Vermicomposting Basics

Add worms to your composting process to form a nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Thomass
Vermiculture, or worm farming, is the use of worms to break down organic material. It’s a simple way of turning table scraps into compost. The end product is a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer called “worm castings.” A vermicompost bin can maintain the conditions necessary for hosting an environment for worm reproduction.

The inner bin holds the scraps and worms, while the outer bin acts as a catchment for any excess liquid, which can also be used as fertilizer.
Photo by Len Churchill

Backyard Vermiculture Benefits

Vermiculture can benefit your backyard garden in the following ways:

  • It will enhance your existing composting operation.
  • It will use worms to create a high-yield nutrient-rich fertilizer.
  • Worms, such as red wigglers and earthworms, will help break down organic material more rapidly.
  • The end product will have a higher amount of humus than compost, and humus can improve aeration and water retention tremendously.

Vermicompost is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, and contains both macronutrients and micronutrients that benefit plant health and stimulate plant growth. The compost contains worm castings; partially decomposed organic materials; and organic waste with fragments of plants, food, and other detritus. Most vermicompost contains plant-growth hormones, which can increase plant vitality and yields. In vermicompost, micronutrients that may ordinarily be washed away in heavy rains, such as magnesium and sulfur, are instead bound and released slowly.

The product that vermicomposting yields is more than worth the small investment it takes to get started. You can begin free of charge if you have a friend who keeps worms already. Just set up your system first, and then ask your friend for about a dozen worms. Within a month or two, your worm population will start to increase. In the retail market, natural fertilizers can be expensive. Finished vermicompost sells for up to $35 for a 20-pound bag. You can make your own 20-pound bag of castings in your basement or backyard for just pennies after you pay your initial costs.

If you’re using reclaimed materials to build an outdoor bin, you’ll only have to buy the worms and straw bales (to be used as occasional bedding and for insulation during winter months). You can really keep costs down as long as you’re creative with your building resources.

Set Up a Standard Worm Bin

A typical worm bin is made with two plastic containers — an inner bin and an outer bin. The inner bin needs several holes drilled on all four sides and three dozen holes drilled through the bottom. A layer of small pebbles, river rocks, or sand on the bottom will prevent water buildup in the bedding and promote drainage. The outer bin, which acts as a catchment for any liquid, will need several dozen holes drilled through all four sides, but none on the bottom.

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