First of all what is vermicomposting?? The simple answer is composting with worms. A more technical definition is: Vermicompost is the product or process of composting using various worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and other earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Vermicast, also called worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by an earthworm. These castings have been shown to contain reduced levels of contaminants and a higher saturation of nutrients than do organic materials before vermicomposting. Containing water-soluble nutrients, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. This process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting.
I started vermicomposting many years ago; like I said I have not really been that successful mostly because of the heat in Miami. I started with a simple container called “Can O Worms”. It is a simple system where you stack circular bins on top of each other. First you add your food scraps from the kitchen into the first layer, until the worms break them down into compost. Then you add the next layer, the worms are suppose to crawl up through the holes, they start processing the next layer, so on and so forth. The issue with “Can O Worms” is that the circular bins do not have enough surface area for the worms to bury. The container is too narrow and the organic matter heats up too quickly and the worms cannot stay cool enough. The earth worms that you use to vermicompost are usually red wigglers Eisenia foetid. Redworms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin, but not here in South Florida. The temperature of the bedding should not be allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees. There are so many days in Miami that are above 84 degrees, which is exactly the problem.
Why use worms? Well, for one, because they're cool. Not only are they slimy and neat-looking, these amazing little organisms can eat up to half their body weight in food every day. Using worms instead of a compost pile ensures faster composting and a rich, dark fertilizer. Besides -- what's more fun than getting to say, "Worms eat my garbage?" In fact there is an excellent book titled “Worms eat my Garbage” by Mary Appelhof. This is an excellent resource to learn all about vermicomposting. Red wigglers are surface feeders so the container cannot be too deep, although in Miami it needs to be deep enough that the worms have enough area to ensure that the organic matter stays cool enough.
A year or so ago my husband and I built a “Flow Through” compost bin out of a garbage can. It worked well for awhile but again because it was made from recycled black plastic it retains the heat and the worms would get too hot and eventually they died. Here are a few pictures from us building that compost bin. This one actually worked better than the Can o Worms. We put air vents in the lid to keep the unit cooler. We lined the bottom with newspaper and cardboard that eventually would decompose, and the worm casting and compost would flow through the PVC piping into the bottom of the compost bin to use in my garden. We even screened the bottom so no critters could get into the unit. I tried to place the unit where it only got a little morning sun but ambient temperature was just too hot and eventually my worms would die.
I haven’t done any composting in several months and it feels good to be collecting my food scraps and yard debris to add to my compost pile. I built a simple compost bin out of 3 used wooden pallets. It was very easy to put together using deck screws to hold the unit in place. I didn’t add a door and am leaving the unit open and hoping that I do not get too many critters helping themselves to the rich compost material. My philosophy in my yard is to be as responsible as possible by incorporating as much sustainable gardening as possible. I am trying to lessen my carbon footprint on this earth. Composting is just one more way to do this. Vermicomposting like I said is just composting with worms. I am not sure if my worms will live, but I am hoping that this new bin might be the answer to my vermicomposting troubles. It is kind of like digging a hole in the ground and adding worms. It just contains them a little better.
What do I add to my compost bin?? All organic matter is made up of Carbon and Nitrogen. The balance of these two elements in an organism is called the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C: N ratio). For best performance, the compost pile, require the correct proportion of carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein production. Scientists have determined that the fastest way to produce fertile, sweet smelling compost is to maintain the C: N ratio somewhere around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. You can think about Carbon as Brown material like wood chips, dried leaves, newspaper and paper towels, and plant and grass clippings. Nitrogen or Green material examples are food scraps from your kitchen, tea bags, coffee grounds, nuts, and seeds. You should avoid placing meat, fish, dairy, or oils in the compost bin. Your compost bin should be moist, but not wet. The more you aerate your compost bin the quicker the organic material will break down.
Did you know?
- Over 250 million tons of solid wastes are collected each year in Miami-Dade County alone.
- U.S. residents produce an average of 5 pounds of trash each day.
- 25% of the total waste in Miami Dade County contains food scraps or yard waste that could be composted.
Composting is just one way to lessen your carbon load on this earth. It is also great to be able to use the nutrient-rich soil in your garden. Composting reduces the use of synthetic fertilizer and provides natural, free, non toxic fertilizer. It helps plants grow in South Florida’s rocky soil by improving soil structure, moisture and nutrient retention. Composting diverts waste from landfills, which produce methane gas that contribute to climate change. It saves money and energy that would normally be spent on trash collection. Finally Composting provides an excellent way to recycle kitchen scraps and yard clippings.
I am hoping that this compost bin produces beautiful nutrient rich soil that I can add to my garden. I hope my worms finally thrive in this new environment and my gift in return will be a beautiful garden that provides a great environment to all the wildlife in my area.