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What are the Differences Between Vermicomposting with Worms and Hot Composting?

Many of our customers ask, “What’s the difference between vermicomposting with worms and regular composting?” Here at Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, we are experts on composting with worms. Let’s explore how these processes are similar, and how they differ. Which method is more convenient? How can you produce high-quality organic fertilizer for your garden and lawn? Which is fastest?

How to Set Up Vermicomposting vs. Hot Composting

Vermicomposting harnesses the power of worms to break down organic matter quickly. Regular “hot” composting may attract a few wild worms. However, “hot” composting produces more heat than vermicomposting. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will kill Red Worms.

Both methods break down organic waste into fertilizer. Most kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and yard waste are suitable for composting. The main difference is in the setup of the composting bin or pile.

Regular “hot” composting involves throwing organic waste into a bin or pile. The material starts to break down using an aerobic process. The compost pile heats up. The ideal temperature for hot composting is 160 degrees Fahrenheit. At 200+ degrees, it can even produce steam! However, temperatures high enough to steam will kill beneficial microorganisms. Therefore, this type of compost needs to be turned and lightly moistened on a regular basis. This means you lift the organic matter and introduce air with pitchfork or shovel on a regular basis. You need some strength to do this. Or get a tumbler-style composter that you can turn using a crank.

Vermicomposting is usually done in an enclosed bin. Various types of bins are available, or you can build your own from a tote. Tray-based composting bins are superior because they have layers and allow drainage and air circulation automatically. You will set bedding down in the bin, made from coconut coir, shredded newspaper, and pure peat moss for example. Add the worms and scraps. The worms eat the food and poop rich compost called “humus”.

Comparison of Each Method

Depth

  • Hot composting bins and piles can be any depth. Throw it in!
  • Vermicomposting worms usually prefer to live in the top 6″ – 12″ of the bedding, so these bins cannot be as deep. Using a tray-based composter overcomes this limitation.

Convenience

  • Hot composting can only be done outdoors. The exception is industrial-sized composting programs, which have specialized buildings and equipment. Scraps need to be carried outside and dumped into the composter. Hot composting requires land. Therefore, hot composting is uncommon in urban and even suburban areas.
  • Vermicomposting can be done outdoors or indoors. When maintained properly, there is no odor. Apartment dwellers can compost with worms. Homeowners can move their composting program indoors during the winter. Some households find indoor composting more convenient than outdoor. You should cut food up small and bury it. Outdoors, a little care must be taken to prevent the worms from overheating or drowning.

Speed

  • Hot composting takes 6 – 9 months to produce fertilizer.
  • Vermicomposting takes 2 – 3 months to produce usable compost for your garden and plants. You can harvest the compost and leave the worms in the bin.

Volume

  • Hot composting can handle any amount of organic material.
  • Composting worms can eat up to half their body weight per day. However, if you over-feed them, the worm bin will stink, become acidic, and possibly kills the worms. You will need to hold extra scraps in the fridge or freezer, or otherwise dispose of them. Note: Large amounts of grass clippings will over-heat the worm bin in no time flat!

Pathogens

  • Hot composting should kill most pathogens that come with the organic matter. For example, you can risk adding seeds, and manure. Heat might kill the bad microbes and sterilize the seeds. No guarantees!
  • Vermicomposting runs cool and will not kill pathogens. Follow vermicomposting guidelines, and few bad microbes will grow.

Aeration – Air for Composting

  • Hot composting needs added aeration. You will need muscles and tools to turn the compost pile on a regular basis. A screw-style compost turner can help. Or, get a tumbler-style composting bin. If you neglect to turn the compost pile, it will smell terrible and take more time to break down.
  • Composting worms keep the bedding aerated for you. They eat little tunnels that allow air to circulate. No need to turn. Worm bins tend to be shallow anyway. You will stir up any packed bedding when you harvest the finished compost.

Cost vs. Value

  • Hot composting does not require money. You can pick any outdoor surface a good distance away from your home and start immediately. The resulting compost might have a street value between $6 and $30 per cubic yard.
  • Vermicomposting requires purchasing worms and perhaps a tray-based composter. This small investment could serve you in perpetuity! A well-maintained worm population will reproduce and grow to the capacity of the bin. Compost from worms is worth much more: $300 to $2200+ per cubic yard! Why? Compost from worms contains valuable soil-friendly microbes excreted by the worms, so it’s darker and richer than regular compost. We sell compost made by our worms.

