I know, you’re thinking it’s the middle of the winter, compost piles don’t get hot in the winter, but not all composting happens outside. Vermiculture is a type of composting you can do under a kitchen sink, in the corner or your laundry room, under a shady tree (for those in more temperate locations than mine) or any other area that doesn’t suffer temperature extremes. All you need is a container between 8 and 16 inches deep, a tight lid to keep rodents and flies out, and worms.
Yes, I said worms. The red worms like you buy at bait shops are best. One pound is plenty to start with.
I know I just told you to bring worms into the house. Unlike the quail in my living room (in a cage, as opposed to the rabbit running wild and free in my upstairs bath) my dog isn’t going to break into their home, the worms are silent, and there is no smell! This is a great way to raise your own worms for fishing, to compost organic kitchen wastes (vegetable peelings, apple cores, extra pasta, coffee grounds–which gave lots of uses in the garden and can be picked up free at any Starbucks, it’s company policy–dried bread ends, but not greasy or animal-based items which worms can digest, but might cause rot and other problems in the bin), and make great additions to garden soil or plant pots.
First the container. Worms are surface feeders, so you don’t need it to be very deep, but it needs to be about a square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week. It also needs drainage/air holes in the bottom, in case it gets too wet. If there isn’t enough air flow the bin can start to smell, and you could end up killing off your worms.
There are lots of different materials you can use for this from wood, to metal, plastic to styrofoam. Some people are concerned about using metal becasue of rusting and possible leaching of heavy metals into the compost, and there are some with similar leaching concerns with styrofoam. Plastic bins don’t absorbe extra moisture, so some kind of collection system underneath is more necessary than with wood.
You need bedding (newspaper ripped into one-inch strips is ideal, and free. Alternately, you can use saw dust, hay, cardboard, dried leaves, or any other carbon-based material.), which needs to be as wet as a wrung out sponge. A sprinkle of horse or cow manure (or at my house, chicken manure) added to this can absorbe extra moisture and help lighten the bedding. Add a couple handfuls of soil, crushed rock, or finely crushed egg shell for grit and you’re ready to start adding your worms and food.
Start out adding a little food at a time, burying it in different spots in the bin, and slowly add more over time. If you get back to your original hole, most of the food should be eaten, but if not, don’t bury as much for a little while to allow the worms to catch up. They reproduce quickly.
Next time I’ll post ways to harvest your compost and/or worms, other types of bins to use, and things to watch out for.