Worm Composting


[intro music] Marjorie Peronto: My name is Marjorie Peronto
with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and today we’re going to talk about worm composting.
Keeping a compost pile going year round in Maine is a challenge. If you’d rather not
trudge through the snow to dump your kitchen scraps on your frozen compost pile in the
winter, consider setting up a worm composting system indoors. You can keep this going year
round. Worms will process your kitchen scraps, and
having a worm bin is a great family project. A box of worms fascinates children, and it’s
also a great conversation starter at dinner parties. Pilot your new endeavor on a small
scale, and expand as you learn. You can graduate to bigger and bigger worm bins, and more and
more worms as you go, over time. To get started, you’ll need a worm bin, some
bedding, some water, the right kind of worms and some food. Try a 10-gallon plastic tub
for starters. This one’s a little bigger, it’s 18 gallons. Drill 8 to 12 quarter-inch
holes in the base of the tub for drainage, and then drill some half-inch holes along
the upper edge on both sides for air circulation. Nest your tub into a plastic tray on top of
blocks, or upside down plant pots in my case. Don’t worry that the worms are going to try
to escape through the holes, they would rather stay in the bin unless there’s something very
wrong inside the bin. Your bins should be no more than 18 inches deep so that the material
in the bin doesn’t become too compacted. The worms need to be able to move freely through
the bin, and they need plenty of air. Bedding is the medium in which the worms crawl
around, and where you bury your food. It needs to be light and moist and fluffy. My favorite
bedding is a mixture of shredded autumn leaves and wood shavings, which I… the leaves I
collect in the fall and run a lawnmower over them, and put them in a bag in my basement,
and the wood shavings I get from a local fellow who splits wood for a living. The type of worms that you need for worm compost,
or vermiculture are called Red Wiggler, or Eisenia fetida. They’re much smaller than
earthworms, and they reproduce really well in captivity. They process a lot of organic
matter, and they don’t mind being disturbed. Don’t try to do this with the large earthworms
that you find in your garden. Those worms need to burrow very deeply in the cool soil,
and they do not survive when kept in a container. You can order Red Wigglers from a garden supply
catalog or perhaps find them at a bait shop, or if you have a friend that has a worm composting
bin, perhaps you can get some from them. How many worms do you need, and what can you feed
them? Well, get yourself a small kitchen scale, and weigh the food scraps that you generate
every day for one week. I’m talking about fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds,
tea bags, and grains. No meat, bones, fatty products, or dairy. Worms can process about half their weight
in food per day. If you generate an average of four ounces of food scraps per day, then
you would need eight ounces of worms in your bin in order to process the food that you’re
going to be adding on a daily basis. If you start with a smaller amount of worms, just
feed them less. Their population will grow, and you’ll be able to feed them more over
time. When you get your worms, you want to sprinkle
them on top of the bedding. Remember, the bedding needs to be nice and moist. [pause]
Then put the lid on the bin. They will quickly burrow down into the bedding. On your lid,
take a piece of paper and draw a grid with eight equal sections. Every time you feed
your worms, you’ll put the food in a different section, and you can mark the date that you
put it then there. You’ll go in a clockwise direction around
the bin. The worms will follow the food source. By the time you get back to that first spot,
you should no longer recognize the food that you put in there. If you can still see recognizable
food, then you shouldn’t put anymore in until it’s gone. I put eight ounces of worms in
this moist bedding, and here I have four ounces of food scraps. I’m going to start in the
section number one, just pull the bedding aside and bury the food shallowly. [pause] That’s the extent of how you feed them. You
put the lid back on, and put the bin in its nesting tray. Be careful that you don’t overload
your bin with food. If you do, it can become smelly and you can develop a fruit fly problem.
You want to go at the pace that the worms can consume. Take it slowly. It’s normal to
see molds and very tiny creatures inside your worm bin. They’re all part of the worm bin
web of life. Now here we’re fast forwarding to a bin that
has been operating for several months. It looks quite different in here, much darker
material. The bin will gradually fill with worm droppings or worm castings as they consume
the food and the bedding that you put in here. This is a nutrient-rich material that you
can put on your garden. Once every few months, you’re going to need
to harvest the castings from the bin, and then put the worms back in with fresh bedding
to keep them going. Get yourself a sheet of plastic, and then scoop out the composted
material. You can create a little windrow or some small cone-shaped piles. The worms
that are in this material will quickly burrow down to the bottom of the pile. They don’t
like being exposed to light or dry air. One way to make them move a little more quickly
is to set up a light and shine it right on the pile. You have to wait a few minutes,
just continuously brush the composted material aside. The worms will continue to burrow down
to the bottom of the pile to the point where eventually all you’ll have left is a pile
of worms, and a separated pile of composted material. This is the material that can go in my garden
as is, or I can make a little quarter inch screen and run it through that. Then I get
a much finer material that’s screened out. This can be put in potting mixes. [music]

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