The Advantages of Vermicomposting (Vermicomposting 101)
10 minute read
Vermicomposting. It’s certainly a mouthful of a word. But it’s actually just a fancy term for composting with worms. Essentially, worms eat organic matter, digest it, and poop it out 💩. This poop (also called worm castings) is your finished compost! There are many advantages of vermicomposting. But the one that stands out the most is: it’s great for people who live in small apartments or for those who don’t have access to an outdoor space.
There are many different types of composting methods. And other methods of composting tend to require a lot more space, but vermicomposting (or composting with worms) can fit into any small space. Tuck it into the back of your closet, under a table, or even in a cupboard. The composting worms actually like it when it’s dark, so you can make it work just about anywhere in your home.
Time-lapse of the vermicomposting process:
for an even cooler visual, watch this video on 2x the playback speed
The Advantages of Vermicomposting:
Two main advantages of vermicomposting are diverting waste from landfills and turning a waste product into a valuable resource (i.e. compost!). And if you like science experiments or getting your hands a lil dirty, vermicomposting is perfect for you. It’s also a fun, tactile activity if you have kids in the house. And it’s a great tool for talking to them about food waste and climate change and how those two connect. Those are two things a lot of people don’t realize are related. You can dig into the connection between climate change and food waste right here.
Alright, let’s get onto the good stuff!
How to find the right worm composting bin:
You can choose to buy a pre-made worm composting bin that comes with everything you need or your can DIY it. Here’s an all-in-one kit on amazon. I have to be honest, it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, so I personally wouldn’t choose this one, but if you’re putting it in the back of a closet, maybe you don’t care how it looks.
Cathy is a vermicomposting master and her website has a crap ton of resources on vermicomposting. The website isn’t what I would call state-of-the-art, but if you can get past that, it’s a treasure trove when it comes to vermicomposting.
If you’re thinking about making your own worm composting bin, it can be as simple as using a plastic tote container.
How to make the easiest worm bin ever:
Materials Needed for Vermicomposting (aka composting with worms):
- worm composting bin (DIY or pre-made)
- coir brick (made from coconut husks)
- shredded paper/cardboard (newspaper, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, etc)
- 2 liters of water
- soil (just grab some from your backyard!)
- red wiggler worms
- food scraps (or other organic matter)
How to set up your worm bin:
- Cut your coir brick in half and mix it with 2 liters of water (in a bowl or container). Let it sit for 15-20 minutes, so the coir can absorb all the water
- Mix the shredded paper, soil, and coir together. This is called your “bedding”. It should be moist but not soaking wet, so pick up a handful and give it a squeeze to check the moisture. If a few drops of water come out, you’re ready to go. If it seems a little dry, add more water with a spray bottle.
- Line your bottom-most tray with a sheet of newspaper to ensure no worms can make their way out of the worm composting bin.
- Put the bedding into your worm bin.
- Add you red wriggler worms.
- Before adding food scraps or putting the lid on, give the worms about 20 minutes to burrow into the bedding. It helps if you’re in a well-lit area because the composting worms don’t like light, so they’ll be encouraged to burrow down into the darkness.
- Add your food scraps and cover them with the bedding.
- Cover your worm bin and store it in a cool place.
Here’s a tutorial on how to set up your worm composting bin:
How to feed your worms:
Feed your worms 2-3 times a week.
Mix the food scraps into the bedding so they get buried under the surface of the bedding. This will prevent any fruit flies or unwanted pests from entering your compost. You can also cover your bedding and food scraps with a piece of burlap as an added measure for combatting pests.
Tips for feeding your composting worms:
- Keep your food scraps small. The worms are able to eat smaller pieces faster than bigger pieces. This speeds up the composting process.
- In between feedings, keep your food scraps in the fridge or freezer, so you don’t have stinky rotting food hanging around your kitchen.
- The worms enjoy slightly rotten food, as opposed to fresh food, so keep your food in the fridge as opposed to the freezer (if you have the fridge space)
- When it’s time to feed your wrigglers, make sure your food scraps are at room temperature. The worms aren’t crazy about extreme cold or hot
Things you can put in your vermicompost
- fruit and veggie scraps (including things like seeds and corn cobs)
- teabags (check to see if the bags have microplastics in them)
- egg cartons
- grains, pasta, rice
- coffee grounds + filters
- leaf/grass clippings (not too much though)
- paper towels + tissues
- paper towel + toilet paper rolls
Things you shouldn’t put in your compost
- pet waste
- oil (or oily paper towels)
- excessive citrus (it messes with the pH)
Worm composting for beginners
The vermicomposting process is pretty simple. Let’s do a quick overview, so you can get a full understanding of it all.
