How to compost with worms
Let me tell you, I'm not a bug lover. But recently, I've grown deep respect and admiration for my composting worms. Every year, our world wastes about one third of the food produced, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste. There are a variety of reasons why food is wasted, from stringent grocery store regulations to the common mistake of leaving something uneaten in the fridge for too long. Yet when food is tossed into landfills, it is unable to properly degrade due to the lack of oxygen and bacteria, and instead produces methane gas, one of the greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. A large proportion of household waste comes from food, which often ends up in landfills here in the United States if municipal composting facilities are not available. Yet the red wiggler worm works wonders when it comes to eating up food scraps and natural materials, and is commonly used in small homes or apartments as a solution to food waste. I put it on my list to compost with worms after visiting a classroom of second graders -- I was speaking at their school about my zero waste journey, and their teacher happened to also be passionate about environmental sustainability. She taught the students how to compost with worms, and they made a simple plastic worm bin. To my surprise when she opened the bin, there was no smell at all since the kids did an awesome job taking care of them. Some even got the chance to take care of the worms over the summer. And so, I was convinced that if a second grader could do it, why couldn't I?
Getting a worm bin
When we moved into our apartment, I jumped at it and purchased this beautifully made wood composter from Etsy. It uses upcycled wood from pine trees in Colorado - "the mountain pine beetle has decimated ponderosa pine forests of northwest Colorado. From this seemingly tragic loss, there is beauty. As the beetles lay their eggs, a blue-green fungus stains the outer sapwood layers of the tree. The result is a dramatic patterning of blue and cream colored wood." This particular bin also works as a tiered system, so as food fills up throughout the tiers, the worms move up with the food as well. This gives the compost time to age, and you can continuously rotate out the bottom-most tier to empty out for your garden or yard, and place the empty tier on top to fill with more food. On the bottom lies a metal tray which catches liquid. There are also other handmade vermicompost bins out there though, like this one also off of Etsy, or you can also make your own with simple plastic bins.
How to compost with worms
At least 1/2 pound of red wiggler worms
Bedding (paper product - unbleached paper, newspaper, egg carton, corrugated boxes, etc. Do not use cat litter, glossy paper, magazines, or coated paper)
Moisture (water, I use a spray bottle to mist the bin)
Food (fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds and paper filters, paper tea bags without tag/string/staple, bread, grain. Do no compost meat, grease, fat, bones, or dairy)
Soil (optional - lined my bottom tray with soil in case the worms fell through the bottom tray, so that they would have somewhere to wiggle around. I also used soil when I started off the bin in case the bedding was too rough)
Keep your compost bin in an area that stays a constant 50-80 degrees F. I like to keep mine indoors, since our night and day tend tend to fluctuate in temperature here in California. Keeping it away from open doors/windows also helps, so the bin doesn't dry out too much in the case you are using a wooden bin.
When you start your worm bin, put in moist bedding (soak paper products for a few hours or overnight), some soil, and a little bit of food. The worms will need time to acclimate to their new home, and may not eat as much. Cover the food and worms with more bedding to avoid smells or pests.
Over time, the worms will eat their body weight in food and bedding each week, and double in population in 4 months. Check everyday on them if possible though, spraying down the bin if not moist enough. If it's too moist, add a bit more bedding. Once you notice that the initial food and bedding are disappearing, you can start to add more food scraps!
It is important to add 50% bedding and 50% food scraps to your worm bin. This will keep the bin from having any smells. Strong smells are caused by too much food waste, which creates ammonia in the bin. Worms can become unhappy when fed too much, so keep an eye on your bin to monitor how the little guys are doing.
Once the compost is developed and you need to make more space for food, you can start using the worm poop (aka castings) as a wonderful fertilizer for household plants and gardens. Many people call worm castings liquid gold, because it has such wonderful nutrients for plants.
And that's it -- hope this post was a helpful crash course on how to compost with worms! It does take a bit of time to get the hang of it, but it becomes so easy and fuss free over time. I would highly encourage anyone to try this method out at home, otherwise there are plenty of other options of how to compost as well like what I used to do back at my parents' home, trench composting. Feel free to drop any questions or comments below on vermicomposting - have you tried it before? Do you love it? Not had any luck with it and had some worm casualties? I'd love to hear!