Nature has its own way of creating resources out of waste. In the forest, leaves fall to the ground in autumn and eventually decompose with the help of tiny microorganisms. That decomposition ultimately feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the trees. Nature is full of awesome closed-loop systems that we can learn. At home, we typically resort to buying prepackaged compost to enrich our garden soil. There are many options on the market; some good and some not so good. It just so happens that you can effortlessly make the best compost at home, inside your home, with no foul odors. It’s true!
If mushroom compost is the Cadillac of compost, then vermicompost is the Rolls-Royce of compost. You may have logically deduced that mushroom compost is made from the spent substrate that mushrooms are grown in, but do you know what vermicompost is? I assure you the name sounds far more complicated than what the process actually entails. Vermicompost is similar to regular compost, except that worms play a large part in the composting process.
Vermicomposting systems are typically small, cheap and portable. Worms are brought in to an enclosed container to decompose organic food waste such as table scraps, and paper products such as shredded up junk mail. The worms turn the waste into a nutrient-rich material that is capable of supporting superior plant growth. Vermicompost enriches the soil, creates an ecologically safe system for food production, and raises the productivity of the land. Enough about how amazing this stuff is, let’s talk about how you can construct your own simple vermicompost system at home.
Materials You Will Need:
- 1 Five Gallon Bucket, with Lid
- 1 Round Plastic Louver, 3″
- 2 Round Plastic Louvers, 1″
- 1 Length of Schedule 40 PVC Pipe – 1″ diameter, 10 3/4″ length
- 1 Plastic Spigot
- 1 Grit Guard Bucket Insert
- 1 Piece of Window Screen
Tools You Will Need:
- Tape Measure
- Power Drill
- Small Drill Bit
- 1″ Spade Drill Bit
- 3″ Hole Saw
- Hand Saw
Step 1: The Lid
Take the lid off of the five gallon bucket and drill a hole in the center using the 3″ hole saw. Sand the rough edges and snap the 3″ round plastic louver into this hole. This ventilation will allow air exchange from the top of the vermicompost system.
Step 2: Drainage
Install the spigot on the side of the bucket, using the instructions that came with the spigot. Try to place the spigot as low as possible while still ensuring that the hole does not extend below the inside floor of the bucket. Also make sure that the spigot is not placed so low that it prevents the bucket from sitting flat on the ground. The spigot will allow you to drain out the valuable liquid that will collect at the bottom of the bucket when the system is in use.
Step 3: Build the Bottom
Using the top of the grit guard as a template, cut a circle shape out of the window screen. The final piece of screen should be the exact same size as the grit guard’s circumference. Insert the grit guard into the bottom of the bucket, and then lay the screen on top. The screen should lay flush on top of the grit guard. These pieces together will act as a false bottom in the bucket, allowing liquid to drain through but preventing worms and their bedding from falling through.
Step 4: Center Ventilation Shaft
Use the tape measure to mark a spot 5 1/2 inches from the bottom of the bucket. Mark the spot on the outside of the bucket, and make sure that the marked spot is well above the top of the grit guard on the inside of the bucket. Drill a 1″ hole here using the spade drill bit. Drill another hole on the other side of the bucket, directly across from the first hole.
Using the small drill bit, drill alternating ventilation holes in the 1″ PVC pipe, as pictured. These holes do not need to be pretty, or exact. When you have drilled the ventilation holes, sand the pipe to remove any roughness. Wedge the pipe inside the bucket horizontally so that the ends of the pipe align with the two 1″ holes on the sides of the bucket. Secure the two 1″ louvers from the outside of the bucket.
Let the Vermicomposting Begin!
Fill the bucket up to the brim with shredded paper that is moist but not soaked. Don’t use glossy print from newspaper inserts or weekly circulars. The moist paper will serve as your worms’ bedding. Your worms will live in this bedding and also eat it. Buy at lest 500 red wiggler worms from a local garden center, a bait shop, or an online worm retailer. The worms must be red wigglers, specifically. Most earthworms won’t survive for long in a bucket. If you can’t find a local source, don’t worry about shipping the worms through the mail; they don’t seem to mind being mailed at all. When you have your worms, go ahead and place them inside the bucket on the bedding. Leave the bucket uncovered for the first 24 hours and place it directly under a constant light source. The worms will go down deep into the bucket to escape the light. Without the light, the worms will probably try to escape the bucket – and you don’t want that.
Now that your vermicomposting system is established, you can start to bury your table scraps in the bedding. Always be sure to completely cover all of the food scraps with bedding. If you juice, like I do, your worms are going to love you! If you’ve ever wondered what to do with all that fibrous pulp left over from juicing fresh fruits and veggies; your worms will gladly make sure it doesn’t go to waste. In return for the food, the worms will make you some of the best organic fertilizer you can imagine. And you can use this fertilizer to grow even more fruits and veggies. By doing this, we have officially created our own closed loop system of sustainability that mimics nature. Congrats!
Guidelines for Feeding Your Worms
Begin feeding your worms slowly. Don’t give the worms a giant feast that they consume quickly enough. They are voracious eaters, but if you give them more than they can handle, the food will start to rot before they can consume it. Rotting food smells bad.
Worms like most fresh organic matter. Leftover fruits and veggies are great for them. Also include some fine grit materials like coffee grounds, cornmeal, or crushed eggshells. The fine grit helps red wiggler worms to process their food better.
Avoid These Foods:
- Fruits high in acid; like oranges, limes, and pineapples.
- Onions and garlic
- Proteins and fats; like meat, cheeses, and dairy products.
Harvesting Your Vermicompost
Several weeks after starting your vermiculture, you can begin to harvest the vermicompost that your worms are creating. You can apply worm castings topically on the soil as a slow release fertilizer. Worm castings also make an excellent soil amendment for potting soil and garden soil. Add vermicompost to your soil at a 1:10 ratio, vermicompost to soil. My absolute favorite way to use vermicompost is by making a home-brewed compost tea. This tea is for your garden, not for you to drink! Compost tea has easily doubled the size of my garden plants, in half the time it takes using other fertilizers. Want to learn more? Look out for my next contest entry where I plan to share my secret formula for compost tea. If you have any questions, let me know using the comment section below.
Remember that good planets are hard to find,
Brian from Back to Basics
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