Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vermiculture and Vermicompost 101

Most people are familiar with the concept of composting, where you basically throw all your vegetable waste, grass clippings, paper products and whatnot into a compost bin and let it all slowly decompose back into fertile soil. Composting is hugely important in a sustainable garden.

But there's another method of composting that is starting to catch on: vermiculture, or vermicomposting. Essentially, it's keeping pet worms. The worms eat the organic matter and digest it much more quickly than microorganisms alone will, and turn it into extremely fertile soil. Keeping worms can be a little on the gross side, but it's so beneficial and so easy to do.

When I was first researching this concept, I kept seeing products for sale like the "Wormtopia" kit, for $175 (!!) which I personally think overcomplicates the matter. I've never used one, so I could be wrong, but at that price, I decided that a big plastic $10 bin would suffice instead.

I cut a few holes in it for ventilation (visible under the lip of the lid), and filled it about halfway with semi-damp newspapers, dead leaves from the yard, and some yard dirt (to include some microorganisms). The trick is to make sure everything is slightly moist. You don't want to drown the little guys, but you don't want to dehydrate them either. Worms also seem to prefer a temperature range from about 60-70°ish F, so you probably want to keep them inside, in a dark basement corner or garage where it won't get too cold. Under the sink or in a closet would work too.

I put my bin in the basement.

There is one type of worm which seems to be most recommended for vermiculturing, since they eat a lot, proliferate quickly, and don't get too stressed out when you poke around in their world. They're called Red Worms, and they're NOT the kind you can dig up in your backyard. Now, these worms can cost upwards of $50 a pound, so maybe experimentation with normal worms might be worth a shot. Let me know if you try! I lucked out and my neighbors gave me some of theirs for free. Take that, capitalism.

So now I've got a plastic bin with some various types of biodegradable bedding, and a bunch of free fancy worms wiggling around.  Time to feed them and put them to work! Over the course of a week, I just collect all my plant-based kitchen waste into a small bin. I include bread, pasta, veggie waste, spoiled fruits, coffee grounds, whatever. Anything big should be cut up into little chunks first to make more surface area for little worm mouths. And you probably shouldn't put any meat or dairy products in there, unless you want your bin to be stank.

Once a week, I take my scraps bin downstairs, dig a little hole in the corner of the bin, and dump everything in there. Then I cover the food back up with the bedding or soil, close the bin, and walk away.

This is what went in my bin today. I'll take another photo in a week. Supposedly, you can harvest the dirt once every three to six months, depending on your particular setup. You're basically looking for rich, dark soil that smells like fresh dirt. You might also find some brown liquid at the bottom of the bin, which I've heard referred to as "worm tea" and which is also a fantastic liquid fertilizer for the garden or houseplants.

Totally renewable and completely organic. And a lot easier than trying to turn a giant pile of compost.


  1. Very nice and interesting post you have here. Just wanted to stop by and say that. Also I was wondering if you could give me a little feedback on my design/template. If there's anything I need to change, keep, or try to alter somehow. I would greatly appreciate the feedback, thanks.

  2. Truly enjoyed your article I have been tossing around the idea of a compost. My Grandmother always had one in her garden.
    I hope you are enjoying Indiana born and raised in central Indiana. It's a nice place to live

  3. I'm so jealous of your worms! I've wanted to do vermiculture forEVER, but my inherent laziness and ever-changing (frequently worm-unfriendly) living situations have prevented me. I'm so stoked that you're doing it.

    The resources I used (Worms Eat My Garbage, mostly) stress the importance of drainage in your bin, along with ventilation - my plan was always to get two bins, and put holes in the bottom. That way you get compost and worm 'tea'.