of worms to buy for worm composting

The most common type of worm used for worm composting is the red wiggler. These are surface dwelling earthworms that are fantastic at recycling nutrients and thrive in a wide range of temperatures from 55 to 95 degrees.

But aren’t all earthworms good at composting? Actually, no! Some earthworms are better suited for garden beds because they aerate the soil and live deeper underground.

Where to buy composting worms:

There are several businesses that sell red wigglers online and you may even be able to find them at a local garden store. Our personal favorite place to buy red wigglers is through Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

We love Uncle Jim’s Worms because they always arrive healthy and alive!

What to put in your worm bin

A standard rule of thumb with composting is that if it was once alive, it can be composted. However, worms are a little picky. 

Here are some tips to help you figure out what to put in your worm bin:

  • Cut fruits, vegetables  and peels into small pieces- the smaller the better
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds and filters

What to avoid in your worm bin

You should always avoid the following when doing vermicompost:

  • Oil (includes veggies cooked in oil)
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Meat

What to limit:

  • Citrus
  • Processed foods

How to find the best place for your worm bin

Your bin should be in a place that gets sun and water, but not too much! 

A worm bin is happiest under an underhang, shady tree, or on a porch. Too much rain can drown the worms, while not enough moisture can dehydrate them. Adding some water during high heat or dry season can be helpful.

How to get started with vermiculture

How to troubleshoot common vermiculture problems

The most common problems with all compost is odor and bugs! Usually this can be troubleshooted by following these worm bin maintenance tips:

  • Always cover up/ bury your food scraps (extra bedding is helpful here).
  • Never add in oil, meat, or dairy.
  • Keep your worm bin between 59 and 86 degrees (but remember that your bin in cooler on the inside than it is outside. We live in the subtropics and find that warm temps in the 90’s are still fine for our worms). 
  • When in doubt add more bedding/ paper on top. This will keep the carbon to nitrogen ratio balanced. 

Learn more helpful compost tips!

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