This post might come as a bit of a surprise. Three month update? That’s because it’s the first time I’m mentioning it here on the blog.
I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learnt as I started this process and I think this is the best spot for it. I was debating doing it on Instagram where I original posted my adventures. But I have more to talk about than Insta will let me write.
So worm composting?
Worm composting or more technically, vermicomposting, is using worms to break down organic matter into “casing”, or better known as worm poop.
The reasons I was interested in trying it out are the following:
- It’s faster than traditional home composting. Based on what I was reading, it takes weeks instead of months for the waste to breakdown.
- It seemed better suited for food waste than traditional composting, which is mostly recommended for yard waste.
- It doesn’t involve buying stuff like bokashi composting to add in for it to work.
- The few Youtubers and blogs that I looked at actually kept their bins inside of the home. Assuming a heathy bin, the environment should be odorless. If you look worm composters online, there are some cute options that are actually a bench with the trays for food built in.
But, like, why?
As mentioned a bit in the areas above, I was attracted to the idea of vermicomposting because of the turnaround time to have a usable product. Also I live in a apartment building, I don’t have the space for normal composting.
In general, food is the largest waste generator in my life. My apartment isn’t really well set up to encourage composting (we have a municipal composting collection bins but there’s room for improvement). But beyond my apartment, I also don’t trust the City of Toronto composting program. Full disclosure: I’ve done no research on it, I just can’t wrap my head around them wanting us to put our organics in plastic bags for it to be collected.
So it feels bad to be cooking and throwing so much organic to waste. I haven’t been able to divert all my food waste, but I’m happy that some is being moved from the municipal system and I get to be more control of the process.
How’s the bin been going?
I won’t lie… The start was a little shaky. I started with 15 worms back in March. Keeping them outside unless I knew the weather was going to drop to freezing temps. My bin started with paper, a few dead plants, and some of my roommates rabbit’s poop. Sorta hoped that the poop being added would maybe help boost the temperature. (Fun fact: fresh animal poop is pretty warm since it’s filled with microbial activity. Typically, it’s recommended to wait, like, a day before adding it to compost bins since it could overheat the system).
I probably should have kept them indoors that this point. Worms are most active at temperatures of 15C (Americans, you can do the conversion yourself, but like thick hoodie weather). March doesn’t really hit those temperatures as often as you’d hope. Especially with the wind chill. I’m pretty sure I did lose some of them to the cold, and in general they weren’t doing anything.
I ended up buying another 50 worms in late April/early May. Since it was becoming increasingly more apparent that my bin wasn’t active. Since the few worms that were still left couldn’t worm through the small amounts of food I was giving them at this point.
1. Worms f*ck
I don’t believe a lot of people think about how worms procreate. I certainly didn’t before I was reading a book about worm composting (Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof and Jonne Olszewski, great book if you want to start vermicomposting). The book has a chapter that covers the topic in more detail. But the ideal that if you cut a worm in half, and due to them having five hearts will make two worms is completely wrong. That will just kill the worm.
Withtout being graphic, to reproduce, worms do it, secrete a mucus to lay eggs. From there little worms are born.
2. Watering your worms, isn’t dissimilar to watering your plants
I definitely messed up the humidity levels for my bin for most of the time I’ve had the bin. Worms like high humidity (like 80% if I remember correctly), or to have your contents are the wetness of a rung out sponge.
I was really worried about my bin drying out, since the leaves at the top would be dry, I would be spraying the top almost daily to with water to try to keep the moisture up.
If you own a house plant, you know the dangers of overwatering your plant. You see the top later is dry, so you assume the whole thing is, and ends up drowning the plant. I was doing something similar. It wasn’t till I dug down to the bottom of my bin (which isn’t deep, I just don’t like disturbing the worms) that I noticed how wet the whole thing was.
This level of humidity also was a breeding grown for other bugs (safe for to the worms, but gross). I ended up with (and still have) a lot of mites in my bin. No cute, and I rather not have them completing for the food.
When I discovered that, I was glad the bin was outside since it had gotten flies and in general wasn’t great to open up.
To fix it, I did tip my bin to the drainage hole I put in to get rid of some water, but also added a lot more paper to try to suck up the extra liquid.
3. Carbon emissions bad, carbon to the bin good
In a traditional, non-worm compost bin, you need a combination of nitrogen and carbon to make the environment for the organics to break down. (https://www.livescience.com/63559-composting.html) I don’t know why I thought that a worm bin would be different? Too much nitrogen from food waste can create ammonia, mold and just mess up the environment of your bin.
I’m still trying to get the right ratio but I’ve been adding a bunch of paper into it when I add food waste. I keep a small collection of brown paper bags and paper from packages that come in, cut them up and add them to the bin. I can only imagine what my roommate thinks when I’m sitting at the table cutting up strips of paper since we don’t own a shredder.
4. Don’t over feed them
This also should have been more obvious to me than it was. At the beginning I just really wanted to give them food and if they had more food they will want to reproduce and then I will have more worms to eat more food.
Worms eat about half they weight a day, so once you have a lot of worms you can get a lot of food waste taken care of. But I didn’t have a lot of worms, and just giving them more and more food that wasn’t doing anything.
Especially since I was messing up the carbon levels to, so all I had was a bunch of food just sitting in there being extra gross. Like the carbon issue mentioned above, I’m still figuring out the right amount and frequency to feed them. This is mostly just me going into the bin every few days and see if stuff looks broken down. For a while I was tracking what and when I was added to the bin. But I quickly gave up because I kept forgetting to fill it out. It’s probably not a bad idea and most of the resources I read before starting recommended it. So that’s a do as I say, not as a do type of situation.
That’s pretty much it. Let me know if you have any questions. When I’ve talked about the worm bin to my friends and family, they’ve been polite, but visibly confused about the process and the motivation. But it’s been a fun thing to work on and I’m just starting to reach the point where I can start getting the castings, and putting it on my garden. Which is really exciting!