As Spring approaches, your vermicomposting bin will start to need some attention. Take a look inside your compost bin. You should see dark, crumbly “dirt” – this is worm castings. It’s the perfect fertilizer for your plants. Here are the steps you should take to get your vermicomposting bin ready in the Spring.
Dig around. If you see a significant amount of undigested scraps in the bin, you may need to give your worms more time to break things down. This is especially true for outdoor bins, because composting slows down significantly in cold temperatures. Composting worms do best above 55 degrees.
If there are undigested food scraps, and you desperately need completed compost now, you can harvest whatever completed compost is in there.
Harvest Completed Compost
Most of the worms, undigested food scraps, sticks, bulky eggshells, fruit stickers, and random junk need to be separated from the completed compost. “Screened” compost is especially valuable because it is fine-grained and free from extra items – here is a video about making a screen for compost. This article explains how to separate worms from the compost using food or piles. We also have a start-to-finish article on several methods for harvesting your compost.
If you have a tray-based composting system such as the Worm Factory 360, harvesting should be simple. Feed in the top tray to attract the worms. The lower trays will automatically have fewer worms and be ready to harvest.
If you want to screen your compost, simply sift it through a screen. You can make one with holes big enough for the compost to get through, but the lumps, sticks and stickers will stay behind.
This nutrient-rich, all-natural fertilizer is perfect for starting seedlings and nourishing your seeds and plants in the garden. Compost can be raked into the soil, used as a side-dressing, put on top of the soil, or sprayed on as “compost tea.”
Add More Bedding
If the worms don’t have much wiggle-room after you harvest the compost, just add more bedding. You can use shredded newspaper, pure peat moss, and/or coconut coir. Moisten lightly and mix well before adding. The bedding in the bin should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.
Take a Census
If your worms have been in a warm location all winter, such as a partially heated garage, basement or indoors, you should see plenty of worms wiggling around. Your worm bin is good to go. If it is your habit to move the worms outdoors during the warmer months, do this after things warm up. You can move the whole bin, or relocate the worms to a different bin.
If they have been outside and you had a hard freeze, the worm population may be low or zero. In that case, wait a bit and see if baby worms hatch from eggs that might have been left behind. Worm eggs can last more than a year in harsh weather. They look like tiny, round brown specks, but they can also be hard to spot. Once you are past all danger of freezing, you can order new worms from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. We recommend the Red Composting Worm for composting bins; Super Reds, also called European Night Crawlers, will also work for compost bins, but they are better suited to be released into the garden for aeration and fertilizing.
Evaluate Your Worm Composting Bin
Evaluate how your worm bin is doing. If it’s broken, repair it.
Is it too big or too small? You might want to move the worms to a new bin, or start a second composter. Uncle Jim’s has a selection of indoor composters and outdoor composters. A tray-based composting system, such as the Worm Factory 360 or Can-O-Worms Composter, can expand and contract by adding or removing trays. You might be able to order additional trays from us if you have a larger composting program.
Composting worms are more than happy to turn your kitchen scraps into free fertilizer. Keep them happy and they will help your garden – and help save the environment.