Worm Composting – The Canadian Vermiculture Experience

For millions of years, worms have been hard at work breaking down organic materials and returning nutrients to the soil. They are nature’s natural organic material, food scraps and organic waste recycling experts.

Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle. Composting with worms, otherwise known as vermicomposting, is a proverbial win-win situation. It gives you a convenient way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings. It saves space in the county landfill, which is good for the environment. It gives worms a happy home and all the free “eats” that they could want. For those that have gardens or even potted plants, home grown compost is a great way to feed and nurture plants.

Vermicomposting is being seen more and more as a way to help our environment and reduce organic waste. It is now being considered as a global movement and Canada is not left behind. The City of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, supplies residents with worm bins and even has a hot-line you can call to find where to buy worms.  While in the United States, the City of Oakland in California has a recycling program expressly for food waste. (It supplies the bin and you supply the organic garbage.) Spokane, Washington post’s information on how to get started composting with worms to encourage residents to try this environmentally friendly way of disposing of garbage. Anything you do to reduce organic waste from landfill is worth it!

So how do I get started?

Have a Worm Bin:

Setting up a worm bin is easy. All you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, and worms. To figure out how to set up a worm bin, first consider what worms need to live. If your bin provides what worms need, then it will be successful. Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Bedding made of newspaper strips or leaves will hold moisture and contain air spaces essential to worms.

You should use red worms or red wigglers in the worm bin, which can be ordered from a worm farm and mailed to you. The scientific name for the two commonly used red worms is Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus.

worms

Worm-bin-cross-section

Bins can be located anywhere from under the kitchen sink to outside or in your garage. One important consideration is temperature. Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 4 to 24˚C. Red worms generally prefer temperatures in the 12 to 25 degree range. If you live in an area that has harsh winters, like Calgary,  you’ll need to move your bin inside during the winter months or compost on a seasonal basis. Another consideration: worms are like people in that they do not like a lot of noise or vibrations. Keep them away from high traffic areas. Once you’ve got the worms and the containers you’re ready to set up your “compost shop.”

If you have the correct ratio of surface area to worms to food scraps, there is little to do, other than adding food, until about two and a half months have passed. By then, there should be little or no original bedding visible in the bin and the contents will be brown and earthy looking worm castings. The contents will have substantially decreased in bulk too.

It is important to separate the worms from the finished compost; otherwise the worms will begin to die. There are several ways to do this and you can discover which is best for you. The quickest way is to simply move the finished compost over to one side of the bin; place new bedding in the space created, and put food waste in the new bedding. The worms will gradually move over and the finished compost can be skimmed off as needed.

If you have the time or if you want to use all the compost, you can dump the entire contents of the bin onto a large plastic sheet and separate the worms manually. Most children love to help with this process and you can turn it into a fun lesson about worms for them. Watch out for the tiny, Lemon-shaped worm cocoons which contain between two and twenty baby worms! By separating the worms from the compost, you save more worms for your next bin. Mix a little of the finished compost in with the new bedding of the next bin, and store the rest in plastic bags for use as required.

How Many?

The correct ratio of worms to food waste should be: for one pound per day of natural food waste, use two pounds of worms (roughly 2000). If you are unable to get this many worms to start with, reduce the amount of food waste accordingly while the population steadily increases.

Feeding My Worms

You can compost food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds. It is advisable not to compost meats, dairy products, oily foods, and grains because of problems with smells, flies, and rodents. No glass, plastic or tin foil.

To avoid fly and smell problems, always bury the food waste by pulling aside some of the bedding, dumping the waste, and then cover it up with the bedding again. Bury successive loads in different locations in the bin.

Worms can live for about one year in the worm bin. If a worm dies in your bin, you probably will not notice it. Since the worm’s body is about 90% water, it will shrivel up and become part of the compost rather quickly. New worms are born and others die all the time.

Taking worms out of their natural environment and placing them in containers creates a human responsibility. They are living creatures with their own unique needs, so it is important to create and maintain a healthy habitat for them to do their work. If you supply the right ingredients and care, your worms will thrive and make compost for you.

Here is a link of a video of vermicomposting that will help you understand why vermiculture is such a great, natural way to compost, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dxMdHU-LUA

Happy composting!

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