Worm Composting in Hawaii

Overview

Worm composting is easy, odor-free and a habit you might become addicted to if you love your houseplants and vegetable garden. In Hawaii, it serves as one method of creating your own fertilizer, which is the same function it serves elsewhere. A few differences exist between mainland worm composting and doing it in Hawaii, so you'll want to know some hints, tips---and cautions---about raising worms for their nutrient-rich castings.

What is Worm Composting?

Worm composting, also known as vermiculture or vermicomposting, is a tried and true method of raising special worms in a contained area to produce and enable you to collect their castings, or excrement, which is high in nutrients that plants need to thrive. You'll be adding food scraps to your worm composting system, which is a good way to recycle perishable items so they won't end up in our too-full landfills.

How To Get Started

A simple stack of three plastic containers such as sweater boxes, plus the right kind of worms, is all you need to start a worm bin. Purchase three identical plastic storage boxes with snap-on lids, and then drill small holes in the bottoms of two of them. Store two of the lids and nest the boxes on top of each other, with the box containing no holes on the bottom. In the top bin, which you'll keep covered, add about one cup of red wiggler worms, one to two cups of food scraps and moistened newspaper strips on top. Don't worry---modern newspapers are printed with nontoxic, soy-based inks. But do avoid glossy paper such as magazines and newspaper inserts.

Temperature, Ventilation and the Right Foods

Because Hawaii is always warm, make sure you keep your worm bin in a cool, well-ventilated area where the temperature never exceeds 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid temperature extremes. Because the bins have holes, and air seeps in around the sides of the stacked bins, ventilation is provided because of this situation. When you take the top off your worm bin, more air is also introduced. Don't feed your worms foods that are high in acids such as citrus fruit, tomatoes and pineapple because the worms you'll be using in Hawaii can't tolerate too much acidity in their environment.

Illegal Worms

The law prohibits Hawaii residents from importing worms from the continental United States because of the threat of introducing potential pathogens and microorganisms. This means you cannot mail order worms from the Internet. Instead, purchase your worms from an instate supplier. If you bring in an illegal species of compost worm, you could be fined up to $25,000. The names of two legal species are Perionyx excavatus and Eisenia foetida. Large earthworms, known as night crawlers, are not suitable for use in worm composting.

Troubleshooting Tips

Although worm composting is relatively easy and problems rarely arise, a few things can go wrong. If your worm bin begins to smell bad, you could be overfeeding your worms and possibly not covering their food with newspaper. Stop feeding for two weeks and bury food. If it's bad, mix in some dry newspaper and leave the lid off your bin for a day or so. If you're seeing flies, the same conditions might be present: bury the worms' food and cover it with clean bedding. If fly maggots are present, you'll need to pick them out and dispose of them elsewhere. If your worms start to die, their home might be either too dry or too wet. Assess the situation and add dry bedding if it's too wet or damp bedding if it's too dry. Worms can also die if they don't have enough food, if the temperature is too hot or too cold, and if they aren't receiving sufficient air. If mold starts to grow inside your bin, cut back on acidic foods.

Keywords: worm farm, composting methods, red wigglers

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.