Are you looking for something to occupy your time after your garden is put to bed and the snow starts falling? How about vermiculture (aka worm composting)? It’s easy. It’s fast. It’s year-round. It reduces kitchen scraps going to the landfill. And it provides rich compost for your garden and houseplants.
Worm box worms are not your average earthworms. The most common worms for vermiculture are Eisenia Fetida, commonly known as red wigglers. Red wigglers love kitchen scraps. They will eat pretty much anything from your kitchen except meat and dairy products. Avoid meat and dairy because they can attract unwanted pests to your box. Some people say not to feed them citrus fruit and peppers. I have not had a problem giving them citrus or peppers as long as both mixed in with other scraps.
Worm composting produces rich, finished compost called worm castings. And it produces them faster than your regular compost bin. And you don’t have to turn it. And the worm castings are richer in nutrients than regular compost. What’s not to like? The worms do all the work and you get all the rewards. It seems unfair, but the worms don’t seem to mind.
The first thing you need is a box to hold your worms. Many people make worm boxes out of Rubbermaid containers. I prefer wood boxes because I think a wood box breathes better. Worms need air. If you use Rubbermaid containers, make sure to drill plenty of holes in the container for air and drainage. I know what you are thinking – “Won’t the worms escape through the holes?” They won’t for two reasons. They need a moist environment to live and they are photophobic (they hate light). Your dark, moist (not wet) box filled with bedding (shredded newspaper) and kitchen scraps is worm heaven for them. They are very happy right where they are.
Red wigglers dwell near the soil surface so the box does not need to be deeper than 12 to 18 inches. One foot wide by two feet long is a good size for a small household. Two feet by three feet works for a bigger household or if you have a lot of kitchen scraps.
Red wigglers like about the same temperature range as us. Not too hot and not too cold. The ideal range is 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit. A basement, laundry room, heated garage, kitchen or living room corner are all great places for a worm box. Some people are reputed to use worm boxes as coffee tables, which I suppose could help with awkward lulls in conversation – “Guess what’s under the hors d’oeuvre plate?” Worm boxes can be kept outside in warmer weather, but be careful that the box does not get too warm or too cold. A well-managed worm box is odorless and unobtrusive.
Now you need worms. One great way to get red wigglers for your box is from someone who already has a worm box. A healthy box produces a lot of worms. Most worm composters are happy to share their surplus worms with people just starting out. You can find worms on the internet. Years ago I ordered my worms on the internet and they came in the FedEx box with air holes punched in the side with a pencil. The worms did not seem any worse for the wear and their descendants are still going strong many years later. You can also find worms for sale locally (see the link below).
A great place to learn about worm composting is Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). They have a basic worm composting outline on their website. DUG also holds worm composting workshops in the spring and summer. The website has a link on where to get worms in the Denver area. Check the DUG website to find a class schedule for next year. Vermiculture at DUG.
Also, check out this great YouTube video on worm composting from CSU Extension and Tagawa Gardens. It is a good visual primer on starting a worm box.
If you really get the bug to start worm composting, the classic book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof is thorough guide to starting and maintaining a wormbox.
One last word of advice: don’t try to name all of them.
Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener