Vermiculture, Vermicompost, & Composting Worms

Worms? 

Traditionally, worms have been raised for fishing bait as well as a protein and enzyme source for various products, including animal food and biodegradable cleansers. Worms have also been used to manage agriculture wastes such as daily manure. They convert waste into worm manure(also known as worm castings), a nutrient-rich, biologically beneficial soil product. Freer Organics worms are hard at work converting our local green and brown waste into rich beneficial compost for local gardeners and landscapers. Certified organic compost and tested regularly, to insure a top quality compost for all types of growing.

Vermicomposting is the use of worms as a composting method to produce vermicompost.

Vermiculture is worm farming for the production of worms.

What is vermicompost?

Vermicompost, or castings, is worm manure. Worm castings are considered by many in horticulture to be the very best soil amendment available. The nutrient content of castings is dependent on the material fed to the worms-and worms are commonly fed materials with high nutrient content, such as food waste and manures. Worm castings provide these nutrients in a form readily available to plants. The biology of the worms gut facilitates the growth of fungus and bacteria that are beneficial to plant growth. In addition, many chemical compounds are found in castings that that are thought to promote plant growth.

What kind of worms are used for vermicomposting?

Most worm farms raise two main types of earthworms: Eisenia foetida and lumbricus rubellis. These worms are commonly used to produce vermicompost, as well as for fish bait. Both are referred to by a variety of common names, including red worms, red wigglers, tiger worms, brand-ling worms, and manure worms. These two species are often raised together and are difficult to tell apart, though they are not believed to interbreed.

What do worms need?  

Worms can survive a wide variety of temperatures, but they thrive best at temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit(13-25 degrees Celsius). They need a moist, organic substrate or “bedding”in which to live.They will eat the bedding and convert it into castings along with other feed. Moisture and oxygen are vital and bedding should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. A worm’s skin is photosensitive and therefore they need a dark environment.

Because worms have no teeth, they need some type of grit in their bedding that they can swallow and use in their gizzard to grind food, much like birds do with small stones. A little soil or sand will work, but it should be sterile so that no foreign organisms are introduced. Common additives used include rock dust or oyster flour (ground up oyster shells). Sense oyster flour is basically calcium carbonate, adding to much will raise the PH in the worms’ environment. Worms prefer a slightly acidic PH level of about 6.5 For typical worm bin, no more than a tablespoon of grit is needed, which should not significantly alter the PH.

What will worms eat?

Worms will eat a wide variety of organic materials such as paper, composted manure, fruit, vegetables waste, grains, coffee grounds, and ground yard wastes. While worms will eat meat and dairy products, it is best not to feed these materials or oily foods to worms, due to potential odor and pest problems. Worms will consume limited amounts of citrus scrapes, but limonene, a chemical compound found in citrus, is toxic to worms, so it is best to limit or avoid feeding them this material.

Sense worms have no teeth, any food they eat must be small enough to swallow, or soft enough for them to chew. Some foods may not be soft enough initially for them to consume, but they quickly degrade so that the worms can consume them.

Where should you keep worms?

Worms can be raised on a small or large scale, depending on your goals. If you are trying to manage food scrapes for yourself or your family, a small 12-to 20 gallon worm bin should be adequate. The bin should be dark and opaque, should have a lid, drainage, and aeration holes in the bottom. Small 1-inch legs and a tray underneath are also helpful. Do not place near a dryer or any appliance that may vibrate, worms may die.

If you are tying to manage larger amounts of organic materials or produce large amounts of worms or vermicompost, worms can be managed in low mounded rows called worm beds or “ricks,” or in large in-vessel continuous-flow systems as we do. Worms burrow into the bedding to protect themselves, and they will not come out to sunlight unless bedding conditions are intolerable.

How do you harvest worms and vermicompost?

Large-scale worm farmers using worm beds like ourselves, use harvesting equipment to separate worms and castings. In-vessel “continuous flow” systems are generally designed to produce vermicompost. They rely on the surface-feeding tendency of red worms to incorporate a casting harvest mechanism on the bottom of the system, below the active feeding area. Food and additional bedding is added to the top, encouraging the worms to continue feeding upwards.

Smaller scale worm bins are harvested in a variety of ways. In all cases, harvesting should begin when the bedding and consumed food has turned a rich dark brown, with a consistency of coffee grounds or moist chocolate cake. Waiting longer can result in a sludgy material that is difficult to harvest and may become anaerobic and begin to smell.

Fresh Freer Organic wormcastings

Fresh Freer Organic wormcastings

One commonly used method of harvesting is to dump the bin onto a tarp in bright light or sun, allowing the worms to burrow down to escape the light. Castings can then be separated by slowly scraping them away, pausing periodically to let the worms burrow further. Eventually, you are left with a pile of worms.

Some will harvest by placing new bedding or food in one half of the bin, and feed exclusively on that side. Eventually(sometimes over a period of several weeks) most of the worms will move to the side with the new bedding or food, and the finished compost can be harvested.

Harvested castings can be mixed into potting soil, garden beds, tree bases, turf grasses, agriculture fields, soon after harvest. Casting can also be used to prevent wrinkles, mix half the castings and an equal amount of face lotion in a bowl, apply to face leave on for 5 minutes and wash off. The results are amazing.

Where can I get worms or worm bins? 

Organics custom makes household worms bins, small or large.  We also sell composting worms by the pound, shipping and delivery is available.             

Will I need to buy more worms?

Customized worm bins made by Freer Organics!

Customized worm bins made by Freer Organics!

Worms will regulate their population according to the conditions of their environment. These conditions include space, moisture, PH, premature, bedding material, and the amount of food available. A typical household worm bin might start out with 1 pound of worms (approximately 1,000-1,300 adults), which will soon multiply to 2,000-3,000 if conditions are good. Conversely, if one or more of the above conditions are unacceptable, the worms may crawl out leaving the bin or die off.

Red worms are hermaphroditic, but they need two worms to procreate and exchange DNA. A small egg case, usually amber in color, is produced which can contain from 2-20 baby worms.

What other organisms live with worms?

Worms do not live in isolation. In addition to microscopic organisms like bacteria and some fungi, you may notice several other beneficial creatures, such as spring tails, mites, pot worms (small white worms often mistaking for baby red worms), and an occasional fungus gnat. These organisms generally stay in the bin, live in harmony with the worms and cause little problems. In fact, vermicomposting would not be as successful without these other creatures, this helps balance out the biology of your compost. Consistently burying the food in the bedding will minimize the attraction of unwanted species, such as fruit flies.

Keeping the bin moist and stirring the castings and bedding periodically will minimize the growth of fungi and potential of fungus spores. If the bin is not stirred, full size mushrooms can grow.

If a bin is kept outside, the number of organisms that find their way into a bin increases greatly. Slugs and snails, ants, spiders, solider fly larvae, fruit flies, pill bugs, centipedes, even frogs, salamanders and some small rodents have found their way into out door bins. It’s best to keep your bins inside.

Where Can I get more information on vermicomposting?

Freer Organics can help guide you though a successful and easy vermicomposting environment.  We teach personal, commercial, schools, agriculture, and many others how to do effective vermicomposting. One-on-one guidance and/or presentations can be requested.

  • We Sell 1 lb. bags or buckets of fresh Vermicastings for the “Do-It-Your-Self-er”  for Only $35.00!
  • We also Sell “Red Wigglers” Compost Worms by the pound, for your Gardens, Compost Piles or Home Worm Bins. Only $35.00 per lb!