- Population Controls
- Worm Bin Setup
- Location of Your Worm Bin
- Feeding Your Worms
- Harvesting Your Compost
- The Bedding
Vermes is Latin for worms and Vermicompsting is essentially composting with worms.
In nature all organic matter eventually decomposes. In Vermicompsting you speed
up the process of decomposition and get a richer end product called "worm castings."
Vermicompsting has the added advantage of allowing you to create compost all year;
indoors during the winter and outdoors during the summer.
The consumption of organic wastes by earthworms is an ecologically safe
method to natually convert many of our organic wastes into an extremely
environmentally beneficial product.
Two types of earthworms have consistently been domesticated for commerical use
due to their relative insinsitivity to environmental changes.
a) The Red Wiggler", or manure worm [Eisensia Foetida].
b) The Red Worm, another manure worm [Lumbricus Rebellus].
The Red Wiggler ingests waste at the front, through a soft mouth witha lip that can
seize or grasp whatever the worm is trying to eat. The throat, or "phraynx"can be
pushed forward to help pull matter in. They have no teeth so they coat their food with
saliva, which makes it softer and easier to digest. After the food is swallowed, it
passes through the esophagus to the crop and then to the gizzard, where small stones
grind it up. The food is passed into the intestine, ehich is almost as long as the
worm itself. At the end of the intestine is the anus, for passing out the castings.
Worms have a brain and five hearts. They have neither eyes nor ears but are
extremely aware of vibrations such as thumps or banging on the composter. They
have a well founded hereditary aversion to bright lights. Ultraviolet rays from the
sun are very harmful to earthworms. One hour's exposure to strong sunlight
causes partial-to-complete paralysis and several hours are fatal. A worm breathes
when oxygen from the air or water passes through its moist skin into the blood
capillaries. If the body covering dries up, the worm suffocates.
A worm's reproductive system is quite complex. Worms are hermaphrodic --
that is, each worm is both male and female and each can produce eggs and
fertilize the eggs produced by another worm. Under perfect conditions a mature
breeder will produce a cocoon every 7 to 10 days. During mating, any two adult
worms can join together to fertilize each other's eggs. Then a mucous tube
secreted by the clitellum (the band 1/4 of the way down the worm's body)
slips over its head into the soil as an egg case or cocoon. These cocoons
are about the size of a match head and change colour as the baby worms
develop, starting out as pale yellow and when the hatchlings are ready to emerge,
cocoons are a reddish-brown. It is possible by observing with a good lens
to not only see a baby worm, but to see the pumping of its bright red blood vessel.
The blood of a worm is amazingly similar to ours, having the same function of
carrying oxygen, and having iron-rich hemoglobin at its base.
It takes about three weeks development in the cocoon for one to several baby
worms to hatch. These newly emerged worms look just like the grown-ups,
only lighter in colour and much smaller. They will mature to breeding age in
approximately 60 to 90 days.
Three basic conditions control the size of a worm population:
When food and waste is regularly fed to worms in a limited space, the worms and
associated organisms break down this waste. They use what they can and excrete the rest.
As the worms reproduce, the voracious young worms compete with their parents
and all the other worms in the culture for the limited food available.
Additionally, all the worms excrete casting, which has been shown to be toxic to
members of their own species. As time goes on, more worms compete for the limited
food, and more and more of the bedding becomes converted to castings. The density of
the worms may exceed that favourable for cocoon production, and reproduction
slows down. The controls you exert over your worm population will affect this whole
process. You may choose to feed n ever increasing population, in which case, you
will need to provide them with more space and fresh bedding.
- availability of food
- space requirements
- fouling of their environment
No one knows for sure the life span of a worm. Some authorities believe that, under
ideal conditions, worms may live as long as ten years.
When worms expel their manure there is a bit of mucus surrounding each granule. This hardens
when it is exposed to air. When granular castings are mixed into garden or houseplant soils
there is a slow "time release" if nutrients to feed the plants. However, the hardened
particles of mucus to not break down readily, and they act to break up soils providing
aeration and drainage, creating an organic soil conditioner as well as a super, natural
Castings compared to soil has:
Worms are odorless and free from disease. It is common to use earthworms to
aerate, sanitize and deodorize, such as under the cages of the evil agricultural machine.
- 5 times the nitrate
- 7 times the phosphorus
- 3 times the exchangeable magnesium
- 11 times the potash
- 1.5 times the calcium
The worm container can either be a plastic container or home-made from
exterior grade plywood. A good size for a bin is 12" high x 16" deep x 24" long.
The Rubbermaid Roughtote 53L container, about $18 Cdn, is a good size bin.
This size bin will handle 3 pounds of garbage per week. An aeration hole should be cut
in the top of the box. If more food is to be produced each week, several bins should be
used. This will save all food scraps; as one bin is being finished off, the others
can be in various stages of advancement.
On the bottom of the bin, place a grid of several pieces of wood or plastic (the grill from
a fluorescent light works best) one inch off the bottom for drainage. On top of the
grid, place mosquito netting or screen from a storm door to prevent the worms from crawling
through and dying.
In a large container, thouroughly mix the bedding materials together with
water adding approximately two handfuls at a time. Test the bedding for water content
by grabbing a fistful and squeezing it. If a few droplets of water appear through your fingers,
there is adequate water for the worms. Never use water from a water softener as the salt
will kill the worms.
