Chicago Recycling Coalition’s guide
to WORM COMPOSTING
Recycle your food scraps and make great organic fertilizer!
Composting with worms, or vermicomposting, helps to reduce waste going to landfills, creates a great nutrient-rich organic fertilizer, and is much more fun than a using a garbage disposal or trash can! Worm composting is ideal for apartment dwellers because it can be done indoors and does not require much space. Like recycling, composting is a way to divert waste from landfills and turn it into new products. Further, using compost reduces the amount of synthetic fertilizers we add to our soil. This brochure explains how to compost with worms at home. After setting up a bin, simply add your food waste and let the worms turn it into compost. It’s easy, produces no offensive odors, and helps plants thrive. Enjoy!
Setting up a Compost Bin
To make your own worm-composting bin you can use a rubber storage bin, a used shipping crate, a washtub, or an old drawer. The size of your bin depends on the amount of food waste you want to compost. For two people (assuming they produce about 3.5 lbs of food waste per week) a bin should be about 3 square feet. Because worms are surface feeders, worm bins can be shallow but need to be at least 5 inches deep. You’ll want some kind of a lid to keep unwanted critters out, and holes in the side, top, and bottom of the bin for ventilation and drainage (1/4 inch or smaller). If you are keeping the bin somewhere where the minimal drainage will be a problem, you’ll need a tray or absorbent mat to keep things dry.
If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, there are numerous sources for buying manufactured worm bins.
Worms like moderate temperatures (between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit). Your bin can be kept in a kitchen, basement, closet, or outdoors in the shade during the summer.
Before adding the worms or your food waste, you’ll need to add bedding for the worms to live and work in. A readily available material is shredded newspaper. Make sure to only use paper with black ink; color ink may contain toxins that can kill worms. Tear newspaper sheets into strips 1 inch wide or thinner, or use a paper shredder. Soak the strips in water and wring them out to the consistency of a wet sponge before placing in the bin. Fluff the strips so that none are matted together, and fill your bin no more than 12 inches high with bedding. Toss in two handfuls of soil from outdoors, this provides grit which aids in the worm’s digestive processes. Then you are ready to add the worms. Over time the bedding will be eaten by the worms along with the food.
The best kind of worms for composting are redworms or red wigglers. They are often found in old compost piles, but are different from the earthworms more often found in the ground. Their scientific names are Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Common earthworms and night crawlers don’t survive well in bins. Red worms thrive in confinement and reproduce quickly.
The number of worms you want depends on the amount of food waste you want to compost. The ratio of food waste per day to worms is 1:2 since worms eat half of their body weight per day. For two people (with their 3.5 lbs of food waste per week) 1 lb of worms (or 1000 worms) is perfect.
After the bedding is in place, simply add the worms (and any soil they come with) and feed them their first meal. You can purchase redworms at some gardening stores, bait and tackle shops (see the Yellow Pages), and gardening mail-order outlets.
We also recommend contacting God’s Gang, a community group based on the south side of Chicago, which sells and delivers redworms. Click here for their website or call God’s Gang: 773-264-2652 (cell: 773-213-6992).
You can feed your worms daily, but it’s usually more convenient to collect your food waste in a bucket and add it to your worm bin weekly. Bury the food waste into the bedding, alternating the area you bury it each time. If the worms don’t seem to be eating the food, feed them less, if no uneaten food is visible, feed them more.
Harvesting and Using your Compost
When you notice that the bedding has been eaten (after you have been feeding your worms for 2 to 4 months) it’s time to harvest the compost. The compost will be well-textured granules, which are actually worm castings, or excrement, which needs to be removed so worms can continue to proliferate. Here are a couple of methods for collecting the compost.
Method 1: Move the contents of your worm bin to one side, place fresh bedding on the empty side and bury your food waste in the new bedding for a month or so. The worms will migrate to the new side and you will be able to take out the finished compost.
Method 2: Spread a sheet of newspaper or plastic out under a bright light or the sun. Dump the contents of the worm bin into a number of piles onto the sheet. The worms will crawl away from the light and gather at the bottom center of each pile. Separate the worms from the compost.
After you have harvested the compost, you can set up the bin again using the same worms and new bedding. At this point you will have more worms than you started with; you can add some of them to a garden, use them for fishing, or pass them on to a friend to start up a worm bin. But don’t worry about too many worms; the population is self-regulating.
(This brochure is based in part on material published by the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners.)
Managing Team Broker
@properties The Gramata Realty Group
2214 N Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60614