Vermicomposting 101

Reduce household waste and create plant food with composting worms. Learn how with basic information about worm composting for home gardeners.
Worms for Composting

Worms for Composting

Worms are an easy form of compost. Be sure to use a wooden box with holes and a lid for a worm compost bin. Add a layer of moist, shredded newspaper and soil for their bedding, and then feed them once a week with vegetable peelings wrapped in newspaper or paper towels. Every two or three months, the rich, fine compost will be ready to use.

Photo by: DK - Ready Set Grow! © 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Ready Set Grow! , 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to convert kitchen and garden waste into a rich soil amendment. With the help of some composting worms, you can transform your vegetable waste into fantastic food for your plants. Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste sent to a landfill (as a country, we in the USA send over 97% of our food waste to the landfill), and the end product can offset or eliminate the amount of potting soil you buy for your garden. 

Worm Composting vs. Traditional Composting 

Worm composting is like traditional composting in that you need the same four ingredients: green materials that are high in nitrogen (food scraps and green plant material), brown materials that are high in carbon (newspaper, shredded paper, fall leaves, straw), water and air. However, these two processes do differ in a few key ways.  

First, the compost worms actually eat the contents of the bin, creating a more finely grained finished product. Smaller particles make vermicompost more suitable for starting small seeds than traditional compost, which tends to be more coarse and chunky.  

Second, there’s no need to “turn” (add air) the compost yourself – the worms do that for you when they tunnel through the bin. By turning the compost, the worms are helping everything decay at a more even rate. Turning by tunneling also prevents decomposing bacteria from heating up the bin and creating a fire risk. 

Third, while traditional composting can be accomplished in a simple pile outdoors, vermicomposting is much more efficient when done in a contained system. A closed bin is essential to keep your worms from escaping. 

Who Should Try Vermicomposting 

This method of composting is especially useful for apartment dwellers who want to recycle their kitchen scraps but don’t have the space to do traditional composting. Some vermicomposters keep a small worm farm under the kitchen sink, in the garage or out on the porch. If done properly, your worm bin won’t have a foul smell or harbor undesirable insects. 

Many teachers love worm composting because it’s a fun way to teach important concepts, like food webs, decomposers, annelid anatomy and recycling. Students love vermicomposting because they can get their hands dirty in the classroom. A small worm bin can be stored in the classroom, or a larger one can be built outside for the school to compost cafeteria waste. 

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