Thursday, January 15, 2015


Why worms?  You want to recycle your food scraps; you don’t want to buy plant food; you want the best fertilizer that is the most accessible to plants,  you want to create a healthy soil structure with good drainage and you don’t want to worry when you leave town for a 2 -3 weeks!


1.  Equipment and Supplies

worm bin:  Buy or make your own.  How big?  One square foot of surface area for each pound
of food scraps generated per week.  Worms need oxygen!  One solution:  Drill about ten 1/8” holes at the top of both sides of a plastic container (2-foot by 1-foot plastic bin with lid that is 8 to 20 inches deep.). For drainage, drill six ¼-inch holes, equally dispersed, along the bottom of each side of the bin. I hot glued some screen on the inside.  Put your bin on a plastic tray to catch any extra water.

bedding:  For a 2’ x 2’ plastic bin,  tear or shred about 2 -4  lbs. of black and white newspaper, office paper or cardboard.  Soak this in water, squeeze the water completely out and put it in the bin.  Fluff it up so that your bin is about 2/3 full.  Add a couple of handfuls of healthy garden soil to introduce beneficial microorganisms and aid the earthworms’ digestive process (they have gizzards, not teeth, that help them break down the food).  If the bedding gets dry, spray some water over the top.
worms:  There are over 4,000 species of earthworms but only eisenia fetida (common name: red wigglers) are best suited for vermicomposting.  You will need about 1 lb (about 1000 worms) for each square foot of surface area of your bin.  Find them on line or from any worm farmer, as they need to be divided 1 -2x/year.   Spread them across the bedding and let them settle in for a couple of days before feeding them.

food scraps:  Worms like vegetables, fruits, crushed eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, shredded paper and coffee filters.  To speed up the process I usually chop up the scraps.  It takes a long time for them to eat citrus and seeds so I avoid these.  Meat attracts rodents!  Bury the scraps in one corner of the bin.  Alternate corners with each feeding.  I usually wait until most of the food is gone before giving them more.  To avoid fruit flies, bury the food and don’t overfeed them!  

2. Harvesting your vermicompost This is a mixture of worm castings and partially decomposed bedding and food scraps.  The more varied the diet, the more nutritious the castings.  In about 3 – 4 months you will be ready for your first harvest.  Here are two ways to separate out the castings:
·         Feed your worms on one side of the bin for 3 – 4 weeks, and then remove the castings from the other side.  Add new bedding to this area and feed them some of their favorite food.  Reverse the process.  At this point, you will probably have too many worms for this size bin so give some away!  There will be some stragglers in the castings so pick them out or they will die.
·         Worms do NOT like light.  Shine a light on top of the farm, wait a few minutes for the worms to dive down, remove the castings from the top layer.  Repeat.

3.  Using your vermicompost 
·         Mix the vermicompost into your garden soil or dig it in around trees and shrubs. For optimum results castings to soil ratio is 1:4
·         Mix it into potting soil for container plants.
·         Make ‘worm tea’ by adding 2 tablespoons of vermicompost to one quart water and let it steep for a day, mixing occasionally.  Use within 24 hours.

Read more:
·      CSU Ext. CMG Garden Notes
·   NCSU Worms Can Recycle Your Garbage
·         Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof.  Kalamazoo: Flower Press, 1997.  This is the bible for worm farming!
·         The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.  A page turner on the remarkable achievements of worms.

The NPK (nitrogen, phosphate, and Potassium) are locked in the castings  (worm poop) and released into the plants slowly as micro-organisms break it down.

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