Worm Composting

Nan's Nook : Archives : Substrate : Compost Recipes
Posted by: Fungusmaximus Aug 01 03, 10:29 PM GMT
General information

Worms can compost rubbish faster than any other type of composting method. Worms also are very efficient in digesting kitchen food wastes. Each day a worm eats half its weight in food. The care and feeding of worms take far less effort than maintaining an outdoor compost pile. Some of the benefits of keeping a worm bin include: recycling kitchen food waste, reducing waste disposal costs, producing soil amendments or fertiliser for house and garden plants, and having a ready supply of fishing worms.

A worm bin is a self-contained system. As with any system, several components are involved.

Red worms are the most satisfactory worms to use in a home vermicomposting (composting with worms) system. The species of red worm best suited for a worm bin is Eisenia foetida pronounced "I see nee a fet id a." Eisenia Foetida is known by several common names: red worm, brandling worm, red wriggler, manure worm, and fish worm among others. Starter worms of this species for a worm bin may be found in old compost piles (ones that no longer generate any heat) or from local bait suppliers.

Once the worm bin is constructed, make bedding for the worms with shredded and moistened newspaper or cardboard. Maintain the system by burying food wastes throughout the bin on a rotational basis. Every three to six months move the compost to one side of the bin and add new bedding to the empty half. The worms will soon move to the new bedding. Harvest the compost and add new bedding to the rest of the bin.

How You Do It

This system is composed of a box to contain the worms (see back for a description of how to build a worm bin); the worms themselves; a controlled environment; and regular maintenance procedures. Worm compost is made in a container filled with moistened bedding and red worms. Add food waste and with assistance from micro-organisms, the worms will convert bedding and food waste into compost. Worm composting can be done year-round, indoors in schools, offices and homes. It is a natural method for recycling nutrients in food waste without odour. The resulting compost is a good soil conditioner for houseplants, gardens and patio containers.

What You Need
1.; A container (made of wood or plastic)

2. Worms (500-2,000 red worms)

3. Bedding (shredded newspaper, corrugated cardboard and/or leaves)

4. Kitchen waste (fruit and vegetable waste)

1. The Container

Buy or build a container (see How to Make a Wormbin) or use an old dresser drawer, box or barrel. Wood containers are absorbent and good insulators for worms. Plastic containers do work but compost tends to get quite wet and may need more drainage. Raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks for air circulation. Place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid, which can be used as liquid plant fertiliser. Some newer containers replace drainage holes in the bottom with a venting system higher in the container.

Worms like a moist, dark environment. Their bodies are 75 to 90 per cent water and worms' body surfaces must be moist for them to breathe. Cover the bin to conserve moisture and provide darkness. Indoors, place a sheet of dark plastic or burlap sacking on top of the bedding. Outdoors, use a solid lid to keep out unwanted scavengers and rain.

Worm bins can be located in a cellar, shed, garage or balcony. They need to be kept out of the hot sun, heavy rain and cold. When temperatures drop below 4 degrees C, bins should be kept in a frost-free place, heated or well insulated. The container can be heated with an electric heating cable placed in the bottom third of the container. To insulate, surround the container with (5 - 7.5cm.) rigid polystyrene, which can be bought from a builder's merchant.

2. The Worms

Red worms are best suited to worm composting. They are often found in aged manure, compost heaps, and piles of leaves. They are also known as red wriggler, brandling and manure worms. Their official names are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Red worms are best suited for composting because they thrive on organic material, such as food waste. Earthworms, on the other hand, are better suited to life in the soil and shouldn't be used in a worm bin.

You can get your worms from an existing compost bin, purchase them or find a horse stable or farmer with an aged manure pile.

Red worms mature sexually in 60-90 days and can then produce cocoons, which take 21 days to hatch baby worms. Once they start breeding they can deposit two to three cocoons per week with two baby worms in each cocoon. The limits on their reproduction include availability of food and room to move and breed. So worm populations don't usually exceed the size of the container.

