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As a society, we look for ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as we can. We can reduce the amount of products we buy to only what we will use. We can reuse an empty coffee can or donate the computer we are no longer using. Recycling can be done through home recycling services or at drop-off recycling centers.
Another way you can recycle is instead of throwing away food it can be recycled by a process called composting. An efficient and fun way to compost food is with worms. This process is known as vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is the process of worms eating food scraps. The worms used in vermicomposting break down food and, thanks in part to their digestive systems, create an enriching source of nutrients called castings. Castings are a fancy way for saying worm poop. Whether you call it compost, castings or worm poop it’s full of microbes and nutrients that can be used as a beneficial additive to your garden or potted plants.
A vermicompost bin is a small ecosystem that you can keep in your classroom and it only requires a few supplies to get started. To get started, you will need a worm bin, bedding, food and red worms. The worm bin can be used for observing, describing, asking questions, measuring and recording, life cycle studies and even writing exercises. Before starting, you will need to consider what worms need to survive. Like all animals, worms need food, water, shelter and space to survive.
For the purpose of this guide, we will start out by using inexpensive materials. The guide will cover the following:
An inexpensive and easy to use bin for vermicomposting is a plastic storage container. The container should be dark in color and shallow. Red worms are top feeders and prefer to live/feed near the surface, so a container should be 18” high or less. A 3-gallon to 12-gallon plastic Rubbermaid storage container will be adequate.
Vermicomposting is an aerobic activity, meaning it needs oxygen. For air circulation, you can use a ¼ to ½-inch drill bit to add holes in the top or side of the container. If the lid is loose fitting and not airtight there is no need to drill holes in the container.
Red worms survive best if the temperature is kept between 55° - 77° Fahrenheit. Keep your worm bin away from vents and do not place on window sills as the temperature can fluctuate in these two areas.
Bedding for your worm bin will serve several purposes. It will serve as a food source for your worms, a good medium in which to bury the food scraps and it will keep your worms comfortable and feeling safe. Using newspaper as bedding for your worm bin is inexpensive, readily available and simple to use. To use newspaper:
There are over 4,000 different species of worms. Worms may look similar but each species needs different requirements for survival. Worms that survive best in a compost bin are Eisenia fetida, also known as “red worms,” “red wigglers,” and even “manure worms.” Worms can be purchased from local growers, bait stores, pet stores or online.
Red worms can eat half their body weight in a day. If you start with a larger bin (12-gallon), you could add up to one pound of worms, which is about 1,000 worms. Or you can start out with a few hundred and they will populate the bin naturally. In four months your worm population has the potential to triple in size. The worms in your bin, also known as a worm herd, will stabilize at levels that can be supported by the food given to them and the size of the bin.
Worms are not picky eaters and will eat a variety of food scraps. Worms do not have any teeth but they do have a gizzard to aid them in food digestion. A gizzard for a worm is like a garbage disposal in a sink. Inside the gizzard are powerful muscles and small mineral particles, like soil or sand. Food enters the gizzard and then the muscles and small mineral particles pulverize food making the food small enough to pass into the worms’ intestines.
When first starting a bin keep the food choices simple. As you get familiar with vermicomposting, you can start adding a variety of foods.
Foods to add can include:
Foods to avoid include:
Give the worms a few days to acclimate to their new bin before you begin feeding them. When starting a new bin add a small amount of food and check on the worms every few days. You will see how quickly they are eating and adjust the food amounts visually. If you add one pound of worms to your bin, they will eat approximately 1/2 pound of food each day. Whether you add one pound of worms or just a handful to your new bin the worm to food scraps ratio is 2:1.
When your bin looks like soil and there are no more pieces of shredded paper, it is time to harvest or remove the compost from the bin. To harvest the compost you have several options:
Having a successful worm bin is a trial and error activity. There are a variety of bins, bedding and food that can all be used to make a successful worm bin. Some common issues with worm bins are:
For questions or concerns, you may have about your worm bin email IDEM at firstname.lastname@example.org.