What’s it like to start composting with worms? Gillian was recently thrust into the world of vermicomposting. Here is her story. Gillian had been using a basic green plastic outdoor composting bin for years. She casually tossed in kitchen scraps, leaves and grass clippings and let nature take its course. Once a year, she “turned” the compost bin to dig out the dark, rich organic fertilizer from the bottom. This finished compost was distributed all over the vegetable and decorative gardens to make the plants grow strong.
In early June, Gillian’s daughter Lee decided it was high time to get her mother a more efficient composting system. Lee had used Uncle Jim’s Red Wigglers in her Worm Factory 360composter in the past with great success. So she ordered 2,000 composting worms for her mom and made a her simple composter from a large plastic tote box.
“I was very unsure when my daughter suggested I take on two thousand worms as my garden companions,” said Gillian. “My initial reaction was ‘Yuck!’” Wriggling worms have been known to cause a repulsion response on occasion. “After she explained they would be my own personal little work force, I became slightly more interested.”
In preparation of the worms’ arrival, Lee made sure all the components for the new composter were in stock at her mother’s house. This included a standard blue plastic tote box, an electric drill, pure peat moss, shredded paper and a bucket for water.
Uncle Jim’s worms ship on Mondays, so the family watched the mail carefully for the package. Finally, it showed up on a Wednesday. Gillian noted, “Their arrival at my home in a box was rather surprising. Does the post office know there are live creatures in the package? Surely there must be some rule against having them transported through the mail? The post office bans many things, but not worms!”
Working quickly, they videotaped making the composter – you can watch the video here. Lee drilled holes in the bottom of the tote for drainage, and air holes near the top of the tote. She added peat moss, shredded paper and just enough water (like a wrung-out sponge). Then, it was time to add the worms.
“We soon settled them into their little home and made sure they were comfortable in their mulch and shredded paper bedding,” said Gillian. They placed the composter under a large tree, and set two bricks on top to keep small animals out.
“Their feeding proved very simple,” Gillian admitted. “Vegetable and fruit scraps destined for the compost bin were transferred to the top of the worm bin and so began the process of making the best fertilizer ever.” Gillian pureed the scraps in the food processor when she had time. This is optional, but it helps the worms break down the food faster. Excess scraps and garden waste went into the big composter.
With plenty of food scraps – not too much, not too little — the worms came forth and multiplied. The babies grew and within 10 weeks, there was a problem: plenty of worms! Perhaps too many worms! Lee explained they had choices: let nature take its course (the excess worms will die off), liberate a few handfuls into the garden, or add more bedding. Gillian took the compassionate route and added more shredded paper and peat moss.
They needed some compost for side-dressing the tomatoes; this was tricky to do in such a basic composter because the worms were everywhere, all mixed in with the humus (worm poop). They decided to use a “screen” the next time to quickly separate the worms from the fertilizer. Fancier composters, such as the Worm Factory 360, use a system of trays to make harvesting easier. This also helps prevent too much humus from accumulating in one bin.
After a while, the worms grew on Gillian. “Other types of creatures need many hours of companionship and caring. Special food and expensive vet bills are the norm,” she said. “Not my sturdy little worms. They eat anything vegan. Most cooking scraps will do for them. They demand very little attention and are prepared to fend for themselves for a short while when I go away. The perfect pet.” Before going on a week-long vacation, she buried an extra dose of kitchen scraps, said a little prayer and took off. When she returned, they were fine.
The real reward of vermicomposting is the free fertilizer. “I’m looking forward to making a screen and harvesting compost for my garden,” she said. “I’d like to do side-dressing on my late-fall crops now, before the summer ends.” Any extra compost she harvests can be kept in burlap sacks or buckets for spring starts and fertilizing. “Vermicomposting breaks the scraps down faster, and it’s less work to harvest than our big composting bin,” she noted. “I love it!”