Friday, September 12, 2014

Recycle your Food Scraps with Worms!

 

Looking for a more cost-effective way to fertilize your lawn or garden? Did you know that almost 75 percent of discarded materials in North Carolina can be composted? Ever considered using earthworms to help you accomplish this task? Composting with earthworms, or vermicomposting, is a highly effective way of turning food and yard waste into nutrient-dense fertilizer that can boost plant health and increase flower and fruit production.

What is vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is very similar to the conventional method of composting, with the exception being that vermicomposting requires less space, can be done indoors and contains less salt than conventional composting methods. And of course, you now get to tell your friends and family that you have worms. Vermicompost is essentially a fine, soil-like material comprised of earthworm castings, decomposed food scraps, and beneficial microorganisms. This nutrient-packed fertilizer can be amended to existing soils, or used a stand-alone fertilizer for your plants.
How do I get started?
Getting started with vermicomposting at home is a simple and very inexpensive process. The first and most important step is getting your worms. Believe it or not, there are over 6,000 species of earthworms but very few are actually suited for vermicomposting. The typical species used in vermicomposting are red worms, brandling worms (also known as red wigglers), and European nightcrawlers; however the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) are the most commonly available, and can be purchased via the internet. One pound of red wigglers can eat up to two pounds of food scraps per week!
You will also need to provide bedding, food scraps, and a place in which to store the worms. The size of the bin will depend on the amount of waste a household generates, but a good rule of thumb for a family of four would be an 8-12 inch deep box with about 6 square feet of total area. Plastic bins are the easiest and most cost-effective structures for your worms. A vermicompost system consists of a worm bin, and another bin underneath to catch the excess liquid from the upper bin. This liquid, also known as “tea” is another excellent source of fertilizer and can be saved and used as a soil amendment. In the uppermost bin, drill 8-12 quarter inch holes in the top and bottom, to allow for aeration and drainage.
Once you have constructed your bin, add about 6 inches of shredded newspaper bedding and a handful of garden soil which will provide some grit to improve digestive capabilities of your worms. Newspaper scraps should be damp, not wet. To moisten, soak in water and squeeze firmly. Worms should be added to the bin one week prior to adding food scraps. After one week, add an 8-inch layer of food scraps and cover with another 1-inch layer of dampened newspaper shreds. Maintain a temperature of about 74-77 degrees to keep worms active. Done correctly, a vermicompost bin will produce no odor, which makes it well-suited for indoor use.

Feeding and maintaining your worms

While food scraps in general can be digested by worms, there are few things that you should avoid. Meat should never make into your worm bin, as well as greasy or oily foods, onions, garlic, bones, acidic foods, etc. Before adding waste to your bin, chop into smaller pieces so to make food scraps more easily digestible. Feed your worms as needed, which is generally when you notice the previous food scraps almost completely broken down.
After a few weeks, you will notice a buildup of compost at the bottom of your bin; however, harvest will not take place until your warms have been active for 3-4 months. The easiest method is to dump the bins completely and scrape away the vermicompost. The worms are naturally deterred by light, so you can continue to scrape away layers every five minutes until you have harvested most of your vermicompost.
Vermicomposting is an excellent way to recycle food scraps and save money on fertilizer for your plants. I have been vermicomposting now for about three months and have had really good success so far, so I would encourage you to try it out if you are looking for something new to do.
Learn More!
For more information on vermicomposting, visit http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/topic/vermicomposting/, or visit http://ces.ncsu.edu, where you can post your questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Extension office.

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