Vermicomposting is the practice of using worms to turn kitchen and garden waste into compost. It is safe, sanitary and interesting. Vermicomposting bins can be used indoors or out. A productive worm bin will provide free plant food year 'round and reduce the amount of waste you contribute to landfills. Done correctly, vermicomposting breaks waste down quickly and does not attract pests or create unpleasant odors.
The right worms are the key to successful vermicomposting. Redworms (Eisenia foetida), also known as red wigglers are the worms of choice. They are available through mail order garden supply catalogs or bait stores. Do not use night crawlers--they will not survive in a vermicomposting bin. You will need about one pound of worms for each half-pound of daily kitchen waste.
The ideal temperature range for redworms is 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In this range, they will thrive and multiply. A properly constructed bin should be insulated if used outdoors. Place the bin in a protected area where it will get adequate sunshine. If your bin is large enough, it will generate enough interior heat to protect your worms.
Worm bins should be protected from temperatures in excess of 90 degrees F. Extra bedding and newspaper can be used to keep the bin cool. Do not add manure to your worm bin, especially in summer. As they decompose, they may produce too much heat, harming your worms.
Worm bins need moisture to keep the worms hydrated and productive. Squeeze the bedding: a few drops of water should drip out. If it is too dry, add water by the pint. If you add too much water, you can fix the problem by adding more dry bedding. Ideally, the bedding should feel like a wet sponge; moist but not drenched.
Very wet materials like watermelon combined with poor drainage can create an overly wet condition. If your bin is outfitted with a drainage spout, remove the excess water through it. You can also improve the drainage in your bin by adding drainage holes. Holes should be 1/4" or less to prevent worm escapes.
Never put bones or dairy products in your bin. Too much moisture can contribute to worm bin odor. During the first month, add scraps slowly so your bin can develop the necessary bacteria to help the worms digest the scraps. Add a small amount of grit to the bin (cornmeal, coffee grounds or finely ground eggshells) to assist the worms with their digestion. Smaller scraps will be faster and easier for the worms to process.
If gnats are invading your bin, do not use insecticides--it can kill your worms. Instead, bury newly added food scraps under at least 3 inches under the bedding. You can also add a layer of newspaper over the top of bedding. Make a handy fruit fly trap by filling a wide-mouth jar with a 1/4 cup of white vinegar. Drop a small piece of fruit inside the jar. Form a funnel out of a sheet of paper, using tape to secure its shape. Insert this into the jar. Fruit flies will be lured into the jar by the decaying fruit. They will be unable to escape.