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Vermicomposting: An Overview

What is vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is using composting worms to transform organic waste into vermicompost/vermicast, one of the best known fertilizers to man.

What kind of worms are used?

In the Philippines, the African Nightcrawler is the best species to use. These worms are NOT found in your garden. Rather, they are a specialized breed of earthworms, native to Africa. Earthworms from your garden live deep beneath the soil, and will not survive in a worm bin. The African Nightcrawlers naturally live in decomposing organic matter, and adapt well to crowded and shallow worm bins.

We do not use Red Wigglers (Eisenia Fetida) as they are not suitable for our climate. The said breed is also unavailable in the Philippines.

Where do I buy them?

When buying composting worms, make sure they come with enough original bedding to make sure they stay alive during delivery. As much as possible, you want to order from the nearest supplier to you. If you are located in NCR, you can check out our worm starter kits for sale here. We deliver to Metro Manila, for a low delivery fee. Our worms are guaranteed to be alive and healthy upon arrival.

How do I start vermicomposting?

We recommend that you get a starter kit that includes the worms, the bedding, and the container, all in one package. Our Urban Worm Bin starter kits are ready to use upon purchase. After receiving your starter kit, you may add a light above the uncovered bin for a day or two,  to discourage them from venturing out of your worm bin.

Alternatively, you may choose to go DIY. To do this, you must find the right bedding, container, and the correct amount of worms. However, for beginners, we recommend sticking to pre-made starter kits, as they already contain the correct container, bedding, and worms.

 

The Five Essentials

1) Bedding

Worms need a place to live. Bedding is usually high in carbon, and slow-rotting to avoid overheating caused by the rapid decomposition of nitrogen-rich material. However, with caution, nitrogen-rich bedding can be used, if pre-composted well. Bedding is also a source of food, but is considerably less nutritious. In other words, bedding is where they live, and also acts as a food source. However, bedding alone may prove to be insufficient for the worms. This is where food comes in. Examples of carbon-rich bedding include: newspaper, cardboard, dried leaves,  corn cobs and husks, banana trunks, and other slow-rotting materials.

2) Food

Though bedding is already a source of food, it lacks nutrients needed for your worms to thrive. Unlike bedding, worm food is high in nitrogen and is fast-rotting. The nutrients in the worm food is necessary in order to create  effective vermicompost. Feeding may be done once or twice a week, while the amount you feed the worms should start off as a lower amount, then slowly increase depending on how fast they are able to eat the food. Examples of things you can feed your worms are: Food scraps, manure (no dog or cat feces), coffee grounds, etc. However, beware of overfeeding, as it is much easier to overfeed than underfeed worms.

3) Air/Oxygen

Worms breathe through their moist skin and live on dissolved oxygen. Vermicomposting is aerobic, meaning the process requires oxygen. An anaerobic, or poorly-aerated vermicomposting system will not allow the worms to breathe, may cause foul odors, and attract unwanted pests. The lack of air in the setup may also lead to the production of  chemicals that may harm your worms. Using airy and light bedding increases airflow, and thus results in better quality vermicompost.

4) Moisture

Worms breathe through their moist skin. Hence, a completely dry bed can wipe out a population within days. Too much moisture, on the other hand, isn’t good either. Worms do well in bedding that is moist to the touch, but not sopping wet. The optimal moisture content of a worm bin is 60-80%. As a rule of thumb, squeezing a handful of bedding should result in little to no water droplets; any more may cause problems.

5) Container

Your worms also need a container to live in. You can either use DIY containers, or purchase containers specifically made for vermicomposting.  These containers can be as small as a plastic tub, or as large as a concrete bed. It all depends on how many worms you are getting. A few hundred worms in a bin is a good starting amount, and can handle most of the waste of the average household.

A variety of materials, such as wood, plastic, and concrete may be used for your worm bin. However, wooden worm bins and other breathable materials quickly dry up. Hence, more often than not, plastic containers are recommended. We also use plastic containers in our Urban Worm Bin Micro, Standard, and Plus.

Bedding

Among the five components, bedding is the most important. A happy worm population starts with good bedding.

Recommended

With Caution

Avoid

Bedding is where the worms live, and must be high in carbon, or slow-rotting. You may also use pre-composted materials, but for beginners, materials such as newspaper and coconut peat are recommended. Ready-made bedding such as our CocoGro Cocopeat-based bedding can also be found here. Bedding must be able to retain moisture , as worms breathe through their moist skin. A dry worm bin will essentially suffocate your worms. (Read more on Moisture) Don’t worry about adding too much bedding. It’s always a good idea to add more bedding.

Food

Though worms slowly consume their own bedding, it lacks the nutrients needed for your worms to thrive. Food sources are usually called greens, and are fast-rotting. These quickly decompose, serving as a microbe and nutrient-rich food source for your worms. Worm food is usually higher in nitrogen and nutrients than bedding. A diet of just bedding will produce malnourished and unproductive worms. Hence, food is essential in keeping worms healthy, and producing viable vermicompost. Worms may be fed once or twice weekly, depending on your schedule. We always recommend starting off with small amounts of food, then slowly building up the amount if you find that the worms are consuming the food quickly. Some examples of what you should and should not feed the worms are listed below.

Recommended

With Caution

Avoid

Air/Oxygen

Vermicomposting utilizes good bacteria that need oxygen to live. These good bacteria help break down organic matter, which the worms then eat. Keeping the system well-aerated will help these beneficial microbes thrive, and ensures that your worms have a constant supply of microbe-rich organic matter. In order to do this, choose the right type of bedding, and avoid adding too much food, or moisture. 

Anaerobic (insufficiently aerated) conditions in a worm bin can cause a variety of problems such as:

Problems Caused By Anaerobic Conditions

Moisture

Worms breathe through their moist skin. As a result, bedding must always stay moist, but never wet. The moisture content should be about 50-70%. The bedding should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. If your bedding is muddy or mushy, it’s too wet. Wet conditions can increase harmful anaerobic bacteria, and drive worms out of their containers. A common sign that the bedding is too wet is an excessive amount of escapees, and the emission of foul odors. If you observe these signs, add extra dry bedding such as newspaper or coco peat, temporarily stop feeding, and keep the lid of your worm bin off in order to increase the airflow and regulate the moisture. 

Container

Your container of choice can influence how your composting worms perform. Plastic bins are usually the most popular as it is lightweight, durable and easy to build. Plastic worm bins are an effective and cost-efficient way to enclose worms. However, it is important to monitor and maintain optimal moisture levels due to the low permeability of plastic. Also, keeping the lid off may help in maintaining the right moisture level, if it gets too wet. Wood can be a good choice, but is expensive, temporary, and dries up quickly. If wood is not a viