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URBAN VERMICOMPOSTING

By: Andrea Larson

If, like most city dwellers, your outdoor space is limited, worm composting is a great alternative to larger outdoor composting beds. When growing indoors, vermicomposting is convenient, easy to set up and will provide an organic soil “conditioner” that can be used in potted plants, and of course, your ganja garden. Plus, vermicomposting is rich in beneficial bacteria and fungi, not to mention invaluable humus and available nutrients!

Getting Started 

If you’re the DIY-type, building a worm bed can be simple and fun, especially if you have kids! There are also many inexpensive options sold online and in stores that make getting started a cinch. Below is a short list of materials you’ll need if going the DIY route. Much of this information is readily available online.

DIY Vermicomposting Needs

  • One 10gal opaque plastic tote (worms despise light)
  • Roughly 50 newspaper pages torn into ½-1’’ strips (avoid pages printed with colored ink)
  • 2-4 cups of soil
  • Cardboard (paper towel rolls are ideal, and free)
  • Food Scraps
  • One pound of worms (red wigglers or manure worms)
  • Spray bottle

Food Scrap Guide

YES

  • Fruit and Veggie Peels
  • Pulverized Egg Shells (tossed into blender beforehand)
  • Tea Bags
  • Coffee grounds (limited quantities)
  • Citrus Rinds (limited quantities)
  • Cereal / Grains
  • Dead flowers
  • Egg Cartons / Cardboard (no inks or dyes)

NO

  • Meat Scraps
  • Bones
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Oily foods
  • Citrus Flesh
  • Bread (can attract red mites)
  • Potato Skins
  • Onion, garlic, ginger
  • Candy (can attract ants)
  • Potato chips
  • Plastic, rubber bands, sponges, aluminum foil, glass, etc.

Maintenance

Much of vermicomposting literature suggests starting with one pound, roughly 1,000, red wigglers AKA Eisenis fetida. Starting your worm bin at a slow pace and allowing them to “grow” into their new home is suggested, as they do reproduce at a fairly quick rate. Overfeeding your worms can result in a slew of problems. Red wigglers can eat half their weight in food every day, so if you start with one pound of worms, yep—you guessed it, you can feed them half a pound of food each day. It can take your worms a few weeks to get settled into their new digs, thereby feeding them less during this interim period is advised.

Replenishing your worms’ bedding is another crucial step in maintaining a healthy environment for your worms. After a few months of proper maintenance, it will be time to use the worms’ castings in your gardens and flower pots. After harvesting the compost mix, which can be done in several different ways, simply replenish the newspaper and cardboard within the compost receptacle. Your worms will thrive in a moist environment, but don’t do well if saturated with water. Keeping a spray bottle handy is a hassle-free way of reintroducing moisture into your worm farm.

Harvesting your worms’ compost

One of the simplest ways to harvest the worm castings is to physically move most of the compost to one side or tray of your bin, then bate the worms to a new location with their food. After a few weeks, most of the worms will have made their way to the new location and you can harvest the castings and compost from the area from which they migrated. Keep your eye out for worms while you harvest, and simply pluck them by hand from the compost.

Problems and Solutions   

Fruit flies: You can avoid fruit flies in the first place by following these simple steps.

  • Bury food and waste under newspaper and cardboard.
  • Don’t overfeed your worms.
  • Keep your bin in an area that will regulate temperature. Your worms will be happiest in a bin kept between 55°-75° Fahrenheit.

Worms are Escaping: Escaped worms are trying to tell you something.

  • Too much acidity can result in unhappy worms—minimize or avoid coffee grounds and citrus.
  • Add more bedding if the bin appears to be too wet, or spritz the bedding with water if it appears too dry.

Mold: If you notice that food in your bin is molding, it’s most likely due an excess of scraps.

  • Feed your worms less often.
  • Remove any visibly moldy scraps.

Odor: Your worm farm should not be odorous. Here are a few simple steps to mitigate odor:

  • Try adding pulverized eggshells, rock dust or crushed oyster shells into the mix.
  • Place food under newspaper or cardboard, as opposed to tossing scraps on the top of your mix.

Growing organic is a popular term, but realistically, most people aren’t being organic at all. By learning to recycle with worms, you will gain a deeper understanding of the plant life cycle, not to mention you’ll end up with less waste and healthier plants!

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