Small-Space Vermiculture, Step-by-Step

According to the EPA, 20 to 30 percent of what is thrown away should be composted. If you’re the type of person who hates to throw out kitchen scraps, but don’t have room for a compost pile in your small apartment, small-space vermiculture is for you!

What is vermiculture?

Vermiculture, or Vermicomposting is the breakdown of organic material by vermis, which is the Latin word for “Worms.” The worms take that waste and turn it into nutrient-rich “castings” or worm poo that helps build the soil. It is the most efficient way to compost most of your household waste.

Steps to your Vermicomposting happiness

Let’s bypass the trash collector and have your worms “eat” your garbage!

Make your worm bin

Start out with a cheap bin to get started. A $10 system works just as well. A 5-gallon bucket, large kitty litter bucket, or 16 in. X 24 in. X 8 in. (or 10-gallon) plastic bin will work just fine.

Next prepare the bedding

Shred about 50 sheets of newspaper into 1/2 in. to 1 in. strips. Avoid color print. It is toxic to worms.

Place the shredded newspaper into the bin. Add water to the newspaper until the bedding feels moist like a damp sponge. Add more dry strips if it gets too wet.

Sprinkle two to four cups of potting soil or soil from your yard into the bin. This introduces the beneficial microorganisms.

Get Your worms

Red Wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are the worms you want for your worm bin. You don’t want Earthworms because they are large soil movers, and don’t do well in worm bins.

Get worms from a local source (if possible), because they are acclimatized to conditions in your area. Ask around, look on Craigslist, aquaponics or hydroponic stores, or ask other vermicomposters in your area.

How many worms do you need?

Say you bought a pound of worms. A pound of worms will eat half to their full eight every day. They are the best recyclers in the world! Think about how much waste you have.

Feed your new friends

Worms are vegan, but they can eat quite a bit. You’ll want to feed them a balanced diet, not just coffee grounds! As your bin gets going, you’ll feed those worms about half-a-pound to a pound of food in 24 hours.

Fun Fact: The worms don’t actually eat the scraps. They eat the bacteria that is breaking down the food scraps.

What to feed?

Feed your worms veggie and fruit scraps, crushed eggshells, coffee grounds, tea and tea bags (the ones that aren’t shiny), such as peels, rinds, cores, etc. Cut or break the food up into smaller pieces. If you run it through a blender, that would be even better! For instance, juicing pulp is fantastic!

What not to feed?

Limit or eliminate citrus fruits and onion peels in your worm bin. Also, do not add meats, bones, oils or dairy products.

For more on what NOT to feed your worm farm, check out 5 Things You Should Never Feed Worms

How to feed your worms?

  1. Feed your 1 lbs. of worms about three times their weight each week. So, for one pound of worms, you’ll feed 3-lbs of food each week, or slightly less than half-a-pound.
  2. Bury the food in the bin.
  3. Lift up the bedding. Add the food scraps. Then, cover the food with the bedding again.

Check the bin every week to make sure the worms are eating all of the food. Adjust the amount accordingly.

Harvesting the black gold

There are many methods to harvest the worm castings. These two techniques work great.

  1. Try a melon. Place a piece of melon in one area of your bin. The worms really love muskmelon or watermelon, because they don’t get it very often. Put that little piece of melon in the corner of the bin, and the worms will herd over there. Then, scoop out the castings from the other side of the bin.
  2. Vertical migration system. The whole point of a vertical migration system is to let a layer finish out and put a new layer on top with new paper and new food. The worms migrate up into a new layer where the food is. They don’t want to live in the lower layers that is filled with their poop. Essentially the system separates the casting for you, but in a much slower way. The lower bins still may have a few worms, but you can hand pick them. It’s not bad to get worms in your finished compost either. They’re going to end up living in the soil in your garden.

Tips for success

  • Place a full sheet of dry newspaper on top of the bedding. This will help maintain the moisture in the bin. It also keeps odor problems in the bin and prevents fruit flies.
  • If you find fruit flies or the bin is too wet, replace that top layer of dry newspaper.
  • Cover your bin and choose a place for your worms. Worms like it dark and between 55°F and 75°F. Under a sink, in a closet, or wherever is convenient for you, so you remember to feed and check on them.
  • Castings are high in nutrients and micronutrients, so make worm tea in a 5-gallon bucket. Or add it to your potted plants for a healthy boost.
  • We don’t always produce a pound of kitchen scraps in a day, or we’re on vacation or busy. You don’t need to micromanage your worms. You don’t have to feed them a pound of food every day.
  • Sometimes we produce more than a pound of kitchen scraps, or your worms aren’t eating as fast. If this happens, simply put the scraps in a container or baggie and put that in the refrigerator until it’s time for a feeding.
  • Worms don’t like light, so be sure to keep your bin in a quiet out-of-the-way place. They like warm, dark places.
  • If your bedding dries up, spray it with a bit of water. Fluff the bedding once-a-week to give the worms some air.
  • If you live in a cold climate and have your bin outside, be sure to bring it inside.
  • Rotting food will produce a strong odor. Stop adding food until your worms have caught up. Adding air by stirring the contents will help.
  • If the worms are crawling out of the bedding or onto the sides or lid, they may need more air, the bedding is too wet, or the bin is too acidic. Did you put too many orange peels in there?

Need other ways to compost in a small space? Check out 5 Cheap and Easy Solutions For Small-Space Composting

Now we want to hear your wormy stories! Do you practice small-space vermiculture? Tell us in the comment below.

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Resources:

EPA. Composting At Home.

Marjory Wildcraft is the founder of The [Grow] Network, which is an online community that recognizes the wisdom of “homegrown food on every table.” Marjory has been featured as an expert on sustainable living by National Geographic. She is a speaker at Mother Earth News fairs and a returning guest on Coast to Coast AM. She is the author of several books, but is best-known for her “Grow Your Own Groceries” video series, which is used by more than 300,000 homesteaders, survivalists, universities, and missionary organizations around the world.

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This post was written by Marjory Wildcraft

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