It’s a worm’s world out there! For centuries, worms have played a massive part in caring for and propagating different types of plant species. Small and harmless, these wriggling nutrient powerhouses are every gardener’s best friend and secret weapon to healthy, happy plants all year long.
So, what exactly is the deal with vermicomposting, or composting with worms? And how can one manage to raise her community of neighborhood crawlies?
Worm Castings and Their Benefits
For starters, the process of vermicomposting involves using certain earthworm species to process and convert organic refuse into usable byproducts for plants. Once the earthworms are able to snack on your kitchen wastes, they process them inside their digestive tract, and the result is their castings.
These castings provide a matrix of macro and micronutrients which are readily absorbed by plants, and are a great addition to any lawn or plant bed. It is a growing industry that has fostered all sorts of businesses, and we’ll be talking more about the subject today!
Where do I source my worms?
The first agenda will always be sourcing your worms from reputable dealers. Since these worms are commonly raised as fish bait, you can readily purchase them locally and stock them every season.
If the season is optimal and it’s sunny outside, we bet you may already have some pre-existing wrigglers in your garden. These can also add to your vermicompost system. Think of these worms as your starter kit, where you’ll want to work on first.
All worms do eat up organic matter and excrete castings, but we must choose the kind of worm that we’re going to put into our bins. Since we are primarily focused on vermicomposting, it is essential to know the type of worms that we need to make our system optimal: red wigglers. The Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellas are two of the most efficient kinds.
Redworms are essentially your ally when it comes to composting, that is why it’s good to stock up on them. They love hanging out on manure-containing compost piles (with the occasional leaves and food scraps), so give them some love in that department.
All worms carry the reproductive system of both males and females, but two worms are needed to make another one. They are very sensitive to light and vibrations, so make sure that you store your wriggly friends properly. Store them away from stimuli and other disturbances that may hinder their reproduction.
Earthworms and Optimum Soil Health
The vermicomposting market is huge for a reason. Many reports and research related to the topic have all pointed out that it is one of the best ways to provide easily digestible nutrients and minerals for plants.
Since the food scraps have been exposed to the worms’ digestive tract, these castings are a “soluble” powerhouse of nutrients and enzymes that are important to the health and longevity of the plant species. The inorganic, insoluble trace minerals have also been processed, making them readily available for the plants.
The crawling, stretching, and burrowing action of the worms provide a matrix with air pockets that improve aeration inside the system. The movement of the worms mix all of the good stuff and improve the structural integrity of the soil.
The Worm’s World: Worm Beds
The process of growing worms yourself is pretty straightforward and doesn’t need much of an introduction. To foster the growth of worms, you would need a worm bed or a larger, more spacious version of the worm bin.
If you can get a bin with a lid (about 3ft x 4ft in size), then that’s the first step. Other gardeners also use aquariums or wheeled stackable boxes for easy transport. Make sure you get a box made out of materials that aren’t chemically treated or painted.
Start by lining the bottom of your box with cardboard or cheesecloth, initially layering all the materials until every surface is fully covered (around 5-10 inches). Alternatively, you can use old bricks or blocks for this step.
Continue covering the base with shredded, moistened newspapers or sawdust, making sure that they are spread evenly. (Try to steer-clear of printed documents and glossy old magazines for this, since the ink may be detrimental to the worms.)
Add your layer of food scraps, soil and the first batch of worms (approximately 500-1000 pieces) inside. Keep the bed moist and prevent it from drying up. Continuously add more organic scraps to encourage the worms to reproduce and grow.
Living the Low-maintenance Kind of Life
You’d be surprised to know that worms are one of the most low-maintenance creatures. Just be sure to keep the conditions dark and moist, since they thrive in cool conditions.
Avoid direct sunlight, as this would disrupt their entire ecosystem. Spread them on top of the bedding that you’ve created, and voila!
They feed on organic refuse such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, legumes, stale bread, and the like. Make sure to employ a routine when it comes to feeding your worms – as frequently as every other day, or even 1-2 times a week.
When you feed your buddies, compress the bedding and place the food on top. You don’t have to crush or process your scraps – just let them do the work for you.
Also, remember to give them a shake once in a while, and expose the soil that has been building up underneath.
If you keep going at it, you’ll be surprised at how rapid these worms grow. Imagine this: for less than 10 of these earthworms, you’ll get a return of more than 1000 earthworms in six months. We kid you not – that’s a whole lot of worms to keep up with!
Other important details to note
Here are some important bits of information to consider:
- Just make sure that you steer clear of meats and used oil or lard since this would increase the acidity of the soil, making it smell bad and attract flies and rodents. You wouldn’t want that!
- Always, always keep the system cool, moist, wet, and dark – not soggy wet! If you have some space inside your basement, you can keep them there for longer. And again, no direct sunlight for your wriggly friends.
- Some studies have shown that you can force-fatten the worms for faster vermicomposting outcomes. A mixture of cornmeal, oats, alfalfa pellets and cotton-seed meal can be incorporated once in a while to accelerate the girth and size of the worms, which would, in turn, make them more active.
- Tape a sign outside your worm bin, just for good measure, which reads: HANDLE WITH CARE – EARTHWORMS INSIDE. DO NOT TO DIRECT SUNLIGHT, EXTREME HEAT OR COLD.
- As your vermicomposting system gets bigger, don’t forget to transfer the worms into different containers with the same favorable conditions you initially set up. Don’t cramp them all up, give them enough space to roam around freely.
And there you have it! We hope that you enjoyed reading through our guide on how to grow your very own worms. With some patience, a bit of effort and consistency, you will be able to harvest a good amount of worms and make your plants the happiest and healthiest they could ever be. Good luck, and may the worms’ odds be ever in your favor!