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Vermicomposting How To & Benefits – Why I Have 30,000 Worms Composting Food in My Kitchen

By Heather Levin

VermicompostingYes, I really do have tens of thousands of worms in my kitchen. And no, I’m not trying to get rid of them. That’s because I’m a die-hard fan of vermicomposting, which is the process of using worms to compost food scraps instead of throwing them in the garbage.

Why, you might be wondering, would I do such a gross, disgusting thing in my own kitchen?

Well, that’s the whole point. Unlike using a regular compost bin, let alone trash cans, vermicomposting isn’t gross or smelly. In fact, you can’t even tell the worms are there. Check out the photo; looks kind of like a side table, right?

But I don’t keep worms in my house just for fun. Vermicomposting not only makes a big difference for the environment by substantially reducing what I send to the landfill, but it also saves me a significant amount of money.

Why Vermicomposting Is Beneficial

The amount of food waste here in the U.S. is enormous. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 12.7% of our waste stream is thrown out food. In fact, an astonishing 25% of all the food bought by American families is thrown away.

The problem is that when food is tossed into a landfill it begins to produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the second largest producer of methane gas, which is a huge contributor to global warming.

So the more food we keep out of our landfills, the less methane we release into the atmosphere.

This is where vermicomposting comes in. In my house, zero food goes in the trash. And that’s something I feel really good about.

Another major benefit to vermicomposting is that it can save you money. If you pay for trash collection, it is often based on volume. Since your trash volume will probably be reduced by at least 25%, you will see your bill go down as well. If you have a home garden or landscaping ideas for your yard, you probably spend quite a bit of money each year on soil and fertilizer for your plants. If you have a vermicompost bin, however, you get it for free. Worm castings make an incredibly rich and nutritious soil for plants. And the microorganisms that pass into the soil from the worms help your plants become more resistant to disease and pests.

Also, worm compost is 100% organic, so you won’t be putting yourself, your family and the environment at risk by using chemical fertilizers.

Why Vermicomposting Isn’t Gross

vermicomposting wormsSome people find the idea of having thousands of worms in their home creepy, and maybe even a bit disgusting. And there’s no doubt it takes some getting used to. But I’ve been vermicomposting over a year now and I have to say I’m completely fascinated by what goes on with my worms (which I named the Snickersons). They take my food waste and turn it into a liquid fertilizer called “worm tea,” which I use to water my plants, and a rich compost I use in my garden. It’s pretty amazing.

When done correctly, worm bins don’t smell at all. When you lift the lid, all you smell is damp, rich earth. And you get to participate in nature’s finest recycling system.

I’ll be the first to admit that I made some mistakes along the way with my worm bin. There were times, especially in the beginning, when it did stink. But this was because I was feeding my worms too much and I didn’t have enough newspaper bedding on the top. You need to start off slowly, and build up how much you feed your worms as their population grows.

Another time (thinking that the Snickersons might want some fresh air) I moved them to the front porch to enjoy the summer weather. Big mistake. My worm bin got infested with so many fruit flies that it literally took months to get rid of them all. I also didn’t think about how hot the sun would be on that black plastic bin – I almost roasted the poor Snickersons to death.

So, there’s definitely a learning curve! But I’ve had fun every step along the way and I know I’ll be vermicomposting the rest of my life.

What to Feed Your Worms

Worms eat a wide variety of things we normally throw out. They love:

  • Vegetable scraps and peelings like corn cobs, cucumber ends, tomatoes, avocado shells, etc.
  • Fruit scraps and peelings like watermelon rinds, banana peels, apple cores, etc.
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cardboard
  • Newspapers
  • Tea Bags
  • Paper towels

As with all compost bins, you should never put any animal products (aside from eggshells) into your worm bin. Worms don’t like:

  • Meat scraps
  • Dairy products
  • Bones
  • Fats
  • Organic materials from outdoors like leaves and grass clippings

How to Pick a Worm Bin

There are many different kinds of worm bins out there, and it’s fairly easy, and cheap, to make your own (there are tons of great tutorials online). You can also buy a complete vermicompost system, which is what I did.