3. The Bedding

Provide damp bedding. Suitable bedding material includes shredded newspaper and cardboard, shredded fall leaves, chopped-up straw and other dead plants, seaweed, sawdust, dried grass clippings, aged manure and peat moss. Peat moss is quite acidic and should be well soaked and combined with other bedding material. Vary the bedding in the bin to provide more nutrients for the worms and to create richer compost. Two handfuls of sand or soil will provide the necessary grit for worms' digestion of food.

Fill the bin with a mixture of damp bedding so the overall moisture level is like a "wrung-out sponge." Lift the bedding gently to create air spaces. This maintains aerobic activity, helps control odours and gives the worms freer movement.

4. The Food Waste

Your worms will eat any soft organic food scraps such as vegetable waste generated during food preparation, potato peelings, vegetable peelings, grapefruit and orange rinds, cantaloupe and watermelon rinds, outer leaves of cabbage and lettuce. Plate scrapings, spoiled food from the refrigerator, coffee grounds, tealeaves or eggshells are wastes that you may want to feed your worms.

To avoid potential rodent problems do not add cooked meats; decaying meat can produce offensive odours, dairy products, oily foods or grains.

Needless to say such things as glass, plastic, tin foil, wire ties, bottle caps, rubber bands and heavy shiny type paper should not be put in the wormbin.

For the first couple of weeks, collect food wastes in a container and weigh it. Do this for two weeks to get an estimate of average food waste. Your bin should provide one square foot of surface area for every pound of food waste per week. And you will need two pounds of worms for every pound of food waste per day. Once the worm colony has settled down and established itself, the waste can be put directly in the wormery.

Harvesting Your Compost
After six weeks, the bedding will be noticeably darker with worm castings. After two and a half months have passed, there will still be some of the original bedding visible in the bin plus brown and earthy-looking worm castings. Although food waste is being added regularly, the bedding volume will gradually decrease. As more bedding is converted into castings the worms will begin to suffer. It is time to decide whether you want to do "some fuss" or "more fuss" worm composting.

"Some Fuss" Harvesting

Some fuss worm composting involves moving the finished compost over to one side of the bin, placing new bedding in the space created, and placing food waste in the new bedding. The worms will gradually move over to the fresh bedding and food waste, and the finished compost can be harvested. Fill the space created with new damp bedding.

"More Fuss" Maintenance

If you want to use all of the compost at once, dump the bin's entire contents onto a large plastic sheet and make piles of material. Use sunshine or a hundred watt light bulb to drive the worms to the bottom of the piles. Worms don't like bright light because the single cells on the epidermis (skin) react to light. Scoop off the tops of each pile until all you have left is the worms. Most children love to help! Watch out for the tiny, lemon-shaped worm cocoons that contain the baby worms. Mix a little of the finished compost in with the new bedding of the next bin.

Show a Little Respect
We must act responsibly if we take worms out of their natural environment and place them in containers. 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.

Common Problems
Unpleasant Odours
Unpleasant odours may waft from your bin when it is overloaded with food waste. If this occurs, gently stir up the contents to allow more air in. Stop adding food waste until the worms and micro-organisms have broken down what food is already in the bin. Check the drainage holes to make sure they are not blocked and drill more holes if needed. If the moisture level seems right, the bedding may be too acidic from citrus peels and other acidic foods. Adjust by cutting down on acidic wastes.

Fruit Flies

Fruit flies aren't harmful, but they are a nuisance, and a very common problem with worm bins. Discourage fruit flies by always burying the food wastes and not overloading the bin. Keep a plastic sheet; piece of old carpet or a lid on the compost's surface in the bin. Unfortunately there is no easy answer to the fruit fly problem but adding a spider or two helps reduce fruit flies. If flies persist, move the bin to a location where flies will not be bothersome.

Posted by: WebMycelium Aug 02 03, 06:42 PM GMT
good info bro wink.gif

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a worm farm. The owner went through the whole process with me but cut me such a sweet deal on large amounts of castings that it isnt worth the effort for me to put one together but I encourage others to give it a whirl smile.gif

Posted by: 01010 Jul 24 03, 11:17 PM GMT
Taken from http://www.deq.state.la.us/assistance/recycling/school/wormfarm.htm.


