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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.
Add the worm bedding — a mixture of shredded paper or torn newspaper, leaf litter, grass clippings, and small pieces of cardboard, such as toilet paper rolls — and spray with water until the mixture is wet.
The bedding should sit until it reaches the correct temperature, between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It should stay below 90 degrees F for at least two days. After the optimum temperature has been reached, push aside the bedding, add the worms, and cover with the bedding. You can then add food scraps slowly. A rule of thumb among vermiculturists is that worms can eat their weight in one day. For example, 1 pound of worms will go through
1 pound of food scraps daily.
After 1 to 2 months, harvest the bottom layer of vermicompost. Add a few handfuls of new worm bedding. Continue adding kitchen scraps, and the cycle will continue.