About Worm Composting

Learn the best way to break down food waste with worms

Worm composting, or "vermicomposting," is a simple and effective way to reduce food waste in your trash and create inexpensive plant fertilizer. And it helps the environment. It might seem a little gross at first, but its rewards outweigh the weirdness of having a sort of "worm-farm" in your home.

The basics of worm composting

First, you'll need a worm bin; a tray or box about six to 12 inches deep made of wood or plastic. There are some commercially-available versions at hardware stores, or you can make your own at home for less than $5.

Next, you'll need to purchase 1,000-2,000 compost worms. Two-thousand worms might seem like a lot. But wait, the compost-party is just getting started: a healthy worm population actually doubles every couple of months, says Mary Appelhof, author of the book Worms Eat My Garbage. Before you introduce your composting worms to their new home, you'll want to put down a little bedding to make them comfortable. Shredded paper or dry leaves are good choices. Then, add your worms, and let them feast on all your organic food waste. Meat scraps may cause odor and attract insect pests, so many vermicomposters choose to feed only fruit and vegetable scraps to their worms.

Your new worm friends

Composting worms are not the same worms you find crawling through your garden. Common earthworms enjoy nutrient-rich topsoil, but composting worms like environments full of bacteria from rotting food material or even manure. The most common type of composting worm is the "red wiggler." Another species of worm good for vermicomposting is called the "European nightcrawler."

Where to put your worm bin

Composting worms prefer a moderate climate, between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The worms should not be kept in direct sunlight. Where you place your worm bin will largely depend on how much room you have in your apartment or home. Some worm composters put their bin under the sink, near the trash or even under the bed.

The benefits of vermicomposting

Mireya Navarro, an environmental writer for the New York Times, says that food waste accounts for 13 percent of the nation's trash. Cutting down on that food waste cuts down on the space we use in landfills. Also, food waste that gets buried under other trash and is not allowed to decompose with plenty of aeration produces methane, a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect and climate change. In addition to helping the environment, worm composting yields fertilizer. After the worms eat, they produce a manure which can be used to nourish plants and gardens.

Things to watch out for while worm composting

If your compost bin has an unpleasant odor, this is most likely coming from the rotting food itself, not from the worms or their waste. Try placing smaller amounts of food in the bin to be sure the worms can eat it before it completely rots. If flies and other pests seem to be attracted to your compost bin, simply place a light cloth or some newspaper over the top. And if your worms are trying to escape, make sure there is enough moisture in the bin -- they don't like their home to get too dry. Also, too many coffee grounds or citrus fruit waste products may cause the compost pile to become too acidic for the worms. If your worm buddies aren't pleased with their new home, they will try to make a break for it.

Having the right worm composting information is important for creating a successful vermicomposting system. Take the time to learn all about compost, composting worms and how to use your compost before getting started.

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