When you rake the fall leaves, you are handling valuable organic material. If you compost these leaves, you will have free fertilizer in the spring! Leaves and other plant waste are the perfect food for composting worms. If you have a yard or garden of any size, you can capture these valuable nutrients by composting. Composting with worms, called “vermicomposting,” is fast and efficient. It’s easier than you might think! And you can start anytime.
While your neighborhood might have leaf pickup, question where that material goes. Can you get free fertilizer from it in the Spring? Chances are that you cannot. You would likely have pay and pick up fertilizer during business hours. Keep the leaves working for you by composting in your own yard.
Types of Composters
You will need a location for your vermicomposting project. A variety of composting bins are effective. Since you will be adding live composting worms, you will need a worm-friendly environment.
Composting worms like dark, slightly moist places with plenty of air. They breathe oxygen just like us! They eat to make little tunnels that aerate their homes. Any composter below will work.
Chicken Wire Leaf Composter
The fall is a convenient time to set up the world’s easiest leaf composter. Leaves take up a lot of space because they have many air pockets. Just tap some stakes into the ground, affix chicken wire around the stakes to make a cylinder, and pour leaves in the top. Order composting worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, and add them. We have made this video about building a chicken wire composter.
Outdoor Bulk Composters
The most common type of composter is a large container. They are usually made of wood or plastic. Here are some ideas:
- pallet composter
- large plastic composter from the hardware store or gardening store
Features of a composter suitable for worms include a lid to keep rain out and worms in, and holes to let in air. Some include a little door near the bottom for easy compost harvesting. Due to their size, they can hold a lot of fall leaves. The leaves will compress quickly, making space for other garden waste and kitchen scraps.
The huge advantage of adding composting worms is that the material breaks down faster. Also, well-maintained vermicomposting bin usually has a pleasant, earthy smell.
Smaller or Tray-Based Composters
Plastic composters with stackable trays will expand as needed. Tray-based composters can be ordered online at Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. They come with instructions that explain how to add bedding, moisture, worms, and plant waste to composter. Over time, you will add more trays when the ones on the bottom fill up. The worms will migrate up, leaving compost-filled trays in the bottom. You can compost leaves in these tray-based composters. However, the trays might not be big enough for a lot of leaves. The leaves start to break down and take up less space after a while. At that time, you could add more leaves. These composters can be used indoors, or outdoors — ideally, under shelter.
A 5-gallon tote makes an inexpensive composter. Totes may not drain as well, and they are more difficult to harvest than tray-based composters. See our video about how to make your own composter from a tote.
When the Weather Turns Cold
When the temperature drops below 57 degrees, the composting worms go dormant. They eat more slowly. In freezing temperatures, they can die. It is possible they will lay eggs and bounce back in the Spring. However, you can take measures to keep the worms warm.
The composting process generates some heat. Large composters will have a warmer core and worms might migrate there. You can help by partially burying your large plastic composter in the ground.
Some composters can be placed or moved to a warmer location. Perhaps your garage or shed is warm enough. Maybe the basement. A heat source and insulation can help. Before trying to move a heavy compost bin, harvest some of the finished compost.
You can pick up smaller composters and tray-based composters. Move them inside for the winter. You might start by harvesting the finished compost to make it lighter. An indoor composter is very convenient. Perhaps you can find a closet, laundry room, or under-the-counter cupboard for the small composter.
If you decide to move operations indoors, the worms will keep eating as usual. Cut, chop, or blend their food, so it breaks down even faster. This reduces odors. If you find that the compost bin has a bad odor, reduce the amount you feed, toss out especially malodorous scraps, and see these other tips for reducing odor.
Harness the power of composting this Fall! You will get valuable fertilizer, perfect for growing new plants and lawns in the Spring. Get a little help with composting worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We typically recommend Red Wiggler worms for composting, and Super Reds (European Night Crawlers) for releasing into the garden or lawn.