A complete guide for the beginner worm farmer. Read along to learn everything you need to know to get your worm farm started.
What is vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is like a hybrid between traditional composting and using animal manure as compost. If you are familiar with the basics of composting you know you need just a few key ingredients. The same is true for vermicomposting. A traditional compost, however, needs to be monitored for heat, watered, and turned. Using worms radically decreases your composting work load. Much like using animals on a farm to turn waste into manure, the worms do all the work for you! The byproduct? Nutrient dense black gold that can be used immediately in the garden.
Just like with a traditional compost set up, a vermicompost bin needs browns, greens, moisture, airflow and time. But unlike a traditional composting set up, the worms do all the work. And to support them, we must also add a few more ingredients including a form of grit and a layer of “bedding” for the worms to live in. All of these things together serve to make you very balanced compost very quickly. This process can even be sped up with the addition of some secret ingredients which I’ll discuss more later.
Quickly, the greens, browns, and bedding decompose and the worms slurp up the fungal filled decomposing juices and they turn that slush into rich, nutrient dense, bio available, all organic garden fertilizer known as “worm castings” with a byproduct known as “leachate”. Additionally, you can maximize the use of your worm castings by creating an aerated worm tea.
What are worm castings?
By now, you have probably gathered that worm castings is just a fancy way of saying worm poop or worm byproduct. Worms in the vermicompost, usually red wigglers or european nightcrawlers, turn decomposing slush into black gold. This black, soil enriching, soil amending, gold can then be easily applied to your garden!
Worm castings are so easy to use because they are unlike other forms of “black gold”. Most other manures need time to age and, if applied too early, that manure can burn plants. But you don’t have to worry about burning plants with worm castings.
Worm castings are very balanced. Worm castings have a macronutrient (nitrogen phosphorus potassium) ratio of about 1-1-1 and are covered in a mucous membrane making them the ideal organic, slow release fertilizer.
What is Leachate?
Your worm bin(s) will also provide you with leachate. This is a liquid byproduct of worms and the moisture formed within the bin. Leachate sinks to the lowest levels of the bin and can be extracted and used in the garden. However, I urge caution when using leachate because as gardeners, we always want to add living matter to our gardens.
Leachate is something that can lose it’s life without enough circulation making it anaerobic and potentially harmful to the garden. The rule of thumb I follow is “does it smell?” If it smells rotten in any way, don’t use it. If it smells like fresh dirt and soil, you’re in the clear.
One simple way to be sure you don’t over fertilize with leachate is by diluting it to 1 part leachate with 9 parts water for a total of 10 part solution.
What is Worm Tea?
Worm tea is an aerated, aerobic product made by submerging worm castings into a bucket of water and an air bubbler for 24-76 hours. To feed the microbial life, it is important to add some form of food. To do this, I add molasses. The sugary contents of molasses offer the microscopic life a meal while they grow exponentially in number as the tea brews. For added nutritional and microbial activation, I also add a dash kelp meal. I’ll walk you through the process step by step HERE. Kelp meal also offers natural growth hormones to microbes, improves soil structure, adds vitamins, and reduces future plant transplant shock.
Worm tea can be applied as a foliar feed by spraying on the worm tea to plant leaves. It can also be used at the base of the plant and watered into the roots. Both options have offered so much life, vitality and abundance to my garden. Since using worm tea, my soil has improved drastically, I've naturally prevented disease and pests invasion, and I've increased my fruit and flower yields by more than 50%.
My garden observations have led me to believe that aerated worm tea boosts my plants' immune systems and outer flora making them more disease resistant and less attractive to pests. I have also noticed a huge improvement in soil structure and soil quality since applying worm tea to my soil.
BENEFITS OF VERMICOMPOST
The Worms do All The Work
In a traditional compost there is lots of labor involved-turning, watering, hauling scraps, etc. A vermicompost is not so. Once you’re all set up, the worms do all the work. You need only check on them from time to time and to add some green and brown materials as needed!