Unless you’ve made your own worm bin system, most worm bins have a few trays (usually 3). At the bottom of each tray are holes. These holes allow the composting worms to migrate between the trays, and for excess moisture to drip to the bottom. Fill one tray with the bedding, worms, and food scraps and when that tray is full of finished compost, you can put another tray of bedding and food scraps on top, and the worms will migrate to where the food is. Once they’ve eaten everything in their first tray and migrated to the next tray, you can harvest the finished compost. This is the process of composting with worms!
Tips for Vermicomposting Success:
- Use distilled or boiled water when making your bedding
- Don’t put your worm bin in extreme temperatures. They will die!! You always want to have them in a room temperature setting, so putting them outside in the hot summer or cold winter is a bad idea.
- Worms don’t like to be disturbed too much, so don’t go poking around in there every day. Let them do their thing.
- When adding paper to your bedding, stick to things like newspaper, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, and computer paper. Make sure there’s no glue on the paper, and stay away from paper that has polymers, plastic, heavy inks, or dyes in it.
- Coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost. They help to combat smells, maintain moisture, and balance the pH levels of your compost. This also applies to composting using a compost tumbler.
FAQs for Vermicomposting:
Can I add eggshells to my compost?
Absolutely! Eggshells are great for two reasons: they balance out the pH levels of your compost, and they add calcium to your vermicompost. Now you might ask: “Why is calcium important?” Well, I’m glad you asked! The worms actually need calcium in order to reproduce. So basically, eggshells are like viagra for worms.
How often should I feed my worms? And how long can they go without being fed?
It’s ideal if you feed your worms 2-3 times a week. You can feed them as little as once a week, and you can also go 2-3 weeks without feeding them (for example, if you go away on vacation). The cool thing about worms is that they self-regulate, so if there’s less food to go around, the worms will decrease their population accordingly.
How long does it take to get a batch of compost?
It can take anywhere from 2-4 months depending on how often and how much you fed them.
What’s the time commitment for vermicomposting?
Honestly, once you set up the bin, which takes about 20-30 minutes, the weekly time commitment is about 5 minutes or less a week. All you have to do is feed your worms and let them be. I’d say it’s even easier than having a dog or cat.
Will the worms make worm babies in the bin? 😲
Yes. As long as you’re feeding them a healthy amount of food, your little wrigglers will make some worm babies. When this happens, you can separate out the number of worms you need and give the rest to any friends interested in vermicomposting. Also, if your worm bin gets too overpopulated, the worms will “take care of the situation” and self-regulate.
Will any of the worms get out of the worm bin?
Rest assured, once you’re properly feeding your worms and putting the lid back on, you won’t have any issues with worms trying to escape. Remember, they like their dark, cozy bedding so as long as you keep it comfy, you have nothing to worry about.
Eek!! What are those weird white bugs in my worm bin?
You may notice tiny white bugs in your worm bin. Relax! This is actually a good thing! Those little bugs are a sign of a healthy compost, and it’s a signal that you’re doing a good job. These pests won’t cause any issues, nor will they find their way out of the worm bin.
What happens if I have more food scraps than my worms can eat?
You can always add more layers to your worm bin to expand the number of food scraps you want to compost. Most worm composting systems offer additional layers that you can purchase. I recommend starting with a 3-layer bin and you can expand if you need more capacity. How big your worm bin usually depends on how many people are living in your household.
What is worm tea? And how do I get it?
Worm tea is often called liquid gold. It’s created when excess moisture (mixed with those nutrient-rich worm castings) drips to the bottom tray. If you don’t get any worm tea from your compost, that actually means you’re doing a great job of maintaining the moisture levels in your compost. But if you do get worm tea, you can dilute it and use it to fertilize your plants and garden. Seriously though, having worm tea on-demand at home is one of the best advantages of vermicomposting!
How much does it cost to start composting?
Honestly, you can make a worm bin for as little as $30. And if you already have some plastic totes at home, you can do it for less. 100 red wrigglers will run you about $25 bucks.
That should give you an idea of the basic starting costs of composting with worms indoors.
DIY Vermicomposting Bin for under $30!
Here’s a video tutorial on how to make a stackable vermicomposting bin system for $30:
Where can I buy worms for composting?
You can buy composting worms at a local bait shop, a pet store, or online (at Cathy’s Crawly Composters or on Amazon).
What are the best worms for composting?
Red wriggler worms are the best worms for composting. But there are some other kinds of worms you can use, depending on where you’re located in the world.
Conclusion: Vermicomposting for beginners
There are many advantages of vermicomposting, but deciding if it’s right for you comes down to 2 things: are you cool with worms (and touching them), and do you have space for a worm bin in your home? The overall time commitment is pretty minimal for vermicomposting and it’s a fun lil science project to have at home, especially if you have kids. Truth be told, there are probably many more advantages of vermicomposting that I haven’t touched on here, but this should give you enough inspo to get started.
As you can see, composting at home, is easy. So give it a try! You’ll divert a crap ton of food waste from the landfill and you’ll never have to buy fertilizer for your plant babies again!
Start your vermicomposting project today!