Worm composting – I am sure you have heard of it, but what the heck is it? Worm composting is a wonderfully efficient way to convert kitchen scraps and other organic materials, cardboard and junk mail into nutrient-rich compost for your garden.
Did you know that these wiggly composters can eat their body weight in garbage in a day? That’s a lot of composting going on.
Earthworms are very efficient little composters leaving behind some of the richest and most productive compost known. These worm castings or worm compost contain 5 to 11 times the amount of available of N-P-K (N – nitrogen, P – phosphorus and K – potassium) as the soil the worms ate to produce those castings. So how do these wiggly composters do their magical work? The worm’s intestinal tract secretions act to chemically liberate plant nutrients with the aid of the microorganisms present in the soil. These wonderful earthworms tunnel through your soil day and night liberating plant nutrients wherever they go.
To be successful at worm composting, it is important to understand the needs of your little composters. If you were to buy 1,000 worms and thrust them into your compost pile, you would likely end up with many casualties. Most earthworms cannot tolerate the heat of an active compost heap. Composting worms prefer a much cooler climate.
Essentially, there are two different methods of composting-hot and cold. Earthworms definitely prefer the cool composting method, also known as the Indore composting method. Composting worms are naturally attracted to the Indore method attacking the compost heap from the bottom. The worms will reproduce quickly, increasing their population several times over. The earthworms mix the nutrients within the compost heap and stabilize them for growing plants.
There are many kinds of earth worms. Red worms and brandling worms are the species usually sold by earthworm breeders. Brandling worms and red worms work very well in a compost heap or manure heap. Field worms and night crawlers are larger worms and will attack compost heaps from the bottom but prefer to retreat into the soil after having done so. Night crawlers and field worms do not like the heat of an active compost pile.
To start worm composting, create a no-heat compost pile using a modified Indore method. Begin by making a normal-sized compost heap-say 4′ in diameter, but only make the heap 15″-18″ high. Shred all organic material as finely as possible and immediately introduce manure type worms into the heap. The worms will start working right away. This way the heap will never really heat up because the core of the heap will remain exposed to the cooler outside temperatures. There are a few disadvantages to this method. It is time consuming to shred the organic materials for the compost heap, and any grass or weed seeds present will not be killed off by the heat generated by a normal compost heap.
When removing finished worm compost from your compost heap, make sure to leave a sufficient number of earthworms behind for the new organic matter that will be added to the pile. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this. One way is to harvest half of the compost pile leaving the rest behind to start another heap. If, however, your composting worm population is in a fledgling state, you can use the “scalping method.” Begin by removing several inches of compost from the heap and wait 30 minutes before removing another layer. The remaining earthworms will be driven back into the compost heap by the sunlight. Repeat this process several more times until you have harvested the finished compost.
Compost piles and heaps are great for attracting worms; however, there are also a number of manufactured worm bins that are great for worm composting. These manufactured worm bins make it possible to compost your organic materials indoors. This type of worm composting is called Vermicomposting. One such manufactured bin is the Worm Factory 360. This worm bin has an improved design, which allows for better air flow resulting in faster composting of organic materials.
Hopefully, you have come to see that worm composting is not as mysterious as you may have thought. If you have not started composting at home, worm composting is a wonderfully efficient and easy way to begin. Also, worm composting is a great way to teach your children about the positive aspects of composting. What child doesn’t like a worm?