Want to make a worm farm?
Worm farming is a simple way of turning vegetable and fruit scraps into a great potting soil or soil amendment for your garden or house plants. It can be done year round, by apartment dwellers and home owners. Worm farming is particularly useful for people who would like to compost their food scraps but do not have space for a backyard compost bin.

Here is what you need to get started:
Container of wood or plastic. We use a sturdy plastic container that is about 7 inches deep, 9 inches wide and 14 inches long. The measurements are not real critical. This just happens to be an easy size for us to keep around the office and carry to presentations. If you are going to keep your worm farm inside, you will want it to be water tight. The worms are going to be happier when kept in the dark. (Kind of like some folks around here.) If your container is clear, wrap it with newsprint or place it in a cabinet or a opaque container to seal out the light. Make sure that the place you find to store the bin is away from vibrations. Worms will try to pack their bags and move to better digs if they are too near a source of vibration.
Worms. We really suggest that you use red worms. They are also called red wrigglers or manure worms. Do not use earthworms or night crawlers. They just are not cut out to do this job.

Bedding material. Start with some shredded newspaper, moistened, not wet. Use the black and white pages. The classified ads are good, as are the stock market reports. Don't use the colored ad pages, it just makes the worms want to go shopping and you want them to stay in your box and convert the vegetable scraps. Add a couple of handfuls of garden soil, not potting soil, and a couple of crushed egg shells. Keep the bedding damp but not sopping. The moisture helps them to breathe, but too much water will drown them.

Food. You can feed your worms fruit and vegetable scraps and starchy scraps, like bread, oatmeal, and pasta. You can even feed them grits if they are southern worms, like ours. Do not feed them too much acidic foods, like citric fruits, coffee ground and tea bags. They do best with a pH between 7 & 8. You can use egg shells to balance the effects of coffee grounds, orange and lemon peels. Make sure that the eggshells are cooked before adding them to the worm farm. If they are not from boiled eggs, you can cook them by putting them in a cup of water in the microwave. Never feed your worms meat, poultry, dairy products, or salty food , like potato chips. These will create odors and attract insects. Your worms will eat about half their body weight each day. Take this into consideration when you are deciding how much food to add to the bin.

Worms require oxygen so keep the lid partially open to allow air to circulate. You should also turn the bedding with a trowel periodically to improve air circulation in the farm.

Worms will function very well at room temperature. Keep the farm temperature between +40 degrees F and +85 degrees F. Remember that heat will build up quickly in the farm if it is left in the sunlight.

Red worms reproduce often. Small, oval shaped cocoons in the bedding indicate that nature is taking its course. Cocoons may contain several baby worms and will take several weeks to hatch. Watch for tiny white worms. Poultry egg shells added to the bedding will provide calcium the worms need to reproduce. Don't worry about red worms taking over the estate, their population is limited by the size of their environment.

Farming worms:
Place the damp shredded newspaper with the garden soil and crushed egg shell in the container. Don't pack it down. Add the worms to their new home. If you leave the lid off and the light on, it will encourage the worms to investigate the new digs. Don't forget to add some worm food before you move the bin into the dark. You know you can get real hungry after the lights go out. Don't worry if hard foods don't disappear right away. They will have to soften through natural decay before the worms can eat them.
Do not over feed the worms. Overfeeding can lead to odor problems. As your worm population increases, you can add more food per day. Burying the food in the damp newspaper will keep mold from growing in the worm farm.

If your bedding is too wet, add some dry bedding, leave the cover off for a few days, or carefully drain the water off. If it is too dry, add some cool water and leave the farm loosely covered.

Soon you will notice an increase in the worm castings in your worm farm. This makes a great natural fertilizer. And all it cost you was a little time and some stuff that you were going to toss in the garbage.

