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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Composting and the reduction of waste is a sensible way to help the environment and keep landfills free of excess organic waste. Kitchen vermiculture allows you to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer from worm castings that you can use in your garden. Vermicomposting under sinks is convenient, environmentally sound, and creates no mess.
About Kitchen Vermiculture
Worms are remarkably un-fussy and just need organic food to eat, a moist earthy bed, and warmth. The first step to this easy and economical waste removal system is the creation of worm composting bins for indoors. In no time you will be feeding the little guys your kitchen scraps, reducing waste, and building a soil amendment that is of amazing benefit to your plants.
Kitchen worm composting takes up very little space. The best varieties for turning your kitchen scraps into “black gold” are the red wigglers. They can eat their body weight in food daily and their castings are a rich fertilizer for plants.
Worm Composting Bins for Indoors
You can build a small wooden box or simply use a plastic bin with a few adjustments to house your new composting buddies.
- Start with a wooden box or plastic bin. You can also purchase a kit but it is more costly than using materials at hand. On average, you need one square foot (0.1 sq. m.) of surface for every pound (0.5 kg.) of material you collect for under sink composting with worms.
- Next, make bedding for the worms. They like a dark, warm area with moist, fluffy bedding like damp shredded newspaper, straw, or leaves. Line the bottom of the bin with 6 inches (15 cm.) of the material you choose.
- The perfect container should be 8 to 12 inches (20.5 to 30.5 cm.) deep to accommodate the food scraps, worms, and bedding. If you cover the bin, make sure there are air holes for vermicomposting under sinks or any area that is appropriate.
Food for Kitchen Worm Composting
Here are some things to know when feeding your worms:
- Worms like their food slightly broken down or even moldy. Food scraps are easier for the worms to eat if they are smaller pieces. Cut up heavy vegetables and fruit into one-inch (2.5 cm.) cubes and place them in the bin.
- Lightweight items, like lettuce, are easier for worms to make short work of and turn into castings. Do not feed dairy, meat, or excessively greasy items.
- You don’t want a smelly bin, so keep in mind how much you feed the worms. The amount will vary dependent upon the number of worms and the size of the bin. Start small with only a small amount of food scraps buried in the bedding. Check in a day or two to see if they ate all the food. If they did, you can increase the amount, but be careful not to overfeed or you will have a stinky mess.
Under sink composting with worms may take some trial and error to get the appropriate amount of food for the bins size and food scrap level. Over a few weeks, you will see that the food scraps and bedding are broken down and clean smelling.
Remove the castings and start the process over again with a handful of worms. The cycle is virtually unbreakable as long as you keep the bin clean, food scraps small and appropriate, and have a healthy colony of red wigglers.
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Read more about Vermicomposting
What Is Vermicomposting?
Worms are not just good for catching fish or aerating dense soil, and there’s a growing trend to raise worms. Why you may ask? Because the end product of worms is delightful!
Vermiculture is the science of raising worms – vermi means worm in Latin. Vermiculture is the practice of keeping worms with the purpose of making dark rich castings (that’s worm poop)! This nutrient-rich humus is an excellent source of nutrients for your garden.
You might not think about worm poop when you think about composting, but trust me, you’ll want to start. Cultivating worms for compost is an easy process, and the results are hard to beat for the price. Plus, there’s the added benefit of not having to use chemicals or pricey additives to make your compost exceptional.
How to Prevent a Stinky Composting Bin
Any experienced vermicomposter knows that worms start getting unproductive when the temperatures drop below 55º F. This is why most people move their bins indoors during the winter. But indoor worm composting brings one major concern – smell!
The truth is good maintenance practices should give you odorless composting. It is usually neglecting the bin that leads to an unproductive, stinky environment. And so, if the worm bin is in the kitchen or other living space, a bad smell can be a real nuisance.
But remember this: A well-balanced worm bin – even with the worms inside – should have a rich, earthy smell. Contrary to popular belief, the worm castings don’t emit the foul odor that’s typical of other animals’ dung.
If the worm bin is emitting a foul smell, it’s not the worm castings. More than likely, there is something wrong with the composting technique or maintenance practices. Some of the common causes of a stinky compost bin include inadequate aeration, an overabundance of food, or too much water.
If you really want to know how to keep odors at bay, read my article Why Does My Worm Bin Smell? Causes and Troubleshooting Steps.
