Worm castings are gardening gold. Worms eat your kitchen scraps and then turn them into a super rich and nutritious soil supplement to help produce better, tastier vegetables and plants. Worms make a fantastic composting option for those without large yards, such as city and apartment dwellers, helping you deal with daily food scraps and giving you a valuable soil amendment to apply to your small-space or container garden.
Rest assured, worm bins do not smell and the worms will not escape. You can keep the bin hidden in a closet or basement, or even your pantry, where it simply sits there producing lots of rich, wonderful castings from your garbage. Not a bad deal.
Once you've made the initial investment in worms and a bin, they'll keep just eating your food scraps and giving you nutrient-rich goodies as long as you take care of them.
Tools and Materials:
- Opaque plastic storage bin with a lid (any size)
- Drill and 1/16th drill bit or hammer and nail
- Old newspaper and scissors
- A bit of corrugated cardboard from an old box
- 1 quart (4 cups) soil or compost
- Red compost worms - "Red wigglers"
1. Begin your worm bin by selecting the appropriate container. You can use any clean plastic storage bin, provided that it's not translucent, as worms are used to living underground and don't care much for the light. Remove any stickers and rinse and dry the bin before beginning.
2. Use the drill and drill bit or hammer and nail to punch two rows of holes near the top of the bin, about 2 inches or 3 inches apart. Don't measure, just start punching. Avoid putting holes in the bottom of the bin to guarantee it won't leak and can be stored anywhere, and avoid the lid as well, which will allow the bin to catch condensation that will drip back on the worms for the perfect level of moisture.
3. Rip the newspaper into fine strips, about 1-2 inches wide. Be sure to use regular newsprint and not any coated paper often found in the ads or inserts. You can use scissors, but if you have a paper shredder, it's much faster. Then, wet the strips with water and mix until they're just damp, not sopping or dripping. Squeeze out any extra water and mix until all the paper is just lightly wet. Add enough newspaper to the bin to cover the bottom by 3 to 4 inches, uncompressed.
4. Cut a few pieces of cardboard into 3-inch squares and place on top of the newspaper. The cardboard serves as a little worm playground, where they'll climb and keep things moving inside. Lastly, add the soil or compost. You can use soil from your yard, or blended compost from the nursery or garden center. Avoid potting soil, as it might contain fertilizers with a high nitrogen content -- good for some plants but bad for worms. Mix everything together and shake to distribute evenly.
5. Let your bin mingle while you source your worms. You want the microbial environment to develop and stabilize for a few days before adding the worms. You can find worms in many ways, such as by asking a friend, checking Craigslist, and heading to some co-ops and garden centers. You can also purchase a pound of worms (about 1000) online for about $25.
6. Once you get your worms home, especially if they're shipped, immediately give them some water to keep them hydrated. After a few hours or overnight, they'll spring back to life. Add them to your worm bin, then cover with the paper soil mix to protect them from the light.
7. Keep your bin lidded in a dark, quiet place indoors, unless you live in a very warm climate and don't have a problem with pests. If you have pets, you can use rope or bungee cords to latch the lid.
Feeding and Watering Your Worms
At first, start lightly. Your worm bin will take a few weeks or months to get going and for the worms to start breeding. Start with a small handful of food scraps, and bury them in a corner under the soil and paper. Every three or four days, add another handful to a different corner. Watch as the rate of food consumption increases and feed accordingly. In a few months, the worms will turn into a composting machine, eating their weight in food every day.
Moisture is also important. You want to maintain a moist, but not wet environment, similar to the newspaper you first added. Use a spray bottle and clean water to spritz everything so it has the moisture level of a damp rag. If your bin stays very wet and has standing water, then you can punch small holes in the lid to help moisture escape.
What to Feed Composting Worms
Worms want to eat rotting food. If your food is fresh, they'll wait a few days until its begun to rot before munching.
Worms Love to Eat:
- Soft vegetable and fruit scraps, such as lettuce, greens, and squash
- Crushed eggshells (rinse first)
- Old coffee grounds or steeped tea leaves
- Browning fruits
- Moist bread or cooked pasta
- Cooked grains like rice or oatmeal
Avoid Giving Worms Acidic or Fatty Ingredients, Like:
- Oil-coated foods (fried or sauteed)
- Onions and garlic
- Other acids like vinegar