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Worms at Work: The Basics of Vermicomposting

by Molly Bryan | May 17, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
These soil-dwelling friends will supercharge your soil with their natural compost as they turn your kitchen scraps into worm castings (Illustration/Dominic Asel).

Worm or not to worm? The spring months in Missouri motivate us to rejuvenate our lawns and gardens after long, dark winters, and nothing sets your garden and plants up for success like vermicomposting, also known as worm composting. These soil-dwelling friends will supercharge your soil with their natural compost as they turn your kitchen scraps into worm castings.

Ask me about worms

Vermicomposting provides a range of benefits, not only for your plants but also for the environment, so whether you own a hobby farm or live in an apartment, there is space for vermicomposting in your life.

Vermicomposting is worm digestion and aerobic decomposition of food waste and organic material into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. The byproduct of a worm compost bin is worm castings, aka ‘black gold,’ which is an organic form of fertilizer that is filled with nutrients and microorganisms, improving the structure, aeration and water of the soil — from potting mixes to seed starting to indoor house plants.

Spill the tea

The compost bin also provides the garden elixir known as worm compost tea, which is a golden liquid that improves soil health, boosts plant growth and protects against pests and diseases (disclaimer: do not drink the worm tea).

There are many benefits to starting your own worm bin at home. Not only is this an inexpensive way to reduce food waste and improve your plants, but it is also a fun hobby for the entire family, especially young children. Vermicomposting is not only a hobby that can introduce responsibility for kids, since the worms — just like pets — need food and water. This hobby can also be a powerful educational tool for teaching children about decomposition, microbiology, worms, soil structure and the importance of reducing food waste at home.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans generate about 254 million tons of trash a year, which is about 4 pounds per person, per day. Yard debris and food waste combined for nearly 35% of materials that are disposed of in U.S. landfills, and this material can be easily composted in our own backyards. Composting is not an option for some that lack yard space, time or energy, which makes vermicomposting a fun alternative for easy, year-round composting.

Maybe this article has convinced you and now you are ready to wiggle a worm bin into your home. Here’s where to start.

Getting Started

1.  Make or buy a worm bin
Surprisingly, there are some chic worm bins out there on the internet. You can either purchase a bin or make your own out of plastic storage bins. The bin should have a lid and be darker in color, as worms do not like the light. There also needs to be air holes around the upper portion of the bin for ventilation and drainage holes on the bottom of the same bin. Then, place that bin into a bottom bin that can catch the liquid (worm tea) that drains out of the top bin.

2. Location
Your worm bin can be indoors, in a closet or basement, outdoors, in a garage or balcony. If you choose to have your bin outdoors, the bin temperature should always be between 55-80 degrees for a productive and healthy environment for your soil-dwellers.

3. Worms
The earthworms that you find in your soil or at the bait shop are not suitable for vermicomposting as they do not process large amounts of food and don’t like confined spaces. You will need to start with composting worms, the most popular are redworms or red wigglers, which are communal composters that work like a team to eat your scraps efficiently and effectively 

4. Materials:
Bedding — Worms like gritty materials, like shredded office paper, cardboard, dry leaves or peat moss that has been soaked to the dampness of a moist sponge. Place the bedding in your bin and fluff it up. Fill the bin almost halfway with the moist bedding, and then add some soil. 

Food — You can feed your worms most fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and crushed eggshells. Avoid citrus fruits, odorous foods like onions and garlic, meat, dairy products, greasy foods and bones. Chop up scraps into small pieces before adding them to the bin to allow for faster decomposition. 

5. Start your bin
Place worms on top of the bedding in the bin. Add a little bit of water, and then add some food scraps. Be sure to cover the food with a couple of inches of bedding or dirt. Always ensure the food scraps have been eaten before adding more.  

 6. Unleash the worm power
After two months, you will be able to harvest your worm castings to add to your soil. Drain the bottom bin into a spray bottle and dilute with water for the worm tea potion that will be like giving your plants a luxurious spa day. Vermicompost can be used immediately or stored for future use.


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