Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vermicompost What? Composting with worms at home: What to do.

Let me introduce you to my worm hotel. This where I do my vermicompost (composting with red wiggler worms). This is my second year at trying this. My first year as a worm caretaker was a disaster (click here to see what not to do with your worm farm)

My worm hotel is a 5 tray VermiHut – I do like it. I bought it online for about $90 – all well worth it if you are serious about composting your food and making a powerful organic fertilizer. It looks better than the home made attempts and it does not have the pitfalls that made my “homemade” hotel fail miserably.

How to start your worm farm?

You can follow the instructions that come on your worm hotel (they are lots of brands out there) or follow what I did. You will need a handful of red wiggler worms (get a friend to donate you a few from their farms or if you do not know anybody with worms, you can buy them online – they are not that expensive). I have found that a handful was enough for my family of 4 (they reproduce quite rapidly under the right conditions so no need to buy huge amounts of worms)

Prepare a nice bed for your worms. On the first tray of your hotel, put a little soil from your garden not too much and cover with some shredded wet newspapers about 4 inches high. They should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.

Put your worms (and whatever little earth/casting came with them) in the middle of the bed (burying them a little in the newspapers) and leave them there for a few days so they get use to their new house.

After a few days, you can start feeding them, a little bit at a time.

So what do they eat?

They eat your food waste, paper and cardboard and even hair! Here is a list of my worms favorite food: vegetable and fruit scraps, bread, hair from our brush, crushed egg shells (not the eggs), shredded newspaper, white used paper (like junk mail), cut toilet paper rolls, napkins. Please do not feed them meat, eggs and dairy.

How to feed them?

The first time, bury a little food underneath the newspaper bed. In a few days, you will see your worms congregated in that area, choose another corner and bury some more food there. Keep changing the area where you hide the food every time, and only feed them every few days until you know how much they are eating and they start reproducing. They eat about half their weight in food a day. i.e. a pound of worms will eat half a pound of food a day. Measure your food waste for a week, double that amount and that will tell you how many worms you should ideally have. Remember you do not need to start with that many worms, they will reproduce quickly and they will also self regulate their growth (based on space and amount of food available) so you will never have too many (and if you do – go fishing!!! They make great bait).

You will know when they are eating when you start seeing the castings, they look like compost, just a little black pieces of earth!

I keep a little container with a lid in my kitchen in where I put and collect my food scraps. Once a week I go to the basement and feed my worms. (The lid keeps fruit flies away)

Once you see that all the food in the tray has been converted to worm casting, it is time to add tray 2 (prepare it the same way as tray 1)

Keep the 2 trays for a while as the worms will finish with all the food in tray 1 and start on the food on tray 2. When tray 2 is full put tray 3 and harvest the castings from tray 1, and so on.

How to harvest your worm castings?

You can find different ways in the net, from dropping the whole content on a plastic sheet and manually taking the worms out to building little mountains of castings and wait until the cuddle up at the bottom, then taking the castings from the top.

The one I have found the easiest and less messy is to let the hotel do the work for you. Take the tray that is ready for harvesting and put it at the top of your hotel. Leave the lid off and turn on the lights – the worms will naturally and on their own go down to the tray below as they do not like the light. Leave it like that for about a day and the majority of the worms will go down. Scoop the castings into a container. Take any pieces of food scraps or bedding that may still be there and add back to your working tray. Also and most importantly, look for any worm eggs in the castings. Carefully put them back into your working tray. The eggs look like little brown bubbles, believe me you will know they are eggs when you see them!

What to do with your worm casting?

You can use it as compost. Put a little on plants when planting. Use as top dressing compost on existing plants, etc.

I hope you find vermicompost interesting – I really do love the little worms, they help us be better to planet earth as we are reducing our waste and reusing it to create life in our vegetables and plants!

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