Getting started with vermicomposting
Congratulations! You’ve decided to start a vermicomposting system! Now what? Follow these steps to get your bin started:
Prepare your bin
Preparing your bin ahead of time assures that the composting process is already taking place and makes the worms feel at home. Make sure your bin is ready 3-10 days before your worms arrive. Choose a bin that is dark. Worms don’t like the light so keeping your bin opaque ensure they will be happy.
Keep it simple. There are several varieties of worm bins available for purchase. If you are just starting out, just get a bin large enough to hold 1-2lbs of worms which should be about 1-2sq ft or about 15”x19” and about 6-10” deep.
Air flow: some people like to drill holes in the bottom, sides, and top of the bin. But you don’t have to. One of the easiest ways to make sure there is air flow is to cut a large rectangle out of the top of the lid leaving 3-4 inch rim around the lid. This ensures the worms won’t escape and makes it easy to add food scraps. As long as you aren’t over watering, you don’t have to drill holes in the bottom. If you want to collect “worm compost tea” you can add another bin underneath after drilling holes to collect the extra fluid.
Add brown matter. The brown matter is what provides carbon to the bin. This is the bedding for the worms and also contributes to their diet. Get equal parts shredded paper, ripped up cardboard, and broken up brown leaves (avoid fresh leaves). Soak this in water for 5 minutes - 48 hours (to help reduce chlorine) and then wring it out. The bedding should be damp but not dripping. This should fill up at least 4 inches of the bottom of the bin. Let this sit there for several days. Use a spray bottle to keep it damp while you wait for your worms to come.
Order your worms
Which worms should I get? We recommend using the variety called the “red wiggler”. They seem the be the most durable and efficient at eating food scraps.
How many worms should I order? Worms reproduce. So even if you need about a pound of worms per person, start with ½-1 lb of worms to make sure you feel comfortable with their needs. They will double their population in 3-4 months. So in one year, 1/2lb of worms will become about 4lbs.
When should I order my worms? Worms are shipped live so you want to order from someplace close by or guaranteed to be delivered alive within 1-2 days. Make sure you use a reputable supplier. We recommend Iowa Worm Composting. He is quick and reliable and VERY knowledgeable.
What do I do when they arrive? When the worms arrive, add them to the top of the bedding and place them in a lit area for 2-3 days. Remember, worms don’t like the light so having the lights on encouraged them to dig down into the bedding to make themselves at home. Don’t add any food scraps yet! Give them some time to explore their new home. After a couple of days, they will be ready!
What should I feed my worms?
Fruit and vegetable scraps such as apple, melon, avocado, banana, lettuce, etc (no citrus, onions, potatoes, or spicy peppers), egg shells, coffee grounds, teabags, cornmeal, very small amounts of grains like bread, unsweetened cereal, pasta occasionally. You can also add some odd things like dryer lint, paper towels (not used with chemicals), floor sweepings (dust bunnies, pet hair, dirt), some saw dust, aged horse manure (check to make sure the horse isn’t on any medication).
Foods to avoid
Citrus/citrus peels (oranges, lemons, limes) , onion and garlic scraps, potatoes/potato peels, greasy foods, meats or bones, fatty foods of any kind, dairy foods, cooked and seasoned foods, dog or cat poop.
How to feed the worms
It’s so exciting to have a composting system right in your home. But! Start slow. You want to get to know your worms. Once they are at full speed you can expect them to go through half of their body weight in food scraps each day.
First, you need to introduce scraps little by little. Start with just a small handful of food scraps by lifting up some bedding in one part of the bin and placing the scraps there.
Cover them up again and then spray with water to make sure there is enough moisture. Remember damp, but not dripping.
Check on them the next day to see how much they’ve eaten. Only add more once those scraps are pretty much gone. Feeding more than what they can eat will make your bin start to stink. Your bin should not stink! :) *tip- worms can’t bite so running the scraps through a blender can help break it down for them quickly. Not necessary but it can help. Or you can put them in a container in your fridge or freezer for a bit to help them to start to break down a little first.
Maintain the worm bin
Keep it moist but not dripping wet- use a spray bottle daily after you add your scraps
Keep the bin between 60-80 degrees F.
Keep the bin in a quiet, dark place - under the kitchen sink, in a closet, in the laundry room, etc.
Going on vacation? Less than 2 weeks, just give them a bigger helping of food and they should be fine. More than 2 weeks- ask someone to check and feed them every 2 weeks or see if someone will take them to their house for the time you will be away.
Worms may try to escape the bin if: they have too much water, too much food, not enough air, or too hot.
Make sure they have enough bedding, proper moisture, feed them only when they’ve pretty much finished their last meal, split your bin every year or so.
Now you are on your way to reducing food waste and creating "black gold", something extra valuable for the earth. Email us if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org!