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Worms for Gardening & Composting

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Composting – Your Complete Guide

As you continue to nurture and care for your garden, you may become interested in creating your own compost. Compost is a type of organic matter that can be added to soil to help facilitate the growth of plants. By choosing to compost waste in your yard and daily food scraps, you can prevent these waste materials from being added to landfills where they produce gasses that harm the environment.

Composting introduces a range of benefits to any garden space. These benefits can typically include reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers, improving the quality of soil, reducing the risk of pests and pathogens that can have a detrimental impact on plants, and lowering your household’s carbon footprint. Certain types of composting methods also have their unique benefits to offer.

This guide will address aerobic composting, anaerobic composting, and vermicomposting. The main difference between aerobic versus anaerobic composting is whether the microorganisms used will need oxygen as they consume and decompose waste and scraps. Aerobic microorganisms require air, whereas anaerobic microorganisms do not. Thus, aerobic composting is typically set up in open-air arrangements or may even be simplified to an openly accessible decomposing pile of organic matter. In contrast, vermicomposting is another unique method of composting that uses worms to contribute to the natural decomposition of organic matter.

Compost Method #1: Aerobic Composting

If you need to produce compost in a shorter period and want a simple introductory experience, aerobic composting may be an ideal match. Aerobic microorganisms can produce compost within a much faster timeline compared to anaerobic decomposers and produce the best results when there is enough aeration in the pile of organic matter. You can ensure your pile has adequate airflow by placing your organic materials on top of another object, such as small crates or shipping pallets that have space underneath for continual air passage.

As decomposition continues over time, your compost pile will likely begin to visibly shrink. When this happens, you should stir the compost or flip the pile into another location to facilitate airflow again. Additionally, please be aware that it is normal for your compost pile to give off heat; this is typically the result of aerobic microorganisms consuming organic matter and contributing to the decomposition process. This heat is helpful and necessary because it will ultimately kill harmful bacteria or pathogens that may otherwise develop at lower temperatures.

Compost Method #2: Anaerobic Composting

All anaerobic microorganisms function without the need for air or oxygen, which is why this type of composting arrangement typically occurs underground or in trenches that are covered with soil. Anaerobic composting is less commonly used because it takes longer to produce compost, and likewise, can be challenging to maintain since the heap of organic matter is buried underneath soil. Therefore, although you can regularly check on the status of aerobic compost, the same is less likely to be done with anaerobic compost and this leaves less room for mistakes. In comparison to aerobic decomposers, anaerobic typically have much lower temperatures, which also makes it less effective for destroying bacteria or pathogens.

Anaerobic composting is a great idea if you don’t want to openly display heaps of decomposing compost in your yard or if you have a significant volume of organic matter and waste that you want to compost over an extended length of time without having to consistently monitor the progress. It is also a great option if you are planning on planting flowers or similar plants in the future because it can improve soil fertility and structure in the area where your future compost has been buried underground.

Compost Method #3: Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is a type of composting that relies on worms and their digestive system. Although there are a variety of worms that can be used for vermicomposting, red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most common and recommended worms for this process. Since this method relies on the number of scraps that the worms can eat, some general calculations need to be made to determine how many pounds of worms are necessary for your composting project.

Generally speaking, 1 pound of worms is usually equal to 1,000 worms per bin, and 1,000 worms are capable of eating half a pound of food scraps per day. Since an average family of four will produce 1 pound of food scraps per day, 2 pounds of worms or 2,000 worms will be necessary to digest the total output of scraps and waste produced by the family. Considerations must also be taken regarding the length of the area required for the worms to eat and function effectively, which at a minimum should be around five square feet.

Vermicomposting can introduce several benefits such as improvement of soil structure, adding nutrients to pre-existing soil, increasing beneficial bacteria, improving internal drainage in heavy soil, and increasing the soil’s ability to hold nutrients in a way that will be most accessible to the plants embedded in the soil. Worms are also fairly versatile eaters and can digest foods such as eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, plain bread and pasta, and coffee grounds. Some worms are also capable of digesting dryer lint composed of natural fibers, although this is typically less recommended since some dryer lint may contain chemicals or unexpected types of fiber.