Put the mixed bedding in the bin. Do not pack it down - it should be light and airy.
Place your red wigglers on top of the moistened bedding, keep the lid off and after
a few minutes the worms should all disappear into their new home.
Feed your red wigglers. The first few days, your worms will be adjusting to their new
environment. Don't be alarmed if the odd worm becomes lost and tries to climb the wall of the
bin; simply put them back in their bedding.
Your worm bin can be located in a number of places; kitchen, patio, garage, basement, closet.
To keep your red wigglers happy, you will need to think about temperature, moisture and
All worms need moisture. The bedding should have a moisture content similar to a wrung-out
sponge. Worms also need oxygen. It is important to allow air to circulate around the bin
by not covering the air holes. The red wigglers in your bin can tolerate a wide range of
temperatures, but they should not freeze or get too hot.
Worm bins can be used indoors all year round, and outdoors during the winter months.
Outdoor bins should be kept out of the sun and rain. When temperatures drop below
10 degrees C (50 degrees f) bins should be moved indoors.
Red wigglers will eat most of your kitchen waste. Any vegetable waste that you generate
during food preparation can be used such as potato peels, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, celery,
apples, banana peels, grapefruit and orange rinds, tea leaves, tea bags, coffee grounds, and
Sme wasts compost faster than others. Banana peels will take about a week, while orange
peels will take about a month to decomposes.
Cutting the waste to be composted results in faster composting. The smaller the pieces the
faster the moisture and bacteria will break them down for worm consumption. Pureeing is the
Egg shells or calcium carbonate are needed to maintain the bedding at a safe pH level and
act like a vitamin to the worms. Let the shells dry out, crush them and sprinkle at least one
tablespoon in the bin every week.
Note: Avoid feeding your red wigglers meats, dairy products, eggs, oily foods,
salt and vinegar.
Red wigglers will eat their own weight every day. This also includes their bedding so for every
pound of red wigglers or part thereof, feed half that weight in food waste. Feeding twice a week
or weekly is fine. Be careful not to over feed your red wigglers.
Bury the food waste by pulling aside some of the bedding, dumping the waste,
and then covering it up with some of the bedding. Each time you feed your worms, choose a
Harvest your bin every three months for a healthy worm supply and
a good mixture of castings and vermicompost.
When you are ready to harvest, you will notice that the volume of material has dropped
substantially and the original bedding is no longer recognizable. The contents will now
be brown and earthy-looking. There are several ways to harvest:
Note: For the second and third methods, don't feed the worms for one or two weeks prior
- Move the contents of the bin over to one side. Add fresh bedding (see section on
bedding) to the vacant side. Put food waste in the new bedding. The red wigglers will
gradually move over in search of food. After one or two weeks the finished compost can
- Prepare new bedding. Dump the contents of the bin onto a large plastice sheet,
and separate into small cone-shaped piles. Place a bright light above the piles. The worms
wll move down away from the light. Remove the compost from the top. Repeat this
four or five times until a small pile of worms and compost remain. Place the worms and the
compost in the bin with fresh bedding.
- Remove the entire contents of the bin. Put in fresh bedding and food. Place a large
piece of damp burlap over the bin ensuring that the burlap overhangs the edges of the bin.
Place one inch of vermicompost on the burlap. With a bright light over the bin, the worms
will move through the burlap and you can remove the finished compost.
Vermicompsting is organic, non-burning and rich in nutrients. It can be used for any garden
Suitable bedding materials include
Vary the bedding in the bin to provide more nutrients for the red wigglers and to create a
richer compost. The quantities of each is not important, as you cannot make wrong
bedding if using the above materials.
The best approach is prevention. By always burying the food waste you will discourage
fruit flies. Keep a tight lid on the container you use to store waste before adding them to the
bin. This will prevent flies from laying eggs in the scraps. [This does not help if your
kitchen is infested with fruit flies, in which case all the peels of your kitchen fruit will have
fruit fly eggs.]
- shredded or mulched paper such as newspaper (no colour)
- computer paper and cardboard
- shredded fall leaves
- chopped up straw
- dried grass clippings
- peat moss
- Fibrous garden matter such as corn husks
It is unlikely that your worm bin will have an unpleasant odour. If it does, there are a number of
possible causes and steps you can take to remedy the problem.
Worms hate light and prefer to remain in the dark of their bin. They will not leave theri home.
They are very sensitive to vibrations. Please try not to disturb them unnecessarily.
- You have overloaded your bin with too much food waste.
Solution: Don't add any more food for a week or two.
- The bedding is too wet and compacted. Solution: (a) gently stir the entire
contents to allow more air in and stop adding food waste for a week or so.
Make sure that your food waste is still buried. (b) The lid can be removed or left
slightly ajar to allow the contents to dry out.
- Your bin is too acidic. Solution: Add some calcium carbonate and cut down on the
amount of citrus beel and other acidic food waste.
Worms are living creatures with their own unique needs, so it is imprtant to create and
maintain a healthy habitat for them to do their work. If you supply the right ingredients and
care, your worms will thrive and make compost for you.
Happy and sucessful vermicomposting!
This is copyrighted by
DOWN To EARTH-WORMS
2249 Valleyview Drive
Kamloops British Columbia
Canada V2C 4C8