Worm Compost

Earlier this year, we bought a worm compost bin. If this is a new idea for you, like it was for you, let me break it down for you. The concept is super simple. The basic idea is that you let worms do what worms do and turn your vegetable scraps into compost.

Our bin is built out of cedar and the wood was treated with an organic, soy based finish.There are two sides, separated by a screen divider. The mesh dividing the two allows the worms to travel freely between the two areas. First you put in a layer of starter material of some kind. We used the compost that the worms came in. If you wanted to build a box of your own and harvest worms from your yard, you could use some basic compost from your yard, or even just a layer of topsoil would work.

After your base layer, you add fruit and vegetable scraps. Eat a banana, toss in the peal. Forgot about the bag of salad mix in the back of the crisper? Toss it in. Realized you can only eat half of a giant watermelon after you cubed it up and left it sitting in the fridge for a week? Toss it in.

Then, when one side is full, you start on the other side. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The inside of our worm bin is a very lively community. In addition to the worms–a mixture of night crawlers and redworms–there are little, tiny crawly bugs that I don’t know the name of, fruit flies, and a couple of happy, well-fed spiders. My son adds to the spider population every chance he gets. He loves to catch them and turn then loose in the bin.

Today I got to use the compost for the first time (for another project that I’ll tell y’all about later) and it was PERFECT. Rich and crumbly and dark, dark brown. I love that we (and a whole lot of hungry worms) turned food waste into nutrient rich soil that will feed our plants next spring.

Some advice if you decide to take up worm composting:

  • Build the bin yourself. It’s simple construction and could be built for a 1/4 of what we spent on ours. If you have questions about the specifics of design, or want to see other pictures, hit me up. I’ll gladly break it down for you. I’ll even bust out my tape measure and give you dimensions.
  • Potatoes that have started to sprout don’t break down in nutrient rich soil, worms or not. They start sprouting and turn into potato plants. Yep. Next time we have potatoes to go in there, I’m going to chop them up into small pieces and see if that does the trick. Or maybe I’ll just save the potatoes and use them to plant a new crop next spring.
  • We have the basics of worm composting down, but we suck at the details. For example, smaller pieces compost quicker. It’s less work for the worms and other buggies to break down smaller pieces. Next time I’ll probably (but maybe not) chop up the half watermelon instead of just tossing it in.
  • Occasionally add a layer of base material. We chipped up some tree branches a couple of years ago, so it’s broken down into a nice chunky compost. Too solid for planting beds, but perfect for the worms. We toss in two or three shovelfuls every once in a while and it works nicely. A layer of newspaper is nice as well.
  • Coffee grounds are great for composting. You have to be careful with worms though. You can’t give them too much at a time. If you don’t drink coffee, like us, you can get used grounds for free in a lot of different places. We pick ours up at New Seasons.

One of my projects for the month of September is to build a traditional compost bin in the back yard. The worms are great, but they can’t keep up with EVERYTHING I want to feed them, including the trimmings from pruning my flowers and plants a week ago. When I finish that project, I’ll post a summary and some pictures to let you know how it goes. Perhaps next year at this time, I’ll offer a compare and contrast between the two. Until then, I can definitely say I’m happy with my worms. If you’re considering building a similar system, I say go for it!

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