The Best Advice on Worm Composting from 5+ Gardening Experts
As the planting season is fast approaching, it would be in your best interest if you’re well-prepared and get those tomatoes or bell peppers ready for planting. One of the many things to prepare is, of course, the essential nutrients that your plants need. One effective and cost-efficient plant nutrient is vermicompost or worm compost.
Vermicomposting is one of the most recommended composting methods. This is because worm castings are packed with lots of nutrients and minerals such as nitrate, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium, which are essential for the plant’s growth.
While there are several worm composting systems that gardeners can try, some of them might be too complicated for beginners. In this round-up, we took the liberty to ask several gardening experts about their opinion on the matter by asking them the question below:
“What type of worm composting system would you recommend for a beginner that was looking to go to that next level and why?"
Want to know their answer? Check them out below!
A great way to get started with worm composting is to buy a good quality stackable plastic worm farm from your local garden centre. The better quality ones are well designed, take only minutes to set up, come with comprehensive instructions and make it very easy to get started. They usually come with everything you need to get a worm farm going except for the compost worms themselves, which are usually sold separately.
If you aren’t sure about spending the money on a store-bought worm farm, particularly if you’re still deciding if worm composting is the thing for you, then a simple, no-cost option is a DIY worm farm which can be constructed out of two polystyrene foam broccoli boxes with lids, which can be obtained for free from your local greengrocer if you ask nicely! These home-made worm farms are easy to build, very durable, they’ll last a few years, and can be a fun activity to get children involved in too. You can find free DIY instructions on my website in the article Building a Broccoli Box Worm Farm which explains the step-by-step construction procedure with pictures.
In either case, what makes a worm composting system work are the worms themselves, so to ensure your success it’s best to get things right from the beginning! You’ll definitely need to buy compost worms to put in your worm farm, as they’re different to the earthworms in your garden soil. With the right worms and a good worm farm, worm composting will be a pleasurable and rewarding activity, and your plants will be thankful for it too.
Composting is a fantastic initiative for any gardener to undertake. It diverts green waste away from landfill, it recycles valuable nutrients for your garden, it saves money and from my point of view most important is by choosing to compost in your garden you are helping to protect a sample of Irish peatlands. Whether you are new to composting or already have an established compost system but are looking at alternative methods to compost you may become overwhelmed by the variety of compost systems available on the market today. To help you choose the right compost system ask yourself the following questions: What type of material do I have to compost, how much material do I have to compost, how much space do I have and how much time do I want to spend composting? If you identified food waste as the material you want to compost, if you only have a small space or if you decided you do not want to spend time turning a heap then I suggest a wormery may be a compost system for you.
A wormery uses a special type of worm known as a brandling worm but you might also hear this type of worm called a red worm or tiger worm! These worms love to feed on food waste from our kitchens. Most food waste is preventable but approximately 20% of all food waste is unavoidable including onion peels, apple cores, banana skins etc... Although this type of food waste can be added to a traditional compost heap a wormery takes this nutritious food waste and makes a very nutrient rich compost. Another return from composting using a wormery is a nutrient rich liquid feed often called ‘worm tea’.
Wormeries are available to buy on the market but you can also make your own wormery using a plastic bin or wooden box. With the exception of small holes drilled close to the base of your wormery it is fully sealed compost system (the holes allow the ‘worm tea’ to drain from the wormery). If you decide to make your own wormery you will need a bedding for your worms, a mixture of damp Autumn leaves and shredded paper will be perfect as these will provide a carbon based material to compliment the nitrogen rich food waste you will be adding to the wormery. I recommend you also use the worm bedding to bury your fresh food waste in – this will be especially important in the Summer to help prevent fruit flies.
Whether you choose to make your own wormery or purchase a wormery the benefits include only a small space is required, a nutrient rich compost within 8- 12 months, a liquid feed for your garden and a low maintenance compost system. All you have to do is give your worms a tasty meal on a regular basis.
If you are serious about trying worm composting, I would suggest finding a copy of Mary Appelhof’s “Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System”. This is a great user-friendly guide to get you started. From there I would suggest building your own system. You’ll find it is less expensive and will give you a sense of whether vermicomposting is for you! Try building a worm composter for indoors like the one I’ve outlined in my blog post here.
Once you have a happy worm bin set up, it is a fairly easy to use and maintain, but it can sometimes take a long time to find the right balance in your little worm ecosystem. The biggest issue is having too much liquid in the bin. Worms need moisture, but not too much! You’ll also need to work out a system for how much you will feed your worms and how often you will do so.
If you find success after several months with a DIY worm bin, you may want to invest in a vermicomposting system that can handle more of your food waste and produce more compost. If you want or need to compost with worms on a larger scale, you should investigate “continuous-flow” vermicomposting systems. These are wonderful for handling and processing the food waste of a cafeteria, for example.
For most beginners I would suggest a simple DIY nested tote design, which you can find some great instructions for online pretty easily. I suggest these systems because they are really simple to make out of materials you have sitting around the house, and they work just as well as pricey, pre-fabbed versions- if not better, since you're forced to do a little research into the design and how to care for your new pets!
That's a good question. I've been composting for years and find that the simplest, cheapest systems usually work better.
For example, plastic backyard composters can be okay, but a simple (and cheap - maybe free) set up of 4 pallets into a square makes an even better composter (bigger bin = more microbes = higher temperatures = faster composting).
For vermi, we would suggest a simple tupperware bin system. And by system, we just mean the processes that go into it. Here in the office we use a 1'X2' rubbermaid bin with about 30 holes drilled in the top. We put in the worms, kitchen scraps, and use shredded paper as a base. Our process is to put organics primarily on one side of the bin. Once the worms finish it, start putting scraps on the other side. This will cause them to move over to the new side to access the fresh food. This also creates an opportunity for you to harvest from the side they have vacated. We keep 2-3 of these bins at any time as we are composting for the whole floor of our office building.
There are lots of fancy vermi composting kits out there, and we've tried a few, but found them difficult to keep clean, tedious to use, and no more effective than a simple rubbermaid bin. Our blog here goes a little more in depth - Vermicomposting.
Things to note : red wrigglers (really the only worm that does the job in north america as far as we know) are warm climate worms. They are imported from California or Mexico. So it's important to never leave your bin outside in the winter (here in Winnipeg we have very harsh and cold winters). If you ever do leave your vermibin outside in warmer climes, ensure that it is well fed or the worms will pack up and move out in search of food.
Never over feed your worms - if there's too much food for them to eat it may begin to mold/rot. There are some foods that they don't particularly like as well so be prepared for some experimentation.
Following the pieces of advice given by the experts, you should consider the worm farm and the type of worm to use. It is also crucial not to overfeed your worms as this can cause a number of problems such as odor, pests, and excess moisture.
Please share your existing worm composting system or one that you plan to try in the comment section below. Who knows? Some beginners in worm composting might find it useful and practical.
Lastly, THANKS to all the experts who willingly shared their opinions and expertise. You guys are awesome!
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