A worm's eye view of compostingDec 22, 2022 11:42AM ● By Bryan Reed
I am happy to report that the worm composting community has grown worldwide, as over 10 countries were represented at the recent Vermiculture Conference at North Carolina State University. Everyone brought enthusiasm along with photos and stories of how to make amazing soil amendments and plant nutrient material using simple low-cost methods.
It was also rewarding to learn the North Carolina State campus composts all of its food waste and paper waste at its own facility. They composted 1,600 tons of material last year alone. Not only are they lessening what goes to their local landfill, but they can now meet the needs of all of their campuses’ landscaping departments.
The compost facility at Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction does worm composting outdoors, but only by winterizing the worm bins and surrounding them with straw bales.
Vermicomposting can take your home composting to the next level.
Adding worms to the composting process increases and diversifies microbial populations, which makes for better plant growth. It also increases the amount of nutrients in the crops that we eat.
Five kinds of worms make great composters. The most temperature tolerant is the red wiggler (eisenia fetida).
Traditional composting raises temperatures above what a red wiggler can tolerate, so we create worm bins to keep them happy. Ideally, we want to keep their space at 50-80°F while feeding them food waste, teabags, junk mail and composted materials.
Worms that are fed food waste and manure do quite well, but the latest research shows that pre-composting materials makes a fantastic worm feed and superior vermicompost in the end. Here are some of the benefits of pre-composting:
• It prevents high nitrogen-content food waste from starting the composting process and elevating temperatures well above what worms can tolerate.
• It moderates the pH level of the compost. Worms prefer a 6-7 pH range.
• It volatilizes ammonia (NH3) and converts it to plant-available nitrates (NO3) so the vermicompost is more readily absorbed by the plants.
• It can decompose potential toxins.
• It homogenizes the feedstock so that the worms can consume it evenly, making for a consistent vermicompost afterward.
Best worm bin
Old Tom’s Wormery (www.oldtomswormery.com) in San Jose, California, has designed the most functional and affordable continuous flow-through method (CFT) vermicomposting worm bin I have ever come across. It is functional and simple to use, and has been engineered for long-term use.
Dr. Zack Jones has identified a core group of microbes that produce plant growth hormones to aid in crop production that are present in all vermicompost, regardless of feedstocks or worm bin style. You can see his results at www.vermimicrobiomeproject.com.
Where to find worms
Samantha Flowers of Meme’s Worms in Georgia (www.memesworms.com) started out raising worms for her grandson to use for fishing. Now her worm breeding business is booming! She sells 100 pounds of red wigglers per week.
Worm composting supplies
Steve Churchill provides materials and supplies for home-based composters (www.urbanwormcompany.com). Be sure to check out his blogs and YouTube channel (@UrbanWormCompany). He does weekly livestreams on all topics relating to worm composting every Wednesday at 9 a.m.