Has this cold weather been making you wish you could get outside and play in the dirt? Or perhaps you're looking for ways to improve your garden soil during the winter. Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is a good way to get both of these accomplished. In addition to producing compost, it's also a great way to put those kitchen scraps to use.
Getting started with vermicomposting is relatively easy to do. You can buy a kit, or you can simply use a plastic storage bin with holes drilled in the sides. A 10-gallon bin is a good size to start with. Drill ½ inch holes in the sides of the bin and lid, so the worms can breathe, and cover with window screening, so they don't escape.
A bedding material will need to be added to your bin. The bedding should be a nontoxic material that holds moisture, but also allows air to circulate. Some materials that can be used include newspaper (make sure to not use glossy paper), paper bags, cardboard, decaying leaves, or coconut coir. If using paper, tear it into half-inch-wide strips and soak in water for several minutes. Then remove the paper and wring it out, it should be slightly wetter than a moist sponge (this goes for any bedding material you may be using). Fluff the paper up and fill the bin halfway. The worms will eat the bedding, so more will have to be added over time. Make sure to keep the bedding moist, using a plant mister is a good way to do this. Finally, add a handful of soil to the newspaper, this will introduce microorganisms that will aid in the composting process.
Once your bin is set up it's time to add some worms. Red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are considered the best worms to use. They like feeding on the surface of the soil, while the worms you typically find in the garden, or after a good rainstorm, burrow deep into the soil and are not good worms to for vermicomposting indoors. You will need around a pound of worms (about 1,000) for your bin.
After you've added your worms, it's time to feed them. They will eat almost any fruit and vegetable scrap you give them such as potato, carrot, banana, coffee grounds, and even eggshells (avoid citrus though). Do not feed your worms meat, dairy products, or oily foods. They won't eat them and the food will spoil. Feed your worms as needed, one pound of red wigglers can eat up to two pounds of food scraps a week. In a couple of months, you should have some worm compost to harvest.
To harvest your worm compost you can use one of two methods. First, with the divide and sort method, you stop feeding the worms and move your old bedding to one side of the bin and add fresh bedding and food to the other side. The worms will move to the new bedding and you can harvest your compost. A second method is the live-and-let-die option. You simply stop feeding the worms, eventually, they will die and you can harvest your compost.
Once you have your new compost it can be used in potting soil for your houseplants or store it to be used in your garden this spring.Good Growing Fact of the Week: There are over 9,000 species of earthworms. So far only seven have been identified as suitable for vermicomposting, with the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) being the most commonly used.