Worm Castings Attract Trace Minerals
In addition to building a healthy soil web full of beneficial fungi, microbes, and other microorganisms, worm castings attract micronutrients (trace minerals).
Trace minerals like iron and boron support healthy photosynthesis, flowering, fruiting and cell division. Now without going to worm-nerd on you… let’s just cut right to the chase. How do worm castings invite micronutrients? Through energy exchange.
Because worm castings are anionic and trace minerals are ionic, there exists a magnetic attraction between castings and trace elements. This makes worm castings a powerful tool come soil amendment and planting times.
Aerated Worm Tea Prevents Disease
Since using worm tea foliar sprays to boost my plant growth and health, I noticed nearly no pests this Spring and I wondered if the worm tea offered the plants some kind of protective flora. And as it turns out, according to Cornell University, that worm tea does offer protection against plant diseases.
I continue to be amazed by worms and the power of natural, regenerative gardening and farming.
By this point, I’ve talked a lot about worms and my love for them. Now it’s time to pass the torch and help you get set up with your worms and your vermicompost.
How do I set up a worm bin?
Setting up a worm bin is simple when you know what you’re doing. Please don’t be like me with my frist wormies and just throw food scraps at them and say a prayer. Man, as someone who believes in the power of stewarding all we are given, I truly feel awful for my first very worm babies. I really did not set them up for success and I had no idea what I was doing! So let’s talk about the right way to set up a worm bin and set you up for success! First, we must select the best worm bin for you.
Selecting a Worm Bin
There are many types of worm bins. It can be a little overwhelming. Here’s how I like to think of them:
Simple: single bin with lid made from an old garage tote
Aesthetic: stacking worm bins
Large and effective: frabic worm bins
Essentially, the more bells and whistles. The more complicated. If you’re looking for something simple and effective, stick with one simple bin. If you’re ready to dedicate to learning about worms or already have some vermicomposting knowledge, consider something a little more advanced!
Why do I say this? Because my more advanced bins were hard to manage as a beginning vermicomposter. I had worms crawling down, out and all around. More on this later in the troubleshooting section.
Worm Bin Supplies & Set Up
You really just need 6 things to get started vermicomposting:
- Bedding - coco coir, potting soil, or sphagnum peat moss are all great options
- Worms! - I get mine here
- Carbon - newspaper, moving paper, cardboard, but most ideally, dried leaves
- Nitrogen - grass clippings, garden clippings, safe vegetable food scraps (see above) mine love old avocado! There are somethings you should NOT feed your worms. See above
- Grit - coffee grounds, oyster shell, azomite dust, some dirt or soil
- A bin of some kind - see below about picking the right bin for you
What do worms eat?
Here are some basics to feeding your vermicompost.
- Do feed your worms: vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, grains, coffee grinds, egg shells, pasta, squash, paper, leaves.
- Do not feed your worms: citrus, peppers, spice, bones, animal products, salt, sugars, processed foods,breads, oils.
Vermicompost Set Up
Setting up your vermicompost is as easy as making lasagna (okay, it’s easier than lasagna but it does require layers)
- Layer one - Bedding. Place 2-3 inches of bedding down. (Note: If you’re using a stackable worm bin, you’ll want to place a layer or two of cardboard on the lowest layer so no worms crawl out.)
- Layer two - Worms :)
- Layer three - Carbon. Place 2-3 inches of carbon materials down
- Layer four - Nitrogen. Place 1/4 inch or less of nitrogen materials down
- Layer five - Grit. Sprinkle with grit
- Repeat until worm bin is ¾ full
Next it’s time to find a good place for your worms to live.
Your worms will be happiest and most productive in conditions that offer temeprate climate without steep fluctuations in temperature. I suggest somewhere easy to access with low traffic. I've kept worm bins in coat closets, the garage, and the side of the house. The location options are limiteless! Just be sure wherever you choose, it allows your worms to stay at temperatures between 55-75 degress!
That's all for now! If you have questions, drop me a line down below. If you enjoyed this post, please let me know with a comment!
See you in the next post