Definition: Vermicomposting is the process in which yard and kitchen scraps are processed through the aid of red wiggler worms (eisenda fetida) and other microorganisms that exist within the vermicompost bin.
Background: Since the state of Illinois has banned all landscape waste from being deposited into landfills. Many residents are struggling to find ways of disposing of landscape waste. With this as an issue for residents within our county, we need to be progressive about reusing those materials.
Four Rs Recycle, Reuse, Reduce and Rot: Composting is the 4th R or Rot that provides the using of the system a valuable material for their gardens and houseplants. This creates a win win situation for us by reducing the amount of waste in the landfill and also by having a product produced that can be used for fertilizer and a natural pesticide.
Worm composting is a great method in which the red wiggler worms eat the kitchen and yard waste and convert them into worm castings or worm excrement. This material mixed with a bit of soil is extremely rich in nutrients and has been renamed ‘Black Gold’ for its ability to fertilize plants.
There are many bins that are available for purchase that come with trays for the migration of worms from lower processed trayers to higher beginning bin trays. These bins may also contain a tap which collects the worm urine or worm tea. Worm tea is a concentrate fertilizer that needs to be watered down prior to using on plants due to the high nitrogen percentages (diluted 1:10 ratio). The tea may also be used as a natural pesticide that can be sprayed onto plants once diluted.
The bins begin with bedding either a coir or shredded non glossy paper. Then some dirt and water is added and mixed such that the mixture is as wet as a dampened sponge. Then red wiggler worms are added.
The red wiggler worms have a great appetite that will allow them to eat half of their body weight a day. Therefore, careful monitoring of the bin is necessary. The worms do not eat fats, dairy, meats or animal wastes. They do eat paper (non-glossy), fruit and vegetable scraps, yard waste and organic matter. All food shall be placed deep enough within the bedding to prevent fruit fly population. Bins should be covered to prevent flies also. Once the food is placed within the bin, bedding shall be placed over the food. The bin should be well ventilated and shall be kept out of direct sunlight. Once the food has disappeared (or digested by the worms) more food may be added.
Since worms are cold blooded creatures they need to have range of exterior temperatures that will prevent them from over heating or freezing. The temperature range shall be between 40 and 80 degrees. The bins shall not be placed in direct sunlight or have exposure to rain due to the fact that the worms breathe through their skin. Worms are also sensitive to light; therefore the bins shall be covered. The best place to store the worm bin is within a garage or basement where the temperature stays within the safe temperature range.
The worms do reproduce quickly but regulate to the size of the bin so they do not over populate.
Since the worms eat right under the food layer provided, you can remove that layer and remove the rich humus layer at the bottom of the bin. Check and make sure that any stray worms are added to the removed layer back into the bin once you have harvested the bin. The easiest way of accomplishing this is to put out a sheet of plastic and spread the harvested pile onto it and sift through for the worms.
If the balance of food to worm ratio is right the bin should smell like humus or earthy. Having too much food within the bin will cause the odor. Also if the bedding material is too wet it will also cause a foul odor to be noticeable.
The bin material is too wet and dry material or newspaper layer should be placed on the top of the bedding. Check that all food scraps are covered by a layer of bedding.
The soil ph may be too acidic. Check the ph level by testing that with litmus paper. The ph level shall be around 7. If the bin is too acidic, crushed lime stone may be added to regulate the ph level.