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Composting with worms

July 4, 2016
 

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to compost your kitchen scraps, try a worm bin.

Contra Costa Master Gardener Linda Mizes says worm bins are easier to maintain than traditional compost bins, and the rewards are even greater. Worms produce manure, called castings, that are an excellent compost to add to your outdoor garden and your indoor plants.

Here are her tips:

GETTING STARTED

— Mizes recommends a three-bin system. You can purchase a bin or make your own with plastic tubs or boxes.

— If you make your own, drill drainage holes in the bottoms of the top two bins, plus add a few air holes around the top of the bins. A commercial bin will already have the openings.

— The top bin will be your working bin, the second will be the curing bin and the bottom one will be a collection bin for the liquid, called worm tea.

— Use spacers to separate the bins when they are stacked. You can use small blocks of wood or even tin cans.

— Prepare a bed for the worms in the top bin. Shred newspaper into strips and then moisten and fluff the paper. Add the water to the paper, not the paper to the water. Over saturating the paper will cause it to clump, making it difficult for the worms and air to move through it.

— Next add the worms. You’ll need special compost worms, also called manure worms or red wigglers. Purchase them online or get some from a friend who already has a bin.

— Compost worms are not the same worms you’ll find in your garden. Garden, or earth worms, can’t survive in a worm bin and compost worms can’t live in the garden.

— Finally, add the food. The worms will eat all sorts of fruits and vegetables. They are partial to things such as melons, coffee grounds and filters, squash, celery, lettuce and flower petals. Do not feed them meat, dairy, oils or fats.

— Chop the food into 1-2 inches pieces. Don’t process the food. That can lead to extra moisture building up in the bin.

CARING FOR YOUR WORMS

— Keep the bins in a protected area, out of direct sunlight and high temperatures.

— A brown liquid will collect in the bottom of the bin. This is worm tea and it is high in nutrients, useful as a soil drench or foliar spray. Dilute it with five parts water to one part tea before using.

— It’s normal to have other critters in the worm bin, including pot worms, springtails and mites.

— Keep an eye on the bins to make sure the bedding stays moist, but not wet. You can add additional bedding as time goes on.

HARVESTING THE GOODNESS

— Harvest the working bin when it has 3 to 4 inches of castings. Remove the worms, bedding and food, and put them in a new working bin that you’ve already prepared with shredded newspapers. The original working bin, now containing the castings, will then become the curing bin.

— Harvested worm castings will improve if they are allowed to cure for a couple of months before using, although you don’t have to wait. You’ll just have better worm compost if you do.

— As castings accumulate, rotate the two upper bins, allowing the casting to cure and the worm to keep producing.

— Be sure to empty the collection bin of worm tea regularly. If the container fills up, the other bins may not be able to drain properly and your worms can drown.

— Use your castings on your plants. The best way is to mix them with water and use it on your plants, but you also can add them directly onto the soil.

 

 


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