When you see that bedding is no longer identifiable, you will want to harvest. Worms cannot survive in their own waste. Now if you are raising worms, you harvest the worms. We harvest the castings. The choice is yours.

Some folks sort the worms out of the castings and put the worms in fresh bedding. We have other things to do with our time and prefer a split harvest method. It helps if you have trained your worms ahead of time for this harvest method. To train your worms, you start feeding them at only one end of the bin. Do this for about a week. (Worms learn pretty fast.) Now take the bedding/castings out of the end of the farm where you were not feeding them and add it to your plants or garden. You will be removing about half to two thirds of the bedding/castings in this step. You will lose some worms, but those were the ones that were not very smart. Remember you trained the others. Place the remaining bedding/castings in a container while you scrub the bin and fix new bedding. Prepare this bedding the same way you did the first time, damp newspaper, crushed egg shells, and a handful of dirt. Now add the worms you trained, castings and all onto the fresh bedding. Feed and you are back in business. I have found that the worms will move out of the old bedding in a couple of days. If you want a cleaner farm, you can remove the old bedding in a few days.

We really hope you enjoy your worm farm and we would love to hear from you at [email protected].

Remember you can learn more about composting, raising worms, and vermiculture by going to your local library.


Sounds like a sound method based on what I've heard. By searching http://froogle.google.com/froogle?q=redworms I found several places that had them for decent prices. Just think, you buy one pound of redworms for ~$20, feed them 1/2 lb. food waste per day for however long, in the process creating, er, well, I have no idea how much really but if you've priced organic worm castings lately I bet it's a lot damned more than $20 worth! biggrin.gif

Posted by: 01010 Jul 24 03, 11:28 PM GMT
Already found some more good stuff over at Overgrow:

Contributed by: AngelOfDeath
Submitted: 05-02-2003

This FAQ details how to produce home-made worm castings.

It is a lengthy process and takes anywhere from 6 months up to 2 years, depending on comparison to how much decomposed matter vs number of worms you have. This method takes a little time, but then again, a little time and effort will certainly beat the store prices!!!

Why are Worm castings a beneficial soil additive?

- Introduce micro organisms to the soil, increasing disease resistance.
- Hold water and give nutrients in a consistent natural way.
- Great fertilizer that can be used a lot but wont burn the plant
- 10% worm casting in soil mix improves germination rates, plant growth, and give them a healthy appearance.
- Castings also contain plant growth hormones

Some facts on worms:

- Worms eat twice their weight in matter daily
- Worms defecate (crap) twice their weight daily
- Worm populations double every 4 months or so
- Worms will eat decomposing, rotting matter, anything from grass clippings, to manure, to decaying lettuce. This process is called Vermicomposting
- Worms live within the top 6 " (inches) of the soil. Worms work from the bottom to the top

Worm improve soil airation due to their tunneling action; this keeps the soil nice and loose. The worms will stick around so long as there is enough organic matter for them to digest, especially if you add blood and bone meal, or other various organic fertilizers. If the worms are crawling out of your medium, then its time to add organic fert or transplant into a more organic decomposing medium.

Which worm species to use:

The best worms to use for homemade worm castings are Red Wrigglers, a common worm that can be almost found anywhere. Night Crawlers can also be used - they are much larger and also eat a lot more than the wrigglers. You can find Night Crawlers easily around your yard.

What Compost to use:

Note: Raw scraps are indigestible, and must be broken down first by bacteria. Worms are better able to digest and process organic scraps that have been pre-decomposed.

1. Cow manure. Cows are poor digesters, they only digest about 15% of what they eat, leaving another 85% of the stuff an organic sludge; worms absolutely love cow manure! It is better to have the manure pre-decomposted prior to the vermicomposting. I consider cow manure an essential ingredient.

2. Any vegetable/fruit scraps. Recycle your food waste! Take your scraps, and place them in a blender, mix it around for a couple seconds. Mixing makes it easier and faster for the scraps to decompose and makes it easier to mix in with other ingredients for a blend.

