Composting with worms at the Cottage

Many of us have tried composting at the cottage, but are fearful of attracting bears or other animals to our compost piles. An exceptional alternate to composting outside is to Vermi-compost indoors all year long. Vermi-composting has become popular among backyard gardeners, urban farmers, and homesteaders looking to raise worms for personal use or to supplement a homesteading income.

The average Canadian produces a tonne of waste each year. Estimated 1/2 to 1/3 of household waste is organic matter, by Vermi-composting you can effectively divert this waste stream and be able to produce worm castings which is a nitrogen rich natural fertilizer.

Concerned about smell- don’t be, as long as your effectively operating your vermi-composter it can operate odourlessly, as the worm eat the decomposing matter.

What you will need:

The Red worms

The best type of worm to use for vermicomposting is the Red worm (wiggler), (Eisenia foetida). Red worms are incredible garbage eaters that eat and expel their own weight everyday, under optimal conditions. As a rule of thumb you can assume that 2 lbs. of red wigglers will recycle 1 lb. of organic matter in 24 hours.

You can easily obtain red worms from vermicomposting suppliers, bait shops, or friends and neighbors already actively vermicomposting.

 Bins

Plastic storage containers make good worm bins. Alternatively you can build a bin out of wood.

The size of your bin will depend on the amount of food waste generated each week and the number of people generating the waste. 

Location

You can locate your worms either indoors or outdoors, preferably in a cool dry spot. If you place your bin outdoors, keep it out of the hot sun and heavy rains, and remember to bring your bins in the temperature drops to below 5˚C. The Optimal temperature for Vermi-composting is between 16 and 28 degrees Celsius

Bedding

Choose a bedding material that can retain both moisture and air while providing a place for your worms to live. Commonly used bedding materials include: shredded newspaper, straw, peat moss, grass clippings, dried leaves, or a mixture of these materials. To start off, the bedding should fill two thirds of your bin.

It is very important to monitor the moisture content of the bedding. As a rule of thumb, keep the bedding as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If the bedding begins to dry out, use a fine mist to dampen the bedding again.

Feeding your worms

Red worms will eat almost any type of food wastes. With a new bin, start slowly until your worms build up their population and can handle larger amounts of food. Worms should be fed once or twice a week by burying your food scraps at least one inch below the surface of the bedding. Place the food in a different section of the bin each week.

Harvesting

After about 9 months, your composter should be well established and you will start to notice that your worms have converted food wastes and bedding into a mass of rich, dark castings.

 You have a few options available at your disposal when trying to harvest:

  • Take the lid off of your bin and expose the contents to bright light. Your worms to work their way towards the bottom of the bin and allow you to remove the top castings a layer at a time.
  • Dump the bin onto a tarp, and allow the worms to dive down into the pile. Scrape off the top and sides and allow the worms to dive down further.
  • Stop feeding the worms for two weeks, then provide food a cup at a time in one corner of the bin. After a few days, most of the worms will be in that corner and you can harvest the opposite half of the bin, then repeat for the other side.

While harvesting, it’s also a good idea to try to pick out as many eggs/cocoons as possible and return them to the bin. Eggs are small, lemon-shaped yellowish objects that can usually be seen pretty easily with the naked eye and picked out

Now that you have harvested you can put your compost to good use. Remember that compared to ordinary soil castings typically have more nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. This compost can be mixed with potting soil and used for houseplants, as mulch for potted plants, or sprinkled on your lawn as a conditioner. In the garden. In the garden you can work the compost into the ground around the base of each plant. If you are using as  potting mix a good rule of thumb is to not use  more than 15-20% castings mixed with the potting soil.

Don’t forget to use the worm leachate that you collect from your bin. It should not be used on edible garden plants. We recommend diluting it ten parts water to one part leachate (10:1), and only using it outdoors on shrubs, ornamentals or flowering plants only. 

Building a vermicompost bin

Materials:

·         4- plastic storage bins, such as a 14-gallon Rubbermaid tub, with lid

·         1/4-inch circular drill bit & ½-inch circular drill bit

·         electric drill

·         1 lb. compost or good topsoil

·         shredded paper for bedding

·         water

·         minimum 1 lb. of red wiggler worms

·         hose bib

·         nut and washer for hose bib

·         silicone caulking

·         4 bricks or  pieces of 4”x4” wood (for spacers)

 

1.    Take one of the bins (this will be your containment bin for collecting tea) Start by marking out the location of the hose bib, the sides of one of the bins. Drill or cut out the hole for the insertion of the hose bib. On the inside of the bin, install the washer over the thread and then tighten on the nut.

2.    Place a bead of silicone caulking on both the inside and outside of the bin around the hose bib (let dry)

3.    Take 1 lid and drill numerous ½” holes spaced throughout (25-50 holes)

4.    Take bins 2 to 4 and drill approximately 25, ¼-inch holes at the bottom of each of the bins. These holes will aid with drainage, and worm movement through the bins

5.    Take the first bin (with the hose bib) and place the 4 bricks or pieces of wood inside of it. This is done to keep the second bin elevated and out of any potential fluids that could drown the worms

6.    Place a second bin (from step 4) and place it inside bin one, so that it sits evenly on the bricks or lumber.

7.    Installed your shredded up paper and wet them down. The paper should be wet but not dripping if you hold them up.

8.    Add a pound of good topsoil or finished compost to inoculate the bedding with the beneficial microbes.

9.    Add your worms.

10. Start feeding

11. After a period of 6 to 9 months, remove the cover from second bin and install a third bin inside of the second bin, add food and bedding to the third bin. Worms will start to migrate up from the second bin to the third bin. Place the cover on third bin.

12. Repeat step 11 with forth bin, and commence use of castings which reside in the second bin

13. After cleaning out castings from second bin, you can recycle it back into your worm farm for use.

    Typical Problems Encountered When Vermicomposting:
  1. Your worm composting bin is too wet.
    • You are sour smell coming from your worm composting bin
    • Put a temporary freeze on feeding your vermicomposting worms food that have high water content.
    • Take some dry worm bedding material and place it into the bin, the dry material will absorb some of the moisture.
  2. Your worm composting bin is too dry.
    • Add moist bedding to the bin, or use a spray bottle to mist the compost and bedding.
  3. Over feeding your worms.
    • Overfeeding will lead to rotting food and rancid smells, fruit flies, and acidic worm bins which will make your worms want to flee. The solution is simple stop feeding
  4. Not enough air flow
    • poor air flow will cause the compost to sour and get smelly
    • Add ventilation, and watch the moisture content of the compost.
  5. Wrong Food
    • So you accidentally fed them dairy, oil or bread don’t worry. The worms will eventually eat the material, although it may smell for a while.
  6. Overreacting to problems
    • Once you realize that you have made a mistake, act slowly to correct it.
    • Take a small corrective action and wait to see the result. It may take days or even weeks for that action to fully develop. Be patient.
Do Feed Limit Avoid
Vegetables Citrus Onions
Fruits Pasta Twigs
Used tea bags Breads Meat
Coffee Grounds and filters Rice Dairy
Crushed egg shells   oils
Leaves   Fats
Non glossy paper products   ash
Dead plants, grass clippings leaves   Cat or dog droppings
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