If you own raised garden beds, then you should consider vermicomposting, or worm composting. Vermicomposting enriches your soil with essential nutrients and increases resistance to diseases and pathogens. Although beginners often avoid traditional composting due to the stench and hassle, these problems can be easily fixed with vermicomposting. This article explains how to vermicompost for beginners.
What is Vermicompost?
Vermicomposting is a method of composting that utilizes worms to break down waste into rich organic matter in less time and with less hassle than traditional composting systems. In traditional composting, the composting process is dominated by thermophilic (heat-loving) microbes. By contrast, vermicomposting is dominated by mesophilic microbes that require only moderate temperatures. The composting process takes as little as 8 – 12 weeks to be finished, and is generally odorless. Traditional composting can take 6 – 9 months to finish and can emit unpleasant odors. Below are some additional advantages of vermicomposting.
1. Reduces Waste
Food waste is a serious problem, with as much as 40% of general food supply being wasted. Instead of throwing food scraps, organic byproducts, and leftover vegetables into the trash, you can place them in your worm compost bin. As a small bonus, the amount of household trash is reduced by diverting away some of the waste which means you will not need to take it out as frequently. On a large scale, the amount of waste rotting in landfills will also be reduced. Organic matter rotting in landfills decomposes slower and wastes nutrient byproducts.
2. Improves Soil Composition
Vermicomposting adds carbon-heavy organic matter like humus to soils that have subpar composition or have been depleted by unsustainable practices. This promotes plant photosynthesis and the release of oxygen into the atmosphere as well as cycles the carbon back into the soil for the plants. Overall, this nutrient-rich compost promotes a healthy ecosystem of beneficial microbes that mimic the natural environment of a forest.
3. Improves Plant Growth
Vermicomposting has been proven to have a variety of beneficial effects to plants, including faster germination of seeds, earlier fruiting with larger fruit, pest suppression, and higher yields.
How do you Vermicompost?
Although you may think that any kind of earthworm can be used for vermicomposting, that is not true. Only 8 – 10 species of worms out of the over 300 species are suitable for vermicomposting. Worms can be divided into three categories: epigeic, endogeic, and anecic. The type used in vermicomposting are epigeic, which are worms that live close to the surface in loosely packed environments and do not burrow in the soil. The most common type in the US is known as the red wiggler.
Vego Garden’s In-Ground Worm Composter is an ideal solution for beginners who seek to create compost efficiently with minimal maintenance. Unlike above ground systems, it allows worms to move freely in and out of the bin to spread some worm castings and enrich the soil, but more notably it helps any excess fluid drain directly into the soil without manual maintenance. Red wigglers can be purchased online from reputable vendors or at a worm farm. Once you have installed your worm composter in your raised garden bed, you can follow the below tips to help you get started.
1. What to Feed your Worms
Worms can tolerate most non-acidic vegetable and fruit waste. They are partial to soft foods like melons, apples, avocados, and berries, making summer to fall a particularly prolific period. Make sure the food is chopped into small pieces, as large pieces will take much longer to break down. Citrus is not recommended as it is highly acidic, and its rinds contain volatile oils. Add citrus in small quantities. Grains, pastas, and plain cereals are fine as long as they are used in small quantities.
- Oily, spicy and greasy food
- Non-degradable items
- Meat scraps and fish
- Plants or wood treated with pesticides or chemical fertilizer
- Weed seeds and roots
- Processed foods
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Most vegetable and fruit scraps
- Grass clippings and leaves
- Paper and cardboard
- Coco coir
2. Maintain the Temperature
Ideally, you should position your worm bin in a location with partial shade, making sure to avoid too much sun or too little. It should be in a convenient location that is easily accessible. It is important that you maintain the temperature to ensure a productive environment. Although worms can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, the ideal temperature range is between 60 – 80 °F. Extreme temperatures will decrease the productivity of your worm composter and cause them to start dying off.
3. Maintain Moisture Content
The moisture level in a worm bin is very important. Worm bedding, which refers to material that is high in carbon and moisture-absorbent, is critical in maintaining moisture. Common materials for worm bedding include shredded paper and cardboard waste, leaves, coconut coir, aged compost, peat moss, straw and hay, and wood leaves.
A common mistake gardeners experience is overly wet bedding, which can cause undesirable smells and excess moisture to pool. An indication that it is too wet if water drips out when you squeeze it. To remedy, add a layer of fresh, dry bedding..
4. Limit Waste Amount
Although it is commonly thought that worms can eat 50 – 100% their weight in food scraps each day, that actual amount is mostly likely on the lower end, depending on temperature and other factors. To be safe, feed your worms every 2 to 3 days. You can vary the amount depending on the results. If you notice an unpleasant odor start to develop, then it is likely that you have overfed them. An entire feeding should be gone in about 1 to 2 weeks.
5. Harvest Worm Castings Consistently
The fertilizer produced by worms is known as worm castings. Harvesting worm castings can be a tedious process. Fortunately, our in-ground worm bin, you can remove the top entirely to access the castings from any angle. Even more convenient, the composter is right there in your garden bed, so you can just scoop the castings up and spread them across the top of your bed right away!
How to Fix Common Problems
1. Unpleasant Odor
Adding too much food can cause bad smells in your worm bin by increasing the moisture content. Good aeration is important in suppressing odors. To improve aeration, lift the layers of bedding and compost to enable air to circulate. Prod around it to see if you can locate the source of the odor, and remove any smelly items you encounter. If the entire bin smells, add worm bedding to it to help balance any excess nitrogen present. The Vego in-ground worm composter has plenty of aeration holes to limit odor, make sure you only fill your bin with about 5 gallons of material and leave the top several inches open for airflow.
2. Worm bin too dry or wet
If you find your worm bin too wet, add more dry bedding. If it is too dry, sprinkle or spray with water to improve moisture levels.
3. Presence of pests
Although the sides of the metal raised garden bed should hinder pests, some may still appear in your bin. Some kinds are considered benign, including flies and pill bugs, and will not cause harm to your worms or plants. Ants can cause an infestation and siphon away resources. Since ants can be a sign of a dry bin, add moisture to get rid of them. Cinnamon is a great way to repel ants as well, check out our TikTok and Instagram to see this cinnamon hack in action! Centipedes and mites are malignant pests. Remove centipedes by hand using gloves. Get rid of mites by placing a slice of bread on top of your compost and carefully remove it once it's covered in them.
Good luck composting!