3. Dry leaves, grass clippings, rotting wood. These ingredients take a bit longer to decompose, but they seem to be richer in the end. Anything you rake up for your lawn is great.

Note: meat scraps and sauces tend to make things a little too rancid and stinky, as well as attract flies and pests. Keep to vegetable scraps.

Materials and directions:

1. A standard Rubbermaid tub (15 gal)
2. 50-150 worms, the more the better.
3. Your decomposing matter
4. Water spray bottle

Directions for setup:

Take your pre-decomposed matter and fill up your tub with it (Up to 6 inches from the top of the tub, so the worms cant escape) . Even it out gently.
Now take your worms, and place around the EDGES of the tub - the worms will dig down and eventually find their way into the �soil�.


Spray water on the surface of the scraps to keep everything moist (including the worms). Usually i do this about twice a day. There is no turning, or sifting required, as the worms will do all the work.

Harvesting the Worm Castings:

The top layer of the matter should turn a dark brown when your worm castings are finished. This new soil looks like brown chunky sand. It looks like dirt, and it smells like dirt. But its genuine, fresh worm castings!

Bit more from [URL=http://www.ipcc.ie/wormbin.html]:

Please feed the worms
Worms are a wonder of the soil. They eat mineral and organic matter which they grind up in their gut, producing their own weight in worm casts everyday which are highly fertile, containing nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The casts are shaped in a walnut like coil and are held together by gums and lime. They contain calcium which encourages bacteria that secrete vitamin B12, a natural chemical that has been shown to improve crop yield. Worms are also wonderful for general soil structure as they dig channels through the soil that encourages deep rooting, and increases soil aeration and drainage in the ground.

To encourage worms in your garden:

aim for a soil pH of 6.5
add plenty of organic matter in spring and autumn
keep them warm in winter with a mulch
keep cultivation to a minimum in spring and autumn when worms are active in the top 15cm of the soil

Making a worm bin
Worm bins are an ideal way to compost organic kitchen and garden waste in a small area. What you will need: one large bin with a lid, a drill, some gravel, a round piece of heavy duty plastic perforated with holes and cut to fit into the bottom of the bin, some leaf mould or strawy manure, your organic kitchen waste, and most important of all brandling worms which can usually be obtained from the garden or a fishing shop.

Making the worm bin

Take a large bin and drill holes near the bottom of it to allow any excess water to escape.
Put some gravel in the bottom.
Place the perforated plastic on top of the gravel.
Put in a layer of leaf mould or strawy manure as a bedding and add the worms.
Now your worm bin is ready to take your kitchen waste.

Top Tips
Add a little chopped waste everyday, avoiding meat or orange peel (citrus fruits), perennial weed roots and weed seeds, and grass mowings. Feed them little and often.
When first feeding the worms put the food in one corner of the bin, so they have somewhere to move if they do not like the food.
Be careful how much food you add: too much may heat up the bin and drive the worms away, leaving the food to putrify and the bin will begin to smell which a well run bin does not.
Cover the waste with wet newspaper to prevent any smell and keep in moisture
Put a lid on the bin to keep the flies out.
Water the surface if the mixture gets dry.
Worms like to be kept warm so keep the bin away from the cold winds and frosts, ideally situating the bin in a sheltered spot that is sunny for only part of the day, to much sun could overheat the bin.
When the bin is full leave it until all the kitchen waste has been eaten and turned into brown crumbly worm compost which should take 3 to 4 months. Then you can dig out your compost and put it in a bag to mature further or use it immediately in the garden. Collect any worms while you empty the bin and put them back in to restart the cycle. This compost can be used as potting compost or put directly onto the soil to add fertility.


"Ma, I wanna be a worm farmer."


hee hee smile.gif

Posted by: Nanook Jul 25 03, 04:42 AM GMT
Good Info wink.gif

Posted by: CharlieBrown Jul 25 03, 11:41 AM GMT
If you're close to the east coast, check these guys out for worms. They're fast and reliable:

Pound of worms shipped for $25.50 or so. I've used them, very very good folks.

Shroom Glossary