Vermiculture vs. Vermicomposting
It can be a little bit difficult to understand the difference between vermiculture and vermicomposting. In my system of vermiculture I use a moss bedding and I have a grain mixture that I feed my worms. This allows me to have better control of my reproduction and my casting production. This enables me to control the quality of my product which is castings, in which I need to have a consistent product. Vermicomposting is similar in that you use worms to break down organic matter. Vermicomposting on a small scale can be done in any home, as long as your not too squeamish about worms. In our climate vermicomposting needs to be done indoors in the winter and preferably year round. The cool thing about vermicomposting is that you can do it year round. To have optimal conditions you need to have them at a temperature around 15 – 20 degrees Celsius.
To get started with vermicomposting you need some kind of container to keep your worms and compost in. One of the most popular way to build you own is to use a Rubbermaid container. They’re cheap and easy to come by. Preferable not a see through one because worms are light sensitive and your worms wouldn’t work very hard for you if they were exposed to light. Most people use two about this size. Worms are oxygen lovers, they breathe through their skin so you want to have a well ventilated container. (1/8 inch holes) The holes serve 2 purposes, to give the worms ventilation. The holes on the bottom are to give good drainage. You need to have good drainage so that you don’t have standing water in your bin. This will create anaerobic conditions. Anaerobic conditions could lead to smells in your bin because the good organisms will die and the bad organisms will move in and create a smell. Nobody wants a smelly worm bin.
Now that you have your container the worms need bedding. For home vermicomposting bins shredded paper, cardboard, and junk mail is used. You want to watch out for glossy type magazines but newsprint and flyers, corrugated cardboard works really well, worms actually like the glue on the cardboard. You can also add outside material to your bedding. That could include brown grass clipping (NOT GREEN), leaf litter. You could also use coconut coir. This helps to keep the paper moist. I don’t recommend people go out and by this b/c paper and cardboard work just as good. This helps to build a small ecosystem in your bin which will help to break down the organic matter in your bin. This is basically the fiber for you worms. You need to moisten this bedding. B/c worms are made of 80% water they do need moist conditions to live in and thrive. But not too wet. This is probably one of the most finicky aspect of vermicomposting. Worms could drown in the water.
Now your ready to add a food source. This can include almost all of your veggie and fruit peel and leftovers. Things you want to avoid or use in moderation are grains, pastas, meats, cheeses, and citrus. Some things your worms will really love are coffee grounds, watermelons. If you want to really speed things up in your bin you can take this table waste and grind it up in a food processor or cut it into smaller pieces, if your like me you just want to throw it in there. That’s totally possible but it’s just going to take more time to compost. In a vermicomposting system the worms will eat their weight in food a day and usually you’d have 1 lb of worms to start with so that’s 1 lb of food per day BUT in most cases this is very hard to achieve. When first starting it may take at least 1-3 months for your bin to start doing this because your not just feeding the worms your building up the biology in the bin that will help the worms break down those organic materials. Some patience may be required. If you start to overfeed your bin you may run into a smell issue b/c the worms can’t process the food source quick enough. Even your outdoor compost should never smell. If it smells it’s because you’ve overfeed it or like I said before there is to much oxygen in your bin. When adding food to your bin it’s best to put in underneath your bedding. This will help to deter any other invasive species that you may not want in your bin such as fruit flies.
Basically now that we have built the bin, added holes for oxygen and aeration, you’ve got the proper moisture in the bin, your bedding is there and you’ve added a food source you are ready to add the worms. The most popular worm for vermicomposting is the red worm or dung worm, also called a Tiger Worm. For those of you who are interested the scientific name is Eisenia Fetida. They are a type of worm that are able to handle quite diverse conditions and reproduce in many different environments. The red worm is quite an adaptable worm and this makes it a great composting worm. The type of worm that we raise is the African Nightcrawler or scientifically know as the Eudrilus eugeniae. They are known for their large breeding potential, large size, and incredible waste processing ability. Because of their waste processing abilities we have found them to be efficient composting worms. Although our worms are nightcrawlers they are not like the nightcrawlers you find in your lawn. These are Canadian Nightcrawlers and they do NOT do well in vermicompost bins. The reason they don’t is that they don’t breed well in captivity and they don’t like being contained in warm bins for long periods of time. When adding worms to the bin you can add them to the top or put them under the bedding a bit. Once this is done your worm bin is up and running. Now you just need to check on it and keep on adding food and bedding.