Vermicomposting

Last updated: 2013-10-17 — Created: 2013-10-10

The third week in October is Waste Reduction Week! ( http://www.wrwcanada.com/ )

Somehow it’s been over a year since I’ve created a new post. *hangs head in shame* How on Earth did that happen?! Apologies for being away for so long, my dear readers. I’ve been taking a much more passive approach to my fish experiments recently, just allowing fish to grow and swim without too much careful observation. Fish that have passed on have not been replaced, letting me scale back a bit, but with a fish room clean-up and rearrange in the works, I hope to finally deliver on some of the photos and information updates about which some of you have been hounding me! (And I do thank you for continuing to show interest!)

Vermicomposting setupToday I’m going to talk about my adventures in vermicomposting, that is keeping red wiggler worms in a small plastic box, allowing them to much on compost and poop out a wonderfully rich soil additive.

red wiggler worms 1red wiggler worms 2
While this post might seem a little off-topic, but I assure you it does indeed relate to fishkeeping in that larger fish love noshing on live food, including earthworms. So, it’s a pretty easy and awesome thing to do, taking your food waste and turning it into food for your plants and tasty food for your fish too! Those of you who’d like to try breeding fish will find live/meaty foods will help bring your prospective parents into breeding condition.

Vermicomposting checklistI use/you will need:

  • a plastic bin with lid and holes for aeration
  • 2 shoe mats (or other form of drip tray)
  • 4 plastic flower pots
  • 2 ceramic flower pot saucers
  • bedding material (shredded paper, egg cartons, dead leaves, egg shells, limestone, etc.)
  • red wiggler worms
  • food scraps
  • soil
  • rubber gloves
  • trowel

Grey bin
The first thing you’ll need is a house for your worms. You can buy vermicomposting kits, use an old recycling bin, or make use of any old plastic bucket if you prefer the DIY method.

bottomlid
Your bin should have drainage holes in the bottom, as well as a tight-fitting lid with holes in the top for air to circulate. Worms are photophobic (scared of light), so the bin must be covered and kept in a sheltered spot.

drain coversbedding
I like to invert a plastic flower pot over each of the four drainage holes in the bottom of the bin to allow for some more air to circulate through the bottom of the pile, as well as keeping the holes clear of mucky composting goo. This isn’t necessary by any means, just a little trick I find works. The next step is to provide a bedding layer at the bottom, which will help absorb some of the excess liquid. I’ve used the output of the household paper shredder, but strips of newspaper, egg cartons, or dead leaves, mixed with a bit of crushed limestone or eggshells work just as well.

fresh compostold compost
Ideally, all “green” (i.e. fresh) matter added to the pile should be buried under a layer of “brown” (i.e. dead) matter to keep the smell contained. If you bury everything new you add under what’s been there for a while, the smell will resemble the earthy scents of trekking through a forest and nothing more. If you leave piles of rotting food exposed, you will probably need noseplugs. Shown are banana peels on the bottom, covered by remnants of the last binful of compost (the worms and yet-to-compost matter separated from the composted soil and worm poop).

covered compostsaucers in place
If you find that there’s an odour to your compost bucket or that it’s attracting bugs, just sprinkle a fine layer of regular garden/potting soil on top to cover. When the food scraps that you add contain a lot of liquid, you may find that a rich brown runoff oozes from the bottom of the bin. This liquid is about the colour of coffee and stains like a mofo, so not something you want on your clean carpet. I combat this by encouraging as much evaporation as possible. Inserting two clay flower pot saucers underneath the more loaded end of the bucket allows the liquid to seep to the opposite end of the bucket and drain out to collect in the tray. This also encourages more airflow underneath. I keep a second tray so that I can move the bucket to a clean tray, carry the dirty tray to the tub, and wash away the runoff periodically.

propped up binsetup complete
And that’s it! Just find a corner to stash your vermicomposter and you’ve got yourself a mean, lean, food-digesting machine. Worms reproduce in an hermaphroditic manner, and the population will shrink or grow depending on the available food supply. You needn’t worry about worms escaping and invading your home, as any that do will dry up and die within a short distance of the bucket.

Into your compost bin, you will want to put mostly fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds & filters, egg shells (though these don’t really break down much), grains, nut shells, seeds, crumbs, etc.  Avoid animal products, oils, and anything else you wouldn’t typically put in a regular composter. I find tea bags don’t break down very quickly in the worm bin, so break open the contents and toss the filter part into the regular compost. I have thrown some dead fish into the compost, however, bones will not compost, so you will probably find fish skulls later on if you do this. The rest of the fish will break down though.

You will want to remove the output from the bin every once in a while. Just throw on a pair of rubber gloves, grab your trusty trowel, and crumble shovelfuls between your fingers, putting the soil in one pile and the worms and undigested matter in another to return to the bin for the next batch. The soil will be a very rich, dense, and black. It has very poor drainage, so will hold water exceptionally well. Your end product is best mixed in with other soil to add nutrients to your potting mix as opposed to used on its own.

For a much more thorough DIY tutorial, please check out Jae Steele’s blog (she’s a former classmate of mine and published author). Cathy Nesbitt is also a wealth of knowledge and instructions on the topic and will set you up with a variety of commercial composting solutions if you check out her site. Both are linked below.

I’m often asked why I choose to vermicompost rather than make use of Toronto’s wonderful green bin services that pick up our food waste and cart it off to some far-off place to be processed into fertiliser, and the answer I usually give is that I’d prefer to process and deal with waste in my own backyard rather than burden a waste-disposal infrastructure unnecessarily. I’m trying to think globally and act locally on this issue. Besides, it’s a bit of a neat conversation (and conservation!) piece. You also really get to know who your friends are after you tell them you’ve got worms! *gulp*

Happy composting! 🙂


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