Note: Red Worms are ideal for composting but too small for fishing. If you are a fishing enthusiast, you could feed scraps to Super Reds (European Night Crawlers) to maintain a free supply of fresh fishing worms.

Conclusion

Hot composting and vermicomposting are popular methods for breaking down plant waste. Both methods have their merits. While hot composting requires regular turning, composting worms are like pets that require care. Vermicomposting is faster, but cannot handle unlimited volume of organic waste. Hot composting is outdoors only; vermicomposting can be indoors or out. At Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, we encourage you to start composting! We are the #1 supplier of composting worms in the United States. Check out our website for more information.

5 comments on “What are the Differences Between Vermicomposting with Worms and Hot Composting?

  • Hi, I had a question about hot composting and I wasn’t sure where to ask.

    On your website, I read, “Regular “hot” composting may attract a few wild worms.”

    When the pile gets hot, I am assuming it kills the worms, is that correct?

    Reply
  • I am wondering the same thing. I have a compost pile that I have been adding vegetable scraps and other organic materials too, I have also been adding chicken manure and bedding too. When I turned the pile there are many many worms in there. Is it too late to “hot compost” this pile to kill off any pathogens in the chicken manure? Should I just let the worms do there thing and the screen it? I was hoping to use the compost this year in about 3 months.

    Reply
  • Hi,
    I am looking to start composting at my university. I live in an apartment so having a pile out in the yard is not practical for me. With your experience, would I be better having two compost bins and letting them “heat compost” or should I try vermicomposting?
    You help is truly appreciated!

    Reply
    • Hi Emily,
      It really depends on how quickly you want to create compost, what materials you have to compost, and whether or not you can maintain a stable environment for the worms. The worms need to be kept between 40 and 84 degrees to stay alive, and between 60 and 70 for best composting and reproduction rates. They also need to have 4-5 inches of bedding in the worm bin, that is kept slightly damp. You can feed the worms most fruit and veggie scraps, as well as paper products, coffee grounds, dead leaves, and crushed egg shells. But you need to make sure the pH in your bin stays between 6-7 and on the pH scale. So you would want to avoid acidic foods like lemons, limes and pineapple. You also should avoid garlic, onions, spicey peppers and any meat or dairy products when composting with worms.

      As the article says, the worms will produce compost faster, but heated composting is free. So it really depends on which method suits your needs best. If you decide to try vermicomposting, you could have an indoor compost bin. Our Hot Frog Living Composter works great as an indoor composter, and if properly maintained, should be fine in a small apartment. You can find that at this link: https://unclejimswormfarm.com/product/indoor-compost-bin/new-hot-frog-living-composter-free-shipping/

      I hope this information helps! Please give us a call at 1-800-373-0555 or email us at sales@unclejimswormfarm.com if you have more questions.

      Sincerely,
      Bethany – Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

      Reply
  • Anne Wright says:

    My garden tumbler composter is always, summer and winter, chock-full (not just the “few” you describe above!) of little red wriggling worms that magically appear — and appear to thrive and multiply like legion in there. If my compost were “hot” — as you describe regular outdoor compost bins above — these worms would not thrive and multiply as they do, would they? I never throw in grass clippings (just food, some light garden waste, and small fall dead leaves). Also, I live in the relatively cool Pacific northwest (Vancouver BC). Could these be reasons why my compost doesn’t get “hot”?
    I also have a Worm Factory vermicomposter, which makes much finer (“black gold”) compost, and for which I purchased red wriggler worms (Eisenia fetida). I’m puzzled, because the worms in my regular outdoor tumbler composter look identical to the Eisenia fetida in my Worm Factory.
    Could they be Lumbricus rubellus? I’ve read these are “very similar to the red wiggler in size, feeding and habitat preferences, and suitability for composting.” As such, can I put some of them in my Worm Factory? Will they co-habit with the Eisenia fetida?
    Thank you so much for the information.

    Reply

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