You can make amazing compost without a compost pile – just start a worm farm! Here’s what you will need, and step-by-step instructions for setting up your own source of “black gold”…
You probably already know how wonderful compost is for your garden, but compost can be expensive to buy if you don’t have the outdoor space to make your own.
Worms to the rescue! 🙂
Worm farming, or worm composting (vermicomposting) has become a popular way for home gardeners – even those without a lot of outdoor space available – to make nutrient-rich organic compost to use in their gardens. In fact, worm compost may be even more nutritious for your soil than regular compost! According to ModernFarmer.com, vermicompost “contains five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than ordinary soil.”
You can make your own vermicompost in a closet, laundry room, basement, or even under the sink. And you won’t need a huge compost pile, or a big, unwieldy compost bin. You will, however, need a few items – most of which you probably already have on hand. (You can also buy worm composting bins, but it’s really easy – and much cheaper – to make your own.)
Here is a quick list of what you will need for setting up your own worm farm:
- 2 plastic storage bins which will fit inside each other- like Rubbermaid or something similar. They should be opaque and at least 12″ deep.
- A drill
- A brick or small flowerpot
- Old newspapers and household food waste
- Worms! The most common type of worm used for vermicomposting is Eisenia fetida. They are typically sold by the pound at gardening centers or bait shops. You don’t need a lot to start, as they will reproduce quickly. One pound is equal to about 1,000 worms.
Here are step-by-step directions for setting up your worm farm. (For pictures of each step, visit ModernFarmer.com.)
1. Mark out holes on one of the bins. Using a pencil, mark out a series of holes around all four sides of the top of the bin. Mark out about 20 holes in the bottom of the bin. Leave the other bin blank (no holes). Take one of the lids and mark out enough holes so that the bin will get some air exchange…
2. Drill out the holes. For the lid and sides we used a 3/32” drill bit. For the bottom holes, we used a larger 3/16” bit.
3. Stack your bins. Put a brick or flowerpot in the undrilled bin and stack the drilled bin on top. This allows some space for the liquid to drain out of the top bin into the bottom one.
4. Prepare the bedding. The bedding materials are like “browns” in garden compost. Shredded newspapers work great, as does torn up corrugated cardboard. A few dried leaves work too. Just avoid anything with glossy color printing or leaves with a lot of volatile oil or strong scent. Once your bedding is in place, wet it down until it’s the consistency of a wet sponge. It should be moist, but fluffy.
5. Lay out some worm food. Table scraps are the best. Just don’t add any oil or animal products like bone, meat or fat, or any dairy. Citrus is okay…but go moderately with acidic substances like citrus and coffee grounds…
6. Add the wigglers. Once your bin is all set, bury a small amount of food scraps and let your worms loose on it. Worms naturally go for the dark, so they’ll bury themselves in your table scraps. Don’t worry, they usually can’t find their way out of the bin and escape. They don’t want that anyway, and neither do you.
7. Tuck them in. To avoid fruit fly infestation, and worm escapees, take a few sheets of wet newspaper and lay them flat on top of your bedding. Then take a few more wet sheets and roll them up. Tuck them around the corners to form a seal so that everything stays in place and your worms are protected.
8. Put them to work. Don’t expect much in the first few weeks. They are getting over the trauma of a new home. Once they’re up to it, though, worms can consume up to their own weight in food a day. So, if you put in roughly 1 pound of worms, try putting in just about a pound of scraps a day. Don’t worry if you put in too much or too little, just make sure you add a variety of food scraps, so that the little guys will have something to munch on. You can feed them every few days, or as infrequently as once every two weeks. Just make sure you replace the food that is disappearing. You’ll see that some foods break down quickly (like ripe fruit) and others take forever (like root veggies and cabbage). To avoid bad smells, bury your food scraps underneath some bedding and vary the location of the food throughout the box.
9. Harvest your worm compost. Once the worms have done their work, you will see vermicompost in the bin. It’s dark brown and looks like coffee grounds. To get some, without using fancy machinery, lure the worms to another area of the bin with fresh food. In a few days most of the worms will be working the new area, so you can carefully scoop out the finished compost. It’s okay if you have a few worms hanging on. Just make sure you leave most of them in the bin to keep working. You can also detach the top bin and pour out the “juice” that accumulates in the bottom bin. This stuff is like a high-energy drink for your plants. Dilute it or aerate it and feed your houseplants or your garden…