Composting With Worms: Pros, Cons, & How-Tos
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is one of the fastest natural and organic ways of getting manure from waste.
This composting method is also easy and you can scale it for use in large and small gardens. It’s no wonder that this is very popular in urban areas.
Vermicomposting duplicates the natural way that worms, bacteria, and fungi degrade organic waste. The difference is that vermicomposting is faster.
The waste breaks down quickly because the vermicomposting system ensures an optimum number of worms are working under the best conditions to create worm castings. Excreted by the worms, the worm castings (or manure) are rich in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many micronutrients. These are precisely the elements lacking in most garden soils!
Building a Vermicomposting System
Setting up a worm composting system requires a few materials and some extra preparation. But, your reward for this preparation will be manure that’s ready in a short time – just two to three months. T
The materials you’ll need include bins, screening material, scrap paper, water, worms, and waste, which will act as the food for the worms.
You can use bins made of wood, plastic, or glass. Get two containers, measuring 5 to 10 gallons (19 to 38 L) so that you can stack one on top of the other. The bottom bin will collect the liquid leachates, rich in minerals, which you can use as liquid manure both indoors and out!
The top container should be no more than 15 inches (38 cm) deep since the worms like to live in the top 6 inches (15 cm) of the soil.
Drill two holes that are 1 inch (2.5 cm) in width at the top for aeration. You’ll also need four to five holes, measuring 1/8 inch (0.3 cm) wide in the bottom to allow fluids to drain. You can cover these holes with screening material to stop the worms from moving from the top bin to the bottom bin.
For vermicomposting, the worms you need aren’t the earthworms usually found in a garden. This is because these don’t feed on pure organic materials. What you need are manure worms.
There are two types, both of which can be used: red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and redworms (Lumbricus rebellus). You can start with about 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of worms since they’ll quickly multiply.
Building the System
The system has to provide the best conditions for worm composting to occur.
For this, the worms need air, bedding, moisture, warmth, and food.
- Air: The holes drilled near the top provide air for the worms
- Bedding: Cut newspapers into strips to provide bedding, which should measure 3 in. (7.6 cm) deep. Mix the paper with 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of soil and compost and put it in the top bin. Even compost of a normal backyard variety will have the necessary microbes and fungi to kick-start the decomposition process and help the worms do their work.
- Moisture: To provide moisture, wet the bedding with some water. The paper should only be moist, not soggy. The bedding should measure 3 in. (7.6 cm) deep after it’s damp.
- Temperature: The ideal temperature for the worms is 55 to 77°F (12.7 to 25°C). So, you’ll have to bring the bins indoors in places with cold winters.
Once the bedding is in place, scoop out a hole in the center, add the worms, and cover them with some bedding. Close the system and let them settle into their new home. Then start adding the food after 24 hours have passed.
The materials that you can use as food for the worms include kitchen and garden waste. Avoid greasy food, dairy products, meat, and bones since these aren’t easy for the worms to eat. The waste that goes uneaten by the worms will rot and stink.
When it comes to garden waste, the worms can’t degrade woody substances. So, you can only use grass clippings and old leaves in vermicomposting.
Collect your kitchen scraps or garden waste for a week so that you only add the food to the system once a week. The worms work best when left alone. So, there is no need to stir or mix the materials in the bin. Keep the top bin covered with a loose-fitting lid at all times.
You shouldn’t add paper with chemical paint, plastic, or fabric. Chemical paint could be harmful to the worms and they won’t eat plastic or fabric.
When the bin is nearly full, stop adding new food. After about three months, there will be little or no bedding left. The bin will be filled with compost and ready for harvest.
Stop adding new food to the bin at least two weeks before harvesting. Before taking the compost and adding it to the garden, one more step is necessary: you need to remove the worms from the compost.
One way to do this is to tip the compost onto a plastic sheet and to pick the worms out of the compost by hand.
The other method requires more time, but less effort.
For this, you’ll need to pile all of the compost on one side of the bin. Then add new bedding and food on the other side. Leave the bins alone for two weeks. During this time, the vermicomposting worms will leave the finished compost pile and move to their new food source. Now you can remove the vermicompost and use it in your garden and use the new worm-filled bedding to start your next batch of compost.
Pros and Cons
There are more pros to using vermicomposting to treat organic waste than cons.
