One of the ways that we reuse our waste is through composting. We use a method called Vermicomposting, which simply means that worms are used to break down the waste. This method has several benefits. One advantage is that the waste is broken down faster than it would be if it was left to decompose on it’s own. This also means that rather than having a massive compost pile or needing a large compost bin to contain your waste, you can utilize this method even if you have little space with which to work! Our tiered vermicompost bin takes up less than two feet of space on our gardening work bench.
Here are some simple tips to help you get started on your own vermicomposting adventure, as well as some basic terminology (as I’ve found people have questions about the definitions and differences between terms).
- You will need a bin made for vermicomposting, worms, and some initial bedding is helpful. You can purchase all of that here and here.
- You will need “green material” and “brown material”. Green material is mainly comprised of fruit and vegetable scraps. Examples of brown material would be: eggshell, coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded newspaper, and egg carton (not styrofoam though!).
- Never add any animal product (no meat, no dairy, rinse eggshells before adding). It will attract flies (maggots), animals, and likely go rancid.
- Avoid citrus or anything especially acidic or pungent (most worms do not like those materials and too much acid can actually harm them).
- You can place a layer of newspaper in one corner of your initial tier to keep the worms and compost from dropping through the bin. Or use larger pieces of materials (will take longer to be broken down). Then rotate around the tier as you add more materials. You don’t want to cover the whole bottom with newspaper as the leachate needs to be able to drain and air needs to circulate.
- The compost is considered “finished” when it looks like rich dark soil and no longer has recognizable food items in it.
Note: Temperature control is important. The ideal range for worm bedding is between 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit. You can roughly calculate the bedding temperature by taking an average of the day’s high and low temperature. In other words, if the low was 40 degree and the high was 80 degrees, the worm’s bedding is approximately 60 degrees. If the temperature gets too high, you can add ice to the bin and even briefly uncover it to ensure air flow. If it gets too cold, you can insulate with a blanket or even utilize a small aquarium heater.
Compost- decayed organic material used as fertilizer
Vermicomposting- the use of earthworms to convert organic waste into fertilizer
Leachate- water that has percolated through a solid and leached some constituents; in other words, the excess water draining through the waste. Unlike the compost this has not been processed by the worms. Which means it can contain toxins and harmful bacteria. This is not the same thing as compost tea and should not be added to the soil of any plant that you plan on consuming. However, it can be used on ornamental plants. To my knowledge, in standard a standard compost pile this would simply drain into the ground. But in a vermicompost bin system it drains through the bin layers and out of a spigot at the base of the tower.
Compost Tea- Unlike leachate, this is liquid made from the finished compost. As such, it is not only free of toxins (thanks to the digestive work of the worms). But provides readily available nutrients to your plants. It can be made by simply adding finished compost and water to a bucket and allowing it to “steep” for a few days. Strain and use the remaining “tea” to water your garden. The compost can be added to the soil or put back in the compost bin.