At a minimum, your compost will not be ready for use until at least three months after the initial installation of your worm kits. Sometimes it can take up to six months to produce compost via vermicomposting, although your compost will typically be ready to use within four and a half months in total. During the harvesting process, you will need to separate the worms from the compost that you plan on using; although some worms will likely die during the composting process, you should be able to save the majority of the worms for your next batch.

Conclusion

Overall, creating your own compost is a great skill to have if you enjoy tending to a garden. Not only is it eco-friendly, it will also prove to be cost-effective since you will spend less money on mainstream soil brands that are already enriched. Consider the total amount of time that you want to dedicate to composting and when you want to ideally have compost that is ready to use, as well as the amount of space available in your yard for the process; these factors will strongly inform the composting method that you will use for your future project.

How Many Red Wigglers Do I Need?

Although many small landowners may be familiar with earthworms, many find it difficult and challenging to determine the exact figure of red wigglers that would be ideal for their composting bin. Ideally, an operation with about 1-2 worm beds requires only minimal labor, setup costs, and maintenance. Family labor would also be enough for this kind of operation so long as there are sufficient materials for building the worm beds and feeding the worms.

How Many Red Wigglers Do I Need?

The number of worms needed to start a worm composting bin is dependent on the size of the worm bin, and the amount of food waste to which a person has access. Reports from Academia-Research show that compost worms consume about 25%-35% of their weight every day. Other sources suggest that compost worms can eat much higher amounts up to 100% of their body weight. With such statistics, it would be fair to assume that about 11b of red wigglers are sufficient for a person who wants to start a composting bin. This figure is based on the size of food waste that these worms would eat every day.

What About the Bin Size?

The healthy number of worms should be at least 1 pound per square feet of bin surface area (1:1). Since an ordinary storage bin is 1.5ft by 2 feet in size, its surface area would be 3 sq ft (1.5 x 2). This also means the most ideal size of red wigglers per cubic foot a person should purchase should be at least 31bs. In addition, a person would also need between 5.25-7.35 lbs of food waste every week to maintain the earthworms.

Conclusion

It is okay to start a bin that is smaller in size than what is mentioned in this guide. However, it is important to make sure the earthworms have adequate food every time and the bin is big enough. Once the composting worms grow to an optimal size, they will eventually start to regulate their overall population. In the end, a person would find it easier to expand to a larger bin with more convenience as they see fit anytime.

Earthworms vs Red Wigglers – What’s the Difference?

You could easily get confused about which worm to use when you are comparing earthworms and red wigglers. Its best to have some information about a phylum of worm’s habits before selecting them for a project. You should never use a deep worm for a surface project. Using a surface worm for the wrong project could end in a failed effort.

Earthworms are deep worms and red wigglers are social surface worms.
There are over 3,000 varieties of earthworms, all from the Annelid phylum. Earthworms neither see nor hear, but they can swim very well. They move along the earth by contracting muscles along their bottoms. How can they detect danger? They are sensitive to vibrations. These are always deep worms that love being 3 to 10 feet underground.

Eisenia Foetida or the red wiggler is a worm that flourishes in crowded or populated conditions. They can eat around half their weight daily. Red wigglers are very much like earthworms except for one key difference. They do not burrow into the ground like the earthworm. You are more likely to find them on top of the earth than deep in it.

When you compare the two, it is obvious that red wigglers are suited to break down compost. This compost is vermicompost. Your compost bin filled with the weight of red wigglers will break down contents in the usual time.

If you attempted to use earthworms, you would soon discover they had escaped from the compost bin. Earthworms do not thrive on the surface. They much prefer borrowing into the earth. That is where they feel most content. If you capture them on the surface, they will seek to escape into the depths of the earth.

Earthworms make great fishing bait because they grow fat and their wiggling underwater excites the fish. You can rarely find red wigglers in soil and they love rotting vegetation or compost. So, your compost pile is best served by the red wiggler. The fisherman who also composts is in luck, because when he needs worms, he can get some from the compost pile. Red wigglers also make excellent fishing bait.