By Richard Godke
Fall is a great time to start a simple family worm farm (vermicomposting) under your kitchen sink or cabinet. Trust me this will not stink up the house. Watch nature take food waste and turn it in to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. Children love to see the transformation of food scraps to soil. Beginner gardeners can be very successful raising worms by understanding some basic worm facts dealing with; housing, bedding, and feeding. This natural recycling process depends on a balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. Check out this video if you want to learn the truly scientific worm facts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFGQR5ERaPQ. It is so easy to take kitchen scraps and turn it into organic fertilizers by following my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.
1. Worm Facts – Red Wrigglers (Eisenia fetida/Andrei) perform well in a confined space.
Red Wrigglers love to spend their time close to the surface and only burrow down 12 inches. They are organic surface feeders that quickly reproduce and convert organic waste into nutrient rich organic soil. They tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, eat up to 1 ½ times their own body weight a day and produce worm castings (poop) as much as 75% of their own body weight. You can purchase Red Wrigglers on the web or you may be able to purchase from a bait shop. Beginners should always start with at least 100 Red Wriggler worms.
2. Worm Facts – Worms need housing that is dark, quiet, and has a consistent temperature.
A non-opaque Rubbermaid® tub or tote makes a great home for your worm farm. This video shows you how to build a worm farm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX_JDkiwhOc&feature=youtu.be A comfortable worm eats faster and converts more waste into worm castings (poop). Keep the box out of the direct sun. Sunlight could kill the worms since they love darkness. Worms like the same temperature as humans who are between 59-86° F or (15-30 °C) and 77° F (25° C) is ideal. Worms like it quiet. They do not like vibration and being moved around. Beginners should always keep the worm farm in a dark, quiet location, with a consistent temperature around 77° F (25° C).
3. Worm Facts – Worms need bedding high in carbon.
Corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper is very high in carbon. You can never have too much high carbon bedding. The worms will eventually eat the bedding because it is an organic carbon. High carbon bedding causes many beginners startup problems. I recommend laying a sheet of corrugated cardboard in the bottom of the tub to help absorb any execs water. Worms love to burrow in the tunnels. Red worms multiply quickly in this cardboard. Do not use bleached office paper, garden soil, potting soil, fresh green grass or paper board. Paper board is the single layer cardboard with a slick coating. Beginners should always use plenty of corrugated cardboard and shredded fluffed up newspaper as the worm farm bedding.
4. Worm Facts – Worms like to eat organic matter including fruits and vegetables.
Worms love to eat all kinds of organic matter: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags and garden waste. Before feeding: age, chop, cook, or freeze the worm feed to help start the structural breakdown of the materials. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, and protozoans help to break down the worm feed. This speeds up the composting process. The amount you feed depends on how much the worms are eating. Inoculating the worm farm with decomposed worm castings from another farm will help jump start your worm farm. It is recommended that you feed the system with finely crushed egg shells to enhance the worm’s digestive system. Beginners should use only food items the worms like to eat.
5. Worm Facts – Worms do not like certain foods.
Worms do not like onions, peppers, citrus fruits, bones, oils, meat, dairy products, grease, fresh lawn grass, paper board, animal manures and urine, and foods high in protein, spices, and salt. Beginners should avoid using these items that worms do not like to eat.
6. Worm Facts – Worms easily die from too much ammonia gas.
Ammonia gas is produced in a worm farm when the carbon to nitrogen ratio is above 20:1. Bedding items that are high in carbon that I have not mentioned earlier include: paper egg cartons, peat moss, coco coir, toilet paper rolls, shredded brown paper, sawdust, wood chips, shavings, leaf mold, rotten straw or hay, coarse compost, and well-aged manure. The nitrogen source comes mainly from what the worms are fed in addition to the ideal food items already mentioned that should be used sparingly and should only be used by experienced worm farmers: fresh grass clippings, and large animal manures. Worms will survive better with excessive bedding rather than too much high nitrogen feed. Off-gassing of ammonia is a quick worm killer. Beginners should remember not to introduce to much nitrogen to your worm farm.
7. Worm Facts – Worms are sensitive to chemicals.
Worms are covered in slim that make it easy for deadly chemicals to enter their body. Introducing feed or bedding that has been exposed to chemical pesticide or disinfectants is a mistake some new worm farmers make. If you use chemicals in the garden or on your lawn make sure you do not introduce these chemical to your worms. Household cleaners should be used with caution around your worm farm. If you encounter insects do not spray with a bug killer. Using organic mechanical controls are much safer. Feed management, vinegar traps, and vacuum sweeper management can eliminated the problem over a period of time. Beginners should not use chemical around the worm farm.
8. Worm Facts – Worms perform best in bedding with a 60-90% moisture level.
Worms are made up of mostly water and they need water to facilitate gas exchange (breathing). Simply take a handful of bedding and give it a squeeze it to determine the moisture level. If water drips out it is too wet. Another way to describe the moisture level of the bedding, “it should feel like a well rung out sponge”. Too much water cuts down on the amount of airspace in the bedding. This results in anaerobic fermentation and creates ammonia gas and other chemical imbalances. Beginners should keep the worm farm moisture level between 60-90%.
9. Worm Facts – Worm need good ventilation.
Worms are tolerant of low oxygen levels. It still is important to provide plenty of ventilation for your worm farm. A rotten or sour smell indicates that more carbon based bedding and aeration is needed. Placing small holes on the top and high in the sides of the container will provide oxygen and ventilation venting away unwanted gasses like ammonia. Make sure the holes are small, about 1/8 inch, to limit light and so the worms do not sneak out. Some worm farmers like to use fabric covers over the worms. This allows for more air and moisture circulation but still keeps it dark. It is always a balancing act trying to keep the ideal moisture and adequate ventilation levels. Beginning gardeners should keep the worm farm well ventilated to prevent gas build up.
10. Worm Facts – Worm production must be thought of as a total ecosystem.
The worm farm concept is very simple. By understanding my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started” you can solve most worm farming problems. If you do encounter additional problems you can revisit the natural ecosystem of water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and living organisms. Beginners should keep the ecosystem balanced while solving the problem.
Worm composting is a perfect project for beginning vegetable gardeners. Know your worm facts and use the nature ecosystem to change food waste to an ecofriendly, economic, organic fertilizer for your garden. You can easily get started with very little investment by understanding how to deal with the main worm management categories of: worms, housing, bedding, and feeding. The natural ecosystem process makes a great educational study of the balance of: water, carbon-nitrogen ratio, air, and live organisms. To learn more about vermicomposting check out this great website http://www.redwormcomposting.com/. Bring your garden inside this fall. Start out easy if you follow my “10 Most Important Worm Facts to Get You Started”.