Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Beginner's Guide to Vermicomposting (with photos)

Jo Hunter Adams

Living in a small apartment, I've wished that there was a way to create compost and avoid throwing away peels, scraps, and other easily degradable trash. As a result of a bad (smelly) composting experience in our house in UWC (Morgannwyg, you guys remember what I'm talking about), I didn't think there was a way to do this indoors unless I was really, really uh... alternative.

I discovered that this process was a lot easier than I thought. Essentially, you need good aeration, some worms, a non-extreme temperature, and you'll have compost in as little as a couple of weeks! I decided to have two containers that I expect will full up about every 4 weeks. Ideally, while one fills up, the other will sit, so that I might have a continuous supply. It may be too late for this to be a great benefit to our garden for this year, but I heard that there are people who go around the neighborhood with a little compost, "guerilla composting" if they have too much for themselves. So it won't go to waste!

What can you put in your compost?
You can put almost all non-animal related scraps in the compost. This includes clean eggshells but you should never put in scraps of meat or dairy, because they'll smell really badly. You can put in paper towels, or if you find yourself with a paper coffee cup at the end of the day, you can also tear that up and put it in (the worms will eat everything except the wax, drastically reducing the size of the trash ending up in a landfill). And the things you would expect-- vegetable peels and ends, bread crumbs, old greens, etc.

Remember that the smaller things are, the more quickly they can be digested down. If something is larger, the worms may wait longer for it to rot before starting to work on it. So if possible, do some of the work for the worms.

Although you can put almost anything in the composting bin, there should be a variety in the bin at any time. For example, the worms will happily digest orange peels, but if there are too many orange peels in the compost bin, this may make the bin very acidic.

What tools do I need for this process?
You need four main tools for this process:

1) A container with a lid. I used a 16qt container, which cost me US$2.99. The container doesn't need to be very big, but you want it to be wider than it is high, as the worms don't like to travel vertically as much as they like to travel horizontally.

2) Worms. You specifically want red wiggler worms. These worms are really great for working through soil. I got these from the local bait shop, where they cost $2.50 for 24. I bought two containers-- I'll have to see if this seems enough or not. These worms don't sleep, they eat all day and all night.

3) Paper I used some newspaper-like junk mail.

4) A drill to make holes in the container. I want the worms to have plenty of air, so I made holes about every square inch, with about my fifth smallest drill bit (1/8). I wanted to make the holes so that they were only slightly too small for the worms to get out.

Next steps: Making sure the worms are not too warm, have enough air, moisture, and food.

1) Shred the paper Remember it's easier to go with the grain to make long thin strips.

2) Set about half of the paper aside.

3) Wet the remaining paper
Dip the paper in water, and then wring it out. You don't want it to be so wet that it's dripping everywhere.

4) Add whatever scraps you have onhand
This doesn't need to be much, you can add scraps as you go along.

5) Add your worms

6) Add the remaining dry paper, to give the worms added air.

7) Snap on the lid and put the compost bin away!

Total Cost: US$8 (or about the cost of one fairly cheap restaurant meal in Boston)