I began my own composting bin this past February using the helpful starting kit offered through Azure Standard. It is actually a very good deal and an easy way that kicked me into gear to start saving my food scraps and turning them into lovely new nutritious soil. But, you can easily set up your own bin with a few basic supplies. I have finally gotten around to figuring out a simple method of harvesting my bin as it was definitely overdue. I wanted to share a few tips with you that I have learned in the process.
Why Worm Compost?
1. No waste! You can use the majority of your food scraps (no meat or dairy) and put them to good use. Composting is all about re-using and recycling! Since beginning composting, we have decreased our garbage quantity significantly. Previously we would fill up the kitchen garbage in one week, but now we can easily stretch it to every two weeks. So it saves money!
2. Turn your food scraps into rich organic soil. If you don’t have a garden or can’t use it all yourself, this rich soil can be a great gift to a neighbor or local farmer. Your offer will not be turned down.
3. Worms are fast, efficient, and odorless. The only cause of odor in your bin will be if you add meat or dairy scraps. Avoid these products, bury your scraps well, and your bin will be perfectly odorless!
4. Worms are self-propagating. You only need to purchase worms once and then they will multiply on their own! You will have a continual supply of good rich compost.
Vericompost benefits soil by:
- improving its physical structure;
- enriching soil in micro-organisms, adding plant hormones such as auxins and gibberellic acid, and adding enzymes such as phosphatase and cellulase;
- attracting deep-burrowing earthworms already present in the soil;
- improving water holding capacity;
- enhancing germination, plant growth, and crop yield; and
- improving root growth and structure.
How to Set Up Your Worm Bin
This is one of many worm bin ideas, but it is simple and works especially well in small places. With the use of a rubbermaid container, bedding, food scraps and worms, you are on a roll! This youtube video provided an easy visual guide for setting up your own worm bin. This bin is almost exactly the same as the bin I purchased through Azure. My bin does not have the stacking feature. I have it propped up on small wood blocks over an aluminum tray to make sure it drains well, but this method looks like it would stay cleaner more effectively.
When setting up your bin, here are the supplies you need and tips to remember:
1. Tote - Make sure to select a dark tote for your composting bin. You do not want your worms exposed to excess light. They do not light light and it will dry out your bin. I use a dark rubbermaid tote (15x 10 x12) for this purpose.
2. Bedding – You have a wide variety of bedding to choose from. Keep a good stock on hand for replenishing your pile. All forms of cardboard (toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, etc), newspaper, leaf mold (at the bottom of leaf piles) work. I had a ton of those cardboard containers from buying fruit from the market, so I tore them all up for my new bin. Simply shred them into small pieces. I like to have shredded paper on hand to keep my food scraps covered well at all times.
3. Food Scraps- All food scraps work with the exception of meat and dairy. Citric and onion peels and bread scraps should be added in moderation. If desired, you can blend your food scraps in blender to help them break down quicker. You can even add tea bags, coffee grinds plus filter, and egg shells to your bin. Although after harvesting my first bin, I found that egg shells did not compost well. I would recommend limiting their addition or making sure to grind them into a powder before adding. Each imparts rich calcium to your soil. Leaf and plant trimmings are great additions as well.
4. Worms – Red wiggler worms are preferred. There are many sources online for red wiggler composting worms. The best source I found was Garden Worms. 1,000 worms is a good starting place for the tote size bin. They will actually double in population in 3 months.
5. Air – Your bin needs to have good air circulation. Make sure to drill the appropriate amount of holes in your container for air flow. Make sure it is in a well ventilated room or a closet/cupboard that is opened regularly. Also, keep it lifted up on top of small wood chunks over a lid or tray to make sure it has good drainage. You can store it in the garage or deck if the temperatures are not too extreme.
6. Water – You want to keep your pile moist but not dripping wet. I keep a small spray bottle next to my bin. Each time I add food scraps, I will get a gentle sprinkling of water to the shredded paper to keep it damp. You don’t have to be too concerned about this as the food scraps have water in them as well which provides moisture.
Here are some pictures as I began a new composting begin:
A few tips I have learned:
- Keep food scraps covered with torn paper. Replenish every 2-3 weeks. This will reduce excess moisture problems and also keep out the bugs!
- Rotate where you dump your scraps. Divide your container into 6 sections in your mind and rotate where you dump each time. This will keep a balanced pile being composted. Keep scraps buried under paper.
Simple Method for Harvesting Compost
Your bin should be ready to harvest in 2-3 months on average. Harvest time comes when your bin contents start looking like dark rich dirt.
1. Start a second fresh new bin (as described above) and allow to sit and rot for 1-2 weeks with your bedding, shredded paper, and food scraps.
2. Remove top layer from your old pile onto the new bin. This would be the most recent food scraps that have yet to decompose.
3. Lay out a black plastic garbage bag on a flat surface under a bright light or the sun. I laid it out on my back deck to prevent any mess.
4. Make nine (less or more) cone shaped small piles of compost on your garbage bag. Allow the piles to sit for several minutes. I simply made the piles and then did another task around the house while I waited, thus the whole harvesting process was scattered throughout the day. The worms do not like the light, so they will proceed to the bottom of the pile.
5. Gently remove the top portion of the pile until you see worms. Transfer this top portion to another container. After repeating the process every 20 minutes or so for a few hours, you will be left with a wiggling pile of worms. Carefully remove the worms and transfer them to your new bin, and remove the remaining compost to another container.
6. Continue through each pile as described until you have cleared them all, then proceed to make nine more piles and begin the process again until all the compost has been sorted through.
IMPORTANT! Don’t worry about getting out every single worm. There will be tiny baby worms that are challenging to remove from the debris. They will be good for your garden, so just focus on removing the larger worms to your new bin. You don’t even need to be concerned about removing all the compost. It is good to have a little of the compost in your new bin as it provides grit for the worms. So if some of the compost is still attached to the worms, don’t be concerned. The worms will just be delighted to get a new home!
7. Allow old bin to continue decaying for a few more weeks before transferring to your garden or using to make composting tea (a great fertilizer!), or giving it away (you won’t lack takers!)! Once compost is removed from the old bin, then you can start this bin over again with bedding and food scraps, allowing it to decay, so it is ready for the next harvest! This rotation between two bins will allow you to use most if not all of your food scraps effectively without any going to waste.
Give some worms away!
If you bin is anything like mine, you will have a ton of new worms. You may want to give a good handful of worms away to encourage someone else to start composting. I gave a huge pile of worms to my sister in law for this purpose.
Include your kids!
This is a fun process to do with your kids. Include them in it! Karis loved looking at each little worm, and helping me transfer them to their new home. This helps teach them the importance of good stewardship and being included in reusing and re-purposing everything in the kitchen!
If you want to learn more about worm composting (or vermicomposting as it is officially called), check out Worms Eat My Garbage. A great book on the topic with helpful step by step instructions for setting up your own worm bin, answering every question you may have. I learned much from this reference guide!
If you have more space, consider this composting options:
Composting is so simple and a great way to begin reduce waste around your home! I encourage you to give it a try!
Do you have any tips and tricks to share about composting?