Over the years I have composted tons of leaves & table scraps. But my methods have become more refined and easier on my aging back! Oh, I still compost a lot. But for refined work I ask for help. So I have developed the Lazy Man’s Mantra: “Get someone else to do the work.”
There are about 2000 to 6000 earthworm species, depending on who you talk to, and about 30 live in the US. Red wrigglers are top dwellers & will normally die in the winter, leaving behind eggs. You need red worms — Eisenia foetida (also known as red wigglers, brandling or manure worms) or Lumbricus rubellus (manure worm) to eat your garbage.
I personally do not advocate buying worms. As I am often too lazy to turn my compost pile at the end of it’s cycle, I quite often let it cool down. At the bottom of a cool pile you will find tons of red wigglers and cocoons. And these little guys produce microbes that are natural to your specific environment. I think the mantra “Buy local, eat local” also applies to microbes. As a worm eats its way through organic matter, it leaves behind castings, digested organic matter rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. These microbes (as many as 10,000 kinds) aid plant growth, help fight off disease and nourish your plants with readily absorbed nutrients that keep them healthy and productive. Plus I am cheap.
At the end of this article I have listed some nice resources on how to get started in vermicluture composting. But here is how I like to do it:
1). Get a 5 gal. bucket & drill 3/16” holes about 1” apart. Should be
about 73 holes. Be artistic about your patterns or not. Your new little buddies just need to breathe. Make sure you have some holes at the bottom of the bucket for drainage. Your little buddies will be producing a rich brown liquid as they feed. Diluted, this is a great foliar feed for your tomatoes, etc. Put a pan under your buckets if you want to salvage it.
2). Place some well-wetted leaves in the bottom of the bucket. 1-2 inches should do.
3). Put a layer of kitchen scraps. You can cut them up or not.
4). Put a bunch of worms in.
5). Place another bedding layer of well-wetted leaves.
6). Repeat till it is full.
7). Let it set in a cool dry place for about six months.
8). Harvest the castings. I like to use a small frame with ¼” hardware wire. Salvage worms and cocoons as you sift through the castings.
9). That’s about it. You end up with a fine-grained, dark, earthy smelling mixture that you can add to your potting soil, planting beds, etc.,etc. Make it into a diluted tea to make a foliar spray.
A few tips:
- How many worms do you need? Some say a pound of worms per pound of organic waste. This seems excessive – probably someone trying to sell you worms. (See mating habits below.) I try for a hundred worms and 50 cocoons per bucket to start with.
- The worms won’t eat seeds, so avoid putting them in the bucket. Cantalope, that giant zucchini that you forgot to harvest, the avocado pit, etc.
- Worms need egg shells or sand for their digestion. They evidently have gizzards (like chickens). However, if you use too many egg shells you will end having to pick them out of your final product, so go light on them.
- Avoid meat & fats.
- Worms don‘t like to be disturbed. Respect their privacy if you want them to multiply & work for you.
- They have everything they need in their little environment. There will probably be other little buggers in the bucket – springtails, millipedes, etc. But they are in their happy place & will not try to get out. Just leave the top on. I always wear gloves when harvesting the casting just in case there are any stinging things. But nothing has bit me yet.
- I over-winter my worms by covering them with leaves. <insert Overwintering.jpg> This picture shows (10) 5 gallon buckets covered by about 2 feet of leaves next to my working compost pile ( which maintains some heat all winter). Last winter, it was extremely cold in the month of December & my guys did just fine. You may want to explore the cold weather site below for more options.
Here are some good resources for further reading:
HERE for a good intro to vermiculture.
HERE if you live in Seattle – would probably work in Portland, also.
HERE for some good tips, but this is not an endorsement for any company.
You want to get really far out? Check out this dining table – just throw your dinner scraps into the center of the table?