Bring On The Worms!

Guys, I’m super excited. Remember when I told you about the state of our current composting situation and that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was time to start worm composting? Well, I never thought I’d ever say this but… I’ve got worms.

Traditional composting hasn’t exactly been lighting my fire so I’ve been ready to try another way to get the job done of turning our food waste into healthy soil. Now this is not to say anything is wrong with traditional composting. It is without a doubt an awesome way to keep organic material out of the landfill. And honestly, the primary problem that I had with traditional composting is actually something that I’m going to have to be extra vigilant about with the worms but I’ll explain what I’m talking about in a second.

My biggest challenges with the traditional method were with keeping it balanced and turned. Too many greens and not enough browns makes for a stinky, wet pile. Except we didn’t have an unlimited source of brown material laying around so my compost has almost always been like 90% green materials (fruits/veggies). As far as keeping it aerated, when in a bin I had a difficult time turning its contents around the halfway mark (of course it didn’t help that conditions were wet and heavy). Once we moved to a compost heap on the ground turning wasn’t as difficult but this had it’s own downsides like weeds trying to grow around the base and fear of piercing moles, who had taken up residence underneath, with my pitchfork. By the end of summer I was really starting to feel discouraged about the process of composting. That being said, I wasn’t about to start sending all our scraps back to the landfill again. So when talking to fellow local, Ryan from Owenby Organics about his worm composting operation, I asked him what it would take to get something set up in my own yard. The thing that sealed the deal for me was that he said they could live outside through the winter!! We don’t have a large house which means there isn’t anywhere we could easily put them inside that wouldn’t be in the way so this was a major selling point for me.  I told him to sign me up and in a few days he was out at my house to help me get up and running!!

We started with a simple plastic tub bin, much like I used when container composting. Holes were drilled along the sides at the top and on the bottom to allow for air flow and leachate drainage. Fun fact: the liquid that comes out of the bottom of a worm compost bin is not compost tea. It’s worm leachate! This leachate is caused by liquid that seeps out of food scraps and doesn’t get processed by worms. Anything that is processed by worms is filled with beneficial bacteria however this is not the case with leachate as it has not passed through a worm’s digestive system.   To help drainage, the bin was placed on top of bricks so that the bottom is suspended above ground. Genius.

It was time to get a base of “brown” carbon-rich material. Remember how I said there was one thing I struggled with before that would be even more important with worm composting? That thing would be maintaining an adequate ratio of browns to greens (carbon to nitrogen).  Worm bins apparently need 4 parts brown materials for every 1 part of scraps. So its going to be even more important now that I find a way to maintain a balance. Luckily worms like all sorts of browns so I don’t have to use dried leaves. I can use anything that hasn’t been bleached like newspaper and plain brown cardboard so now I have a much better plan for maintaining the brown balance this time around. My dad is an avid reader of the newspaper so I know I’ll have that option for continuous flow of carbon. The other is asking neighbors who bag up their leaves to send to the dump (the horror) if I can take them off their hands! This option is really going to be what gets me through the fall and winter months but come summer I know the newspapers are going to be more helpful. To get me started though, Ryan brought a block of coconut coir, which is made from whatever is leftover during coconut milk and water production.

To get started all we had to do was water it! If we added water and walked away it would grow on its own but to get things moving along Ryan helped break up the block while teenie was there to give it water!

After about 10 minutes what was once a small block filled up about 3/4 of the tub!

Once the brown base was established, the bin was ready for food scraps!!

Then it was time to meet our worm friends and move them into their new home!!!

We’re a little over a week into composting with our worm friends and so far so good.  One of the big things Ryan told me to watch out for was worms crawling around the edges at the top of the bin.  This means they are trying to escape because something is off whether it be too hot, dry, or damp.  So far whenever I’ve removed the lid there have been no worms in sight which he says is a great sign!! 🙂 The best part about a worm bin? Not having to turn it! The worms aerate it themselves so as long as its not too wet. All I have to do is use a pronged garden tool to mix in new scraps with the current materials.

Stay tuned as I will be checking in within a month or so to report back on how things are going!!

xo, Erica

P.S. If you live in RVA and are interested in worm composting but the whole idea feels totally foreign you can set up a personal visit of your own by emailing Ryan at OwenbyOrganics@gmail.com! It was so nice having someone experienced come out to get me started. He answered all my questions, laid to rest all my concerns and I’m really excited to be trying this out now! There are even alternative options to the plastic tub bin if you want something a little more aesthetically pleasing/not plastic that he’d be able to help build. 🙂

2 Replies to “Bring On The Worms!”

  1. Awesome! Harvest time is lots of fun.

  2. Such an informative article! Thank you for sharing 😊. I have been wanting to transition to work composting too but I wasn’t sure how to start. Now I do! Best of luck!

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