If you are here, you want to learn all about worms, worm farming and worm castings/vermicompost. We have tons of information for you! We hope we help you in some way on your wormy journey.
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Quite simply, vermicomposting is the process of composting with worms. Make compost quicker than a compost pile, and do it with worms. That is, it's converting organic waste material into useful fertilizer by letting worms eat the waste matter and excrete fertilizer known as worm castings. This sounds pretty gross, but it is actually pretty cool.
Many people think that vermicomposting is superior to running a regular compost pile. If you compost at home, you know what is involved - careful balance of green and brown, occassional turning or moving of the pile, and time...lots of time. Worm composting is much simpler. Although you do need to think about the balance of the bedding a little bit, it's not quite as tricky. And the worms devour 1/2 of their body weight in organic matter every day. Enough worms in a big enough bin, and your family never needs to send organics to the landfill again.
Castings are worm poop. Yes. Worms eat decaying organic matter, the bacteria, nematodes, protozan, bacteria and fungi. They are ravenous! Their bodies take what they need, and consolidate the waste into castings.
Castings are, arguably, the very best natural fertilizer known to man. They are rich in nutrients that your garden and/or house plants need to thrive. Worm castings contain about two times more calcieum, five times more nitrogen and seven times more phosphorus and potassium than soil. But what many scientists think makes castings even more special is the rich micobial life they bring with them. Instead of a sterile chemical fertilizer, castings are brimming with "good bacteria" and helpful microbes.
Before we name names and start talking about the various types of worms, let's speak a little more broadly. Worms fall into one of the two major groups: anecic or epigeic. Anecic worms burrow. They are the worms that live down in the garden soil. These are the types of worms you run across when you dig in the yard. Then there are epigeic worms. They live a lot closer to the surface, preferring to hang out in the upper layers of organic matter. They don't dig down deep.
Red Wigglers are the worms you probably grew up fishing with. They are small, ative red worms. Red Wigglers are the most popular worms for composting - they eat a lot, and they reproduce fast. More and hungrier worms means more waste material processed, and more castings to collect. Normally when people are focusing their worm adventure on composting, this is the worm they pick. These guys stay at the top of the bedding.
The European Nightcrawler is probably the second most popular choice for home or production worm farming - because they are reasonably quick composters, but they are also much bigger than their Red Wiggler cousins. This makes them a favorite for fishermen, and for people needing feeder worms for fish or other critters. These worms like to dig down, and prefer extra moisture.
Like anything in life, you can take the care and feeding of worms to an extreme - you can measure their temperature and food intake each day, check the ph of the bedding every two days, etc. But you don't have to. If you are a hobbyist running a compost bin for your family, or just trying to create garden fertilizer, then you can follow some rough guidelines and do just fine.
To start the simplest kind of worm compost bin, you need a plastic container with a foot or two of surface area (plastic totes from a big box store work great), some peat (not the stringy spagnum used for orchids, but the blacker soil looking peat), some cardboard and/or uncolored/unbleached paper, and some worms. Fill your container halfway up with the peat, cardboard and/or paper - and moisten it. Stir it around with your hands really well until all the peat is damp. You want it damp like a wrung sponge, not soaking wet. Drill some air holes in the lid of your container (worms need air!), then introduce your worms to the box. Congratulations, you are off to a running start!
The main things to be thoughtful about are overfeeding, bad ph, too high a temperature and too much moisture. Feed your worms organic matter (scraps from the kitchen, your old boxes, etc). They will eat 1/2 of their weight every day - so if you started with two pounds of worms, put a pound of organics in each day. BUT - if your farm starts to smell bad, or it is attracting flies, or your worms aren't doing well, remove some of the food from the system and give it a day or two to bounce back. If it seems to wet, add some cardboard or paper. Another trick is to add a little garden lime every other feeding. This will help maintain the right ph. Keep your worm bin in the shade so the box doesn't become an oven - heat kills worms. In the winter, cold can kill your worms as well. The bigger your bin, the more tolerant to temperature they will be. In the winter, if your bin is outdoors, consider some type of greenhouse covering or some means of insulation around the outside (hay, styrofoam, etc.).
Unless you intend to fish heavily with your worms or sell them for bait, we always suggest you get the Red Wigglers. Red Wigglers are the easiest and most tolerant of the composting worms. They eat a lot, the breed fast, and they hardy.
That said, if you want a little bit of a challenge and you want some giant worms for fishing, selling or just showing off - the European Nightcrawlers are a great choice. They are not difficult to raise, but come along a little slower than the Red Wigglers. You'll be waiting a little longer for your compost, but you'll be growing some great bait/food.