Every year, over 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste around the world, about a third of all food produced. While most of this food ends up in landfills, there are other alternatives available to reduce the impact on the environment. Vermicomposting is a great way to repurpose kitchen waste and get nutrient-dense fertilizer.
Here are the steps to take when making vermicompost from kitchen waste:
- Set up a bin.
- Find a location for your bin.
- Select a bedding.
- Get worms.
- Add kitchen waste.
- Let the worms work.
- Harvest your vermicompost.
Let’s walk through the above steps together and explore the best types of bedding, what types of kitchen waste are appropriate for vermicomposting, and tips for a successful bin.
1. Set Up a Bin
Vermicomposting bins are made of multiple tiers, so the worms travel to the top section to retrieve kitchen waste and bring it deeper down to eat. The bottom container is the one that catches the worm castings. Flow-through bins are the easiest to use because they rotate the fertilizer out as it gets ready.
Many different companies make vermicomposting bins that you can buy online, although some people prefer to build their own.
A vermicomposting bin should never be filled all the way because there will not be enough airflow, which you should keep in mind when you are calculating the size of your bin. It is better to maintain two separate vermicomposting bins than to exceed the capacity of one. Without enough air, the worms will die off.
2. Find a Location for Your Bin
Choosing the right location for your vermicompost bin will ensure you have a successful system.
You can keep vermicomposting bins indoors or outdoors since they are self-contained and do not put off heat. A small indoor bin is very convenient for adding your kitchen waste. Kept indoors, they should not attract ants or flies.
Additionally, worms cannot survive at temperatures below freezing. If cold is a significant threat where you live, or you want to continue using your bin all year, an indoor bin might be the best option for you. Alternatively, insulate your bin to help maintain a healthy temperature for the worms.
Redworms do not like the light. They can become dehydrated quickly, so you mustn’t keep the bin in direct sunlight. Even if your bin is indoors, you should keep it away from a window that gets a lot of sun.
3. Select a Bedding
Worms will need bedding in addition to the kitchen waste you add to the bin. Selecting the right bedding will create a healthy environment for your worms to thrive.
Reasons to Add Bedding
There are several reasons for providing bedding in your bin:
When selecting bedding for your bin, you should look for materials with high carbon content. Worms need carbon to stay comfortable and increase their production. Additional carbon sources are required to offset the nitrogen created by the kitchen waste. The amount of carbon in your bin should be at least fifty times the amount of nitrogen.
A Food Source
Bedding gives your worms the option to snack on something other than kitchen waste every once in a while. Worms have many different food options in their natural habitat, so simulating that environment keeps them healthy and happy.
Your bedding can hold large amounts of water that kitchen scraps cannot. Redworms use their skin for breathing, so they will die without a continuous source of moisture.
The moisture required in a worm bin presents the opportunity for bacteria and mold to grow. To prevent this, proper air circulation in your bin is crucial. The bedding is typically less dense than the food waste, thus allows for better airflow throughout the bin. Ensuring that your bedding is in small pieces will allow for maximum airflow.
Choosing the Right Bedding for Your Bin
Worms do not have teeth, which means they cannot handle large pieces of material. Whatever type of bedding you choose, it must be cut or torn into small chunks before being added to the bin.
Paper is probably the most popular choice for worm bin bedding because it is cheap, readily available, and has a high carbon content. However, you want to avoid any bleached paper, such as white printer paper, because it has chemicals that can be harmful to your worms.
Newspapers and paper bags are both great options. Flat cardboard is good as well, although corrugated cardboard has the best airflow.
Additional bedding options include:
- Peat moss
- Wood chips
Your bedding should be at least three inches (7.62cm) deep, and you will need to have some extra to put on top of the kitchen waste as well.
While the bedding should not be soaking wet, it does need to be damp. You may need to add additional water to the bin along the way.
4. Get Worms
The common worms you find in your garden are not suitable for vermicomposting. To have a successful bin, you will need to employ redworms or red wigglers (sometimes referred to as tiger worms). These worms are readily available online, or you may be able to find some from a local vermicomposting community.
Most people start a vermicomposting bin with 1 lb (.45 kg) of worms. Each worm will consume its weight in waste daily, so you should consider how much waste you produce. The worms will need to have enough food to sustain them, so having too many worms can be worse than having too little.
The worms you choose should be young so that they have enough time to reproduce. Your worms must also be able to sustain their population in order to keep the vermicompost bin productive. Ideally, you will only need to buy worms when you first start your bin.
After some time, you may have too many worms for the bin. To address this overcrowding, you can share worms with other vermicomposters in the area or start a new bin.
Below is a video showing how worms can help reduce our waste.
5. Add Kitchen Waste
Not all kitchen waste is suitable for vermicomposting. Here is a breakdown of what you can and can’t add to your bin.
These products are great to add to a worm bin:
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags
You should not add these products to a worm bin:
- Coffee filters
Like with bedding, you have to remember that worms do not have teeth, so it is best to cut your scraps into small pieces before adding them to the bin.
Bury your food scraps under a small layer of bedding so that ants and flies don’t come poking around.
Over time, your worms will show you what they do and do not like to eat. If there is food sitting in the bin for several weeks that they are not touching, it may be best not to include that in the bin moving forward.
6. Let the Worms Work
Creating vermicompost takes time. After you have everything set up, your bin will require little maintenance.
Make sure you keep the bedding damp – in higher temperatures or direct sunlight, your bin will need to be watered more often.
The microbes in the worm castings are still multiplying even after the worms process them, so allowing the output to sit for a few weeks will increase the nutrients in it.
7. Harvest Your Vermicompost
Initially, it can take six months until you are able to harvest your first round of fertilizer. However, if you have a flow-through bin, you may be able to start collecting it earlier.
Most bins will separate the worm castings from the worms, often by dropping them into a bottom compartment.
As long as your vermicompost is made with only kitchen waste, it can be used as a fertilizer for just about anything!
You can use vermicompost from kitchen waste as fertilizer for:
- Decorative plants
- Food plants
Vermicomposting systems are simple to set up and easy to maintain. In a healthy bin, your worms will do most of the work for you.
Remember to stick to fruits, vegetables, coffee, and tea in your vermicomposting system.