If you're serious about getting into vermicomposting, you'll be glad to know that it takes only a few simple steps to get started. And only two steps require much thought: choosing a bin and finding the best worms. With those elements in place, the rest is merely a matter of gathering some household supplies, including your daily food scraps, and setting up the bin.
Before Getting Started
The first thing you need to do is get your hands on a bin. You can purchase inexpensive pre-made worm bins online or via mail order, or you can make your own out of a plastic storage box or wooden crate. No matter which type you go with, keep in mind that its size should correlate to how much food waste your household generates:
- If you generate 1/2 pound of food waste per day (typical for a family of 2), your worm bin should measure at least 4 feet in surface area (a 2 x 2-foot bin), and you should fill it with 1 pound of worms.
- If you generate 1 pound of food waste per day (typical for a family of 4) either go with two 2 x 2-foot bins, each with 1 pound of worms or find or make a bin that is at least 3 x 3 feet and fill it with 2 pounds of worms.
Keep in mind that the bin does not need to be very deep. Red worms live and eat in the top 6 to 8 inches of material.
Equipment / Tools
- Water jugs or pitchers
- Vermicomposting bin
- Composting worms
- Newspaper, cardboard, or coir
Choose Worms for Your Bin
You may have seen all of those lovely earthworms out in the garden, and you may know that they're doing a great job aerating the soil, breaking down organic matter, and leaving rich castings behind, so it seems that they would be perfect for a vermicompost bin. While you can try working with these types of worms, your level of success will be much higher if you use one of the two varieties of worms that are specifically raised for vermicomposting.
Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus are both used successfully in vermicomposting, and these are the worms that you receive when you order worms for vermicomposting. The difference between composting worms and earthworms is that composting worms do a fast job of breaking down organic matter from beginning to end. Earthworms are much more effective at further breaking down organic matter that has already decomposed somewhat. Go with redworms, or red wigglers, as they are also known, for a successful worm bin.
Select and Prepare the Bedding Material
The most commonly used bedding material is newspaper, mostly because it is so readily available. Cardboard and coir are also good bedding materials. If you are using newspaper, shred about 50 sheets into thin (1-inch-wide) strips. If you are using cardboard, tear it up into fairly small pieces.
Moisten the Bedding
Worms will not survive in a dry environment, so you'll need to moisten the bedding materials to get them off to a healthy start. Place your bedding material into a clean bucket or tub and start adding water. It is best to use dechlorinated water for your worms.
To dechlorinate your water, simply fill a couple of jugs or pitchers of water from your faucet and leave them sitting out, open, for a day or two. The chlorine in the water will dissipate, leaving your water free of chlorine.
To moisten the bedding, simply add the bedding material to a clean bucket or tub and start pouring water in. Mix the water into the bedding well, adding a little at a time. You want your bedding material to feel like a wrung-out sponge. A couple of drops should be released from the bedding if you squeeze a handful of it; if more water drips out, add a bit more dry bedding to get the moisture level right. Dump the bedding into the bin, and fluff it up a bit. You want your worms to be able to wriggle easily through the bedding. Break up any large clumps of bedding.
If possible, add a shovelful of garden soil or finished compost to your bedding material. It will provide grit for the worms, as well as introduce microorganisms that will help the contents of your worm bin break down faster.
Add the Worms
Once you've moistened the bedding and placed it into your bin, your worm bin is ready for the worms. Scatter them gently onto the bedding, and cover up the bin.
Find a Home for Your Worm Bin
Where you place your bin is important. It should be kept in an area that stays between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures outside of this range can be detrimental to the worms and slow production in the bin. Worms are also bothered by vibration and may try to escape the bin if this is an issue. Try not to place the bin near washing machines, clothes dryers, or dishwashers.
The final consideration in placing the bin is convenience. You want the bin to be in a place where adding food waste will be easy, and where you will frequently be reminded to check conditions in the bin to ensure that your worms are happy. Every household is different, but prime spots include kitchen cabinets, mudrooms, and basements.
Let your new bin sit a few days without adding food so that the worms work their way down into the bedding. After that, your worms are ready to go to work.