By Katie Shipka
Ohio certified volunteer naturalist
Have you ever thought of creating a nutrient-rich soil using – worms? Vermicomposting (vermin is the Latin word for worm) is the end product of the natural breakdown of vegetable or fruit waste by worms, leaving behind worm castings or worm manure.
The species most used is the red wiggler worm (Eisenia foetida), a smaller (about 1-4 inches in length), thinner and, of course, much cuter worm than we commonly see in our gardens. Composting worms are available online from mail-order suppliers. It’s best to purchase them during warm months, as these red wiggler worms do not cope well in cold weather and would not survive our northern climate. Keeping them in a bin at 55-75 degrees is ideal.
You’ll need opaque bins for housing and holes or mesh for aeration. Bins can be made from recycled plastic or wood, but wooden bins will eventually decay and need replacing. The soil must remain damp at all times and should feel like a “well-wrung washcloth,” but do not let it dry out. Distilled water is recommended.
Vermicomposting is an excellent way to dispose of kitchen waste, sticking with nonfatty wastes. If you include seeds, you may soon wonder what’s growing in your bin. Coffee and tea grounds (remove staples from tea bags) including the filters and rinsed eggshells are beneficial. Shredded, uncolored newsprint should always lie on the top for an additional food source. Never add meat, meat by-products, or dairy to the bin as this will attract mice and insects. If the food scraps are well covered by the soil, there should be no problem with unwanted critters or odors. Although tree leaves are recommended to add to the compost, I hesitate to add them or any outside materials, as they may house insect eggs to hatch at a later date.
I bought these very well-behaved pets four years ago and have had no problems. Admittedly there was a learning curve on the first day with some of them climbing out of the bin, but they adjusted quickly after I left the top off and kept a light on them. Bins can be kept anywhere convenient, feeding the worms about a half-cup of fruit or vegetable clippings twice weekly. This can also be an excellent classroom science project. Vacations are no problem, as shredded newsprint on top of the soil will provide additional food for the worms while you are gone.
When harvesting the compost for a pot or garden, feed only one side of the bin for one or two weeks. The worms will gravitate toward the food, thus leaving one side without worms and ready for the soil to be collected. It is estimated that the red wiggler worms double their population every ninety days.
These quiet pets contentedly munch on the food scraps I give them and reward me with a nutrient-rich soil beneficial for both gardens and potted plants. For more information: http://go.osu.edu/wormcompost.