Even though it was a bit pricey, I went with the Can-O-Worms system, which you can buy on Amazon. I love this system because it makes vermicomposting pretty effortless. Because there are so many trays, I can easily take out the compost once it’s ready. Take a look:

Harvesting compost

The spigot at the bottom makes it really easy to drain the worm tea for my houseplants and the Can-O-Worms system is made with 100% recycle plastic, which is a big plus.

I’d love to hear from you about this. Do you vermicompost? If so, how do you like it? What’s been your biggest faux pas with your worm bin? If you don’t vermicompost, would you ever consider starting a worm bin in your home?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • http://www.billeater.com Jessica Bosari

    Heather, this is the most awesome thing I’ve seen for how to deal with compost. I haven’t been composting for a few reasons:

    1. It’s smelly
    2. It’s nearly impossible in winter
    3. Rolling the stuff around to keep it composting is a pain in the neck

    I wrote a piece on how installing a sink disposal system could save you money (which also requires an initial investment) but this is so much better. No fear of mangled hands, and no worries about the energy spent at the sewage treatment plant to deal with the added food waste. Yes, they can handle it, but better not to send the extra waste in the first place. Based on the price, it’s a cheaper solution too.

    How much waste can the composter handle anyway? How is it that the trash doesn’t stink while waiting for the worms to do their job? Are they THAT fast? I’m dying to know. Maybe I’ll have to get one myself and find out!

    • Heather Levin

      Jessica,

      The amount of waste a vermicompost bin can handle depends entirely on how many worms you have. Worms can consume 4-6 times their body weight in food per day! So 1000 worms could handle an average of 1/2 lb. per food per day.

      Of course, worms multiply rapidly. The more worms you have, obviously the more food waste you can put in there. What’s cool is that they adjust their population based on the food supply. So, they’ll never “outgrow” their bin. They’ll just cut down on reproducing if you’re not putting as much in there (if you go on extended vacation, for instance).

      I’ve never actually weighed how much I’m giving my worms each week. It changes based on what I’m cooking. I have a little compost pail I keep on my kitchen counter, and put it in the worm bin when it fills up, which is several times per week.

      The worms don’t actually consume the food in the bin. As mold grows on the food, and little bacterias arrive to break it down, that’s what the worms eat. The smell is kept down by the shredded newspaper bedding that you need to keep on top of all the food/compost. But really, once you’ve got a good balance going on, it will hardly smell at all. As I mentioned in my post, mine rarely if ever smells anymore. It just smells like damp, good earth. I love it!

      I’d highly recommend getting into vermicomposting. It’s so interesting, and such a great way to give back to the environment!

  • http://www.billeater.com Jessica Bosari

    This is just amazing. Thank you for all those details! I’m so pumped, the little science geek inside me is jumping up and down. And the smell of damp earth…isn’t that one of the greatest smells ever? Guess who’s got a birthday coming up? Guess who’s buying herself something this year?! Go on…Guess!

    • Heather Levin

      Jessica, I’d say the smell of damp earth is only equal to that of fresh mown grass. :) And I’m also guessing that the birthday girl might be the next vermicomposter. Yay!

      Vermicomposting is awesome, and it’s so low maintenance once you get past the relatively small learning curve. Really, the worms are happiest when you leave them alone to do their thing. Although the first few months I bugged them big time by opening the bin obsessively to watch their progress. :)

      I’d highly recommend you read the book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, by Mary Appelhof. Your library will have it. It’s got a ton of great info on how to get started vermicomposting.

      You’ll also want to watch how much moisture is in there. This is was a beginner mistake I made a lot. If it’s too wet, it’s going to smell. But if it’s not wet enough, your worms will die (since they breathe through their skin, so they have to stay moist). By now my bin stays moist all the time since there’s so much rich compost in there, but in the beginning you might have to spray it down with water (from a spray bottle) every 4-5 days, until you get enough decomposing food in there to keep it moist.

      The biggest payoff (aside from being the coolest girl on the block) is the compost. If you grow a garden, you’ll def. see a difference in how well your flowers and veggies grow with that stuff!

      Good luck, and please write in you have questions! I’d also love to hear how it’s going for you if you decide for sure to get into it. :)

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    How likely is it to starve the worms? Some weeks we have lots to offer, but some weeks, not so much.

    • Heather Levin

      Heather, it’s hard to starve the worms in the short-term. The reason is because they have a TON to eat. Even if you don’t give them food every week, they still have the newspaper bedding they can munch on (the shredded newspaper is what goes on top of all your weekly food waste to keep the smell down and moisture in). You will need to keep adding that every two weeks or so because they do eat it down.

      When I bought my Can-O-Worms system, it came with a block of coir bedding (coir is shredded coconut husks, if I remember correctly). When I ordered the worms I put them right into that bedding when they arrived. It took months, but eventually they ate all the coir in addition to the slowly-growing amount of food I put in every few days.

      Unless you go away for a month or more, it’s unlikely you can starve the worms. :)

  • Ivan1219

    the thing outta the bottom isn’t worm tea, but rather leachate. worm tea is made by using worm compost and suspending it in water like a tea bag

  • Magnstar

    Greetings,
    Google search: ZERI = Zero Energy Research Initiative. Scientists use a biogas digester at the center of a home recycling system. The bacteria pretty much digest everything in an anerobic (without oxygen) tank. The bacteria produce methane gas as a bi-product. It can be used for cooking, heating, or running an internal combustion engine. The engine produces electricity and waste heat. The heat can be used to regulate the proper temperature on the digester tank and well as keep the radiant floor of the chicken house, pigs, or the greenhouse warm during the winter.
    The solid waste discharge from the digester is used to grow the earthworms. The earthworms feed on the bacteria in the soil, and their casings turn the solid waste into gold. The earthworms can be sold to anglers or can be used to provide feed for your chickens and your fish.
    After the worms do their thing, you can grow mushrooms in the soil the worms enriched. Google: Fungi Perfecti and Paul Stamets’ Mushroom People. Also, on YouTube, Paul Stamets has a video called: 6 Ways Mushrooms can Save the World. (4 Stars)
    The effluent liquid can be used to cultivate water plants to purify the water, before it goes into your talapia tank. I recommed water hyacinth, azolla, and water lettuce. All three can be used as green mulch. Azolla is high in easily, digestible protein, that can be used to supplement your chicken’s feed, fish, pigs, goats, cattle, (not sure about horses). People can also consume azolla as a survival food! However, I do not recommend eating the azolla grow in the effluent water. Yuck!
    Check your state laws about what plants you are “allowed” to grow, that way you don’t muck up the ecosystem with an invasive organism, like the Republicans, or Democrats, tea partiers, Independents, liberals, conservatives, religious lefts or those who think-their-right, the communists, the socialists, and every other “ist” out there. The truth is that you are spinning-your-wheels for a corporation. That’s right, the United States is a corporation! Google: “Title 28 USC 3002(15)(a)” Everything in your life is controlled by the corporation. Even your police departments and courts are “for-profit” corporations. There is NO justice. Google: Dunn and Bradstreet, then type in, for example (Your State’s, state police), then see what comes up. Their shares are bought and sold on Wall Street! Think about our soldiers ruined lives. It’s all about profit.
    One more thing…global warming? Is being caused by our solar system moving into a 10 K year “galactic duststorm”. It is changing the chemistry of the planet’s atmosphers, as well as the sun’s chemistry. Google: Voyager Makes an Interstellar Discovery.
    Peace

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