- The speed: Composting with worms provides ready-to-use manure in 2 to 3 months while other composting methods require 6 to 9 months.
- The location: Vermicomposting can be done both indoors and outdoors. In fact, you can even place the composting bins under the kitchen sink. This is one of its biggest advantages over other composting methods. Just make sure to cut the organic matter into small bits so that the worms can eat it quickly and keep the system odor free.
- The extra worms: At the end of the composting cycle, you’ll have more worms than at the start. These worms reproduce and double their population once over 90 days. You can add the extra worms directly into your garden to enrich the soil or use them as animal feed.
- The E. coli count: After being kept for 21 days, vermicompost will reduce the amount of E. coli bacteria to permissible levels, according to recent research.
- Decentralization: Since this can be easily adopted in rural or urban homes, it helps you avoid transporting organic waste to centralized places. This, in turn, saves on fuel used for transportation, bringing down the cost for the community and reducing CO2 emissions .
- The pathogens: Pathogens aren’t killed as quickly in vermicomposting as in normal compost since there’s no heat build-up.
- The cost: The initial cost of setting up a vermicomposting system can be high since you’ll need to purchase the bins and the worms, too.
- The fruit flies: The bins, once filled with organic matter, can attract fruit flies. But, you can avoid this by adding food in quantities that the worms can eat and by covering it with soil.
A Win-Win Solution
Vermicomposting is a win-win solution to produce manure anywhere. The few disadvantages it has can be prevented if you properly maintain and take care of your system.
- Buy Live Worms
- Indoor Composters
- Outdoor Composters
- Buy Meal Worms
- Organic Fertilizer
- Organic Pest Control
- Heirloom Seeds
- Worm Food and Bedding
- Gift Cards
- Uncle Jim's Apparel
- Worm Kits
Composting with red wiggler worms during warm temperatures can still be tolerable for them. But how about worm composting during winter? Is insulating your worm bin something that you can carry out effectively during much colder temperatures? Well, these are all still possible.
Winter vermicomposting is doable, just as long as you know how to give extra care for your red wigglers needs. During the winter, your red wigglers will start feeling the cold temperature as soon as the worm bin starts to absorb the wintry weather. The temperature is usually felt by the worms as soon as it goes below 57 degrees Fahrenheit. So, it’s better to find a place for where you can keep them real warm. Of course, you wouldn’t want to have an inactive worm bin at these times and start losing all those organic fertilizers that you can make good use of for your garden. One good advise would be is to keep a compost thermometer around, so that you’d be able to keep good track of the rise and fall of temperatures.
You can also warm your worm bin by simply doing the following tips:
Tip 1: One way of maintaining your red worms bin from turning into a popsicle is to keep the same warm conditions inside and outside of their habitat. So, if their condition is something that hinders them from performing their composting activities well, then there will be worm bin inactivity (there will be a tendency for them to move and process slower, or to hibernate for them to save their energy).
Tip 2: What you can do to keep the worm bin warm from the cold temperature is to put some presoaked newspaper on top of your worms bedding. You should also put in some dry newspapers on top of the moistened ones.
Tip 3: It’ll also be best to feed your red wigglers food scraps that are in smaller doses, or in their blended forms already. This set-up will make it easier for the worms to eat comfortably.
Tip 4: Also refrain from opening your worm bin at frequent times, unless you want your red wigglers to be open to the colder elements outside. Try not to do this, so that you’ll still be able to contain the heat inside the bin.
Tip 5: If you want to take-in more heat for your vermicomposting bin, then you may want to dig a hole in the ground, and have your bin buried in it. You can dig probably something as deep as half of your bin’s measurement to get more insulation. But do make sure to protect your bin with a plastic material, so that any water substance is prevented from entering the container. You may also put in dry leaves, straw or grass on top of the bin, to add more heat. Much like us humans, we tend to slow down with whatever it is that we are doing during cold weathers. The same thing happens to these red wigglers. So, try implementing these tips when worm composting during winter. These will help in insulating your worm bin well throughout the cold weather.
Uncle Jim’s recommends the The Worm Cafe Composter
If you’re thinking about recycling your food scraps from the kitchen, then the Worm Cafe Composter is just the perfect solution for you! This eco-friendly composter fits perfectly well for houses that have limited spaces. So, purchase one for your home today!