What Is Worm Compost?

For people who love to develop their own compost but who hate the smell of this type of fertilizer, one word might make them feel better: worms. Worms may seem like useless creatures to most people, yet they are anything but when it comes to composting.

Worm compost is created by worms eating organic material and food scraps. The matter excreted from the worms tail end is what makes up the nutrient-rich compost.

A worm compost pile is stink-free and provides just as much nutrients to plants and vegetables as many other types of fertilizers. It is an inexpensive way to create a compost pile, and it’s a lot easier to do than most people think.

Other types of compost:

Why Worms for Compost?

Many people are unaware of this, but worms have ravenous appetites. They eat constantly and they eat almost everything, and the poop they excrete is perfect for making fertilizer. Depending on how much compost they’ll use, most people find it a very low-maintenance way to get good fertilizer.

Hand showing composting worms from homemade sustainable waste disposal
Yay Hand showing composting worms from homemade sustainable waste disposal

Also known as vermiculture or vermicomposting, composting with worms is a great alternative to other types of composts, which is why so many towns and municipalities are switching to it. Worm composting truly is the wave of the future when it comes to fertilizer.

The best part about vermicomposting is that it only requires about 30 minutes’ worth of work per week. When people go to harvest the worms, it takes a little longer, but this only happens every three to six months, or two to four times per year.

Getting Started Composting with Worms

People who are interested in making fertilizer out of worm poop will find the initial startup easy and inexpensive. Of course, people using it as a business and who intend to sell the fertilizer may require more of a commitment, but for personal use it’s very simple.

To get started, people simply need a few large plastic bins with holes drilled on the sides and the bottom for airflow and drainage purposes. Many people stack the two bins on top of one another, with the bottom bin sitting on some type of rack so it can drain when needed.

In fact, the top bin will simply drain into the lower bin, which is why only the lower bin needs to be lifted up onto something to drain. Each bin will have bedding, and they can both be lined with some type of greenhouse plastic before the holes are drilled.

For the most successful worm composting pile, people need three things: good drainage, good ventilation, and darkness. Once people have these three things, they can place their vermicomposting bins either outside or inside of their home.

As far as the bedding goes, most people use egg cartons, shredded paper, and shredded cardboard. If the bin is going outside, straw and leaves can also be added. These two items should not be used for indoor bins because they can attract nasty insects.

Mixed in with the bedding should be a big scoop of garden soil, and regular watering of the bins is also important. Before the worms are added, the bedding has to be similar to a wet sponge, which means neither too wet nor too dry.

Worm composting can even be done in an apartment as shown in the image gallery below. Click to enlarge.

Adding the Worms

When it’s time for the worms to be added, they should be one of two types: red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida; or redworms, also known as Lumbricus rebellus. If you’re wondering, how many compost worms do I need, start with one pound, which is about 1,000 worms.

The regular earthworms that are found in a typical garden should not be used, since they do not feed on pure organic materials. The two types of red worms mentioned above are also called manure worms, and they work best in worm composting projects.

When it’s time for the worms to be added to the bedding, just dig a hole in the middle of the bin, put the worms in it, then cover it up with some more bedding. After this, let the worms roam around in the bedding for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, the worms can be fed. Kitchen scraps can be used to feed them, but they should never eat meat, dairy products, greasy foods, or bones because whatever they don’t eat will just rot and, therefore, stink.

Food scraps that worms can eat include:

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruits
  • Tea bags (except for plastic or fabric ones)
  • Vegetables

Worms can also be fed paper, as long as it is cut into small pieces, but they should never be fed any type of plastic, fabric, or even the stickers sometimes found on produce in the grocery store.

When it comes to feeding the worms, it’s best to let the scraps sit for about a week. Feeding the worms once a week is more than enough, and the foods are added to the bins much the same way that the worms were added in the beginning.

Interestingly, if the food is placed in the bins just on one side of each bin, the worms will automatically gravitate toward that side. This makes it easier come harvest time to scoop up the fertilizer on the other side without having to look through it to remove the worms.

Harvesting the Fertilizer

When it’s time to harvest the fertilizer, most people use one of two methods:

  • The lure method, which works when there are numerous stackable bins. With this method, another stackable bin is placed on the very top of the stack once the bottom bins are filled with compost. The worms are then lured into the top bins because of the fresh food.
  • The dump method, which consists of dumping each bin onto a tarp either outside in the sun or under a bright light. Worms hate the light, so they’ll automatically travel to the bottom, then the top part of the bedding can be harvested.

How can people tell if the compost is ready to be harvested? First of all, they need to stop putting in fresh food once the bin is almost full. After roughly three months, the bins should be filled with compost and there will be little or no bedding left.

Once the bin gets to this point, people will know it’s time to harvest. In most cases, they should stop feeding the worms at least two weeks before they intend to harvest, and naturally, the worms must be removed before the compost is used.

Some Additional Tips

Here are some additional things considered important for worm composting enthusiasts to know:

  • People who participate in vermicomposting usually wonder, can compost worms survive winter, and the answer is “no,” they cannot. Unless they live in an area that is warm most of the year, they need to bring the worms inside whenever it’s wintertime.
  • Keep in mind that worms reproduce and double their population every 90 days or so. People who participate in this type of composting will never run out of worm poop because of this!
  • Vermicomposting can be done in the country or in the city. It can be used for personal use or sold to garden centers and similar places because these days, people are much more familiar with vermicomposting than they were just a decade ago.

Worm composting is nothing new, but in the United States, a lot of people still haven’t heard about it. Nevertheless, for people who want a great fertilizer that is stench-free, it is the perfect choice because it is rich in nutrients and great for adding to gardens of all types.