Vermiculture provides an easy way for apartment dwellers and city gardeners to convert their kitchen scraps into nutrient-dense humus for soil enrichment. Understanding basic vermiculture requirements can help familiarize you with the process of vermicomposting, or worm composting, and get you on your way to successfully producing "black gold" for your backyard garden or flowerbeds.
Two of the most common compost worm species in the United States are Eisenia fetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Also called the red wriggler or the manure worm, E. fetida possesses distinctive alternating yellow and red stripes around its body and wiggles furiously when exposed to sunlight. Similar in size and coloring to E. fetida, L. rubellus should be avoided in home composting since it contributes to the destruction of various plants and amphibians native to the United States, including ferns and salamanders, according to Niall Dunne in the spring 2004 issue of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's magazine "Plants and Gardens News."
Base the size of your vermicomposting bin on the amount of organic waste you plan to put in the bin each week. As a general rule of thumb, you'll need to allow approximately 1 square foot of surface space in your bin for each pound of organic waste you plan to dispose of in your worm bin each week. For example, if you weigh your kitchen scraps and discover that your household produces 4 pounds of worm-digestible organic waste each week, you'll want to build or purchase a wooden or plastic worm bin that measures approximately 2 feet by 2 feet.
Just because you have food scraps available doesn't mean you can put them in your vermicompost bin. According to Loren Nancarrow, co-author of "The Worm Book," acceptable foods for your worm bin include fruit scraps, vegetable waste, crushed eggshells, grains, paper tea bags and coffee grounds. Avoid meat, bones and dairy products to minimize your chances of having your bin develop bad odors, which could attract a wide range of pests such as ants and rodents. Bury the food scraps under 3 to 4 inches of damp bedding to keep odors to a minimum and to allow your worms more immediate access to the food.
Moisture in your vermicomposting bin plays an important role in determining the health of your red worms, because they breathe through their moist skin--according to Nancarrow, worm bodies can contain up to 90 percent water. Aim to keep the shredded newspaper bedding in your bin about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. If you keep an outdoor bin, take care to check the moisture level daily during temperatures in excess of 80 degrees F. Dampen the bedding with water from a spray bottle if necessary.
Although they can survive in an outdoor vermicompost bin, keeping your worms in an indoor bin allows you to monitor the temperature and moisture levels more regularly. Keep your worm bin in a dark, quiet location, such as a basement, garage or the cupboard below your kitchen sink. Construct or purchase a wooden or plastic bin; wooden bins tend to provide better insulation for your compost worms, but plastic bins are easier to keep clean. If you do opt to use a plastic bin, make sure you drill drainage holes across the bottom to keep the worm bedding from getting too moist.