As Fall approaches those of us who are Northern gardeners begin to go into withdrawal. Soon the frost will hit, our lovely flowers and lush foliage will turn to brown mush and the gardens will go to sleep for several months. What’s a gardener to do with all that time? Browsing garden books, planning out next years beds, seed shopping and eventually seed starting are all on most gardeners’ lists of winter activities. A more progressive and novel winter task for those of us who can’t stand all those months with our hands out of the dirt is generating compost with a worm farm. Worm farm?? Yes, it is true. Whether you are a city dweller in an apartment or live on a sprawling country estate you can have your very own worm farm and generate fabulous compost for the coming season. It is economical, environmentally responsible, oderless and your plants will love you.
A worm farm does not take a lot or space or effort and European nightcrawlers (also known as giant redworms) will eat your garbage and shredded newspapers, consuming their own weight in organic material each day. A small bin these babies will make you pounds sweet smelling compost in just 2-3 months. Over the course of the winter you can easily generate enough rich vermicompost (compost made with worms) for your beds when they awake famished from their long winter hibernation. The compost is also good mixed into soil for repotting, as part of a seed starting base, top dressing your lawn and as a fertilizer for your veggie garden and shrubs
Here’s what you need to proceed:
1. Make or get a worm bin. It can be wood or plastic. A plastic tub from your local discount store will due. A good working size 2′ X 3′ by 1′ deep. Drain holes are needed in the bottom to keep the bedding from becoming saturated with water and increase airflow. Drill a 1/4 inch hole every 3 inches both directions on the bottom. Put something under each end or corner of the tub so air can get to the bottom. You won’t need any screen or top to keep the worms in. Do not use the plastic lid. You can cover the bedding with a piece of burlap or cardboard with airspace around the edges. You can also make a frame with burlap stretched over it to lay on top of your tub. Occasionally sprinkling water on the burlap will be appreciated by your worms as they like humidity.
2.Add the bedding. Shredded newspaper, shredded corrugated cardboard, peat moss, or leaf mold well soaked in water and wrung out will hold moisture and provide a material for the worms to do their work and where you can bury the waste you add. It must be light and fluffy enough to allow air circulation. The worms will consume bedding as well as the kitchen vegetable wastes. You can add a handful of dirt every time the bedding is changed though it is not necessary.
3. Add your worms. Red worms are the most satisfactory and efficient type of worm to use for composting. The worms need warmth (55-77 degrees), moisture and ventilation. Your worm population will grow according to how well you feed them. Plan on buying one pound of worms for each pound of kitchen vegetable wastes you produce per day. Worms process their own body weight or more of organic matter each day.
4. Feed them. Remember, your worms will eat anything organic. Feeding animal products like meat or dairy products is not recommended though because it smells and attacks other critters. Everything else can be worm food: kitchen waste, old clothes (cotton, silk or other organic material only), shredded newspaper, horse and cow manure. Worms need a moist environment so be sure all food material is damp but not soaking wet.
5. Harvest your compost. Every 3-6 months there will be compost in your bin. Simply move the compost to one side of the bin and add new bedding and garbage to the other. Over a few weeks the worms will migrate to the fresh material and then you will be able to remove the compost side replacing it too with new bedding. Vegetable wastes compost well and produce valuable worm compost called “castings.” These are the most nutrient-dense compost available. Castings promote soil structure and fertility, while offering plants an excellent source of non-burning, readily available nitrogen, To generate and harvest casings simply rotate the burial of food wastes throughout the bin. When you are adding new bedding (as above) start burying wastes in the new bedding only. A properly maintained worm bin is odorless.
Your worms must be kept in a heated garage or basement during the winter to prevent freezing. Bins may be placed in a shady outdoor space the remainder of the year. Flies may be controlled by placing a sheet of plastic over the bedding.
That is all there is to it! To get started, buy your little buggers at
or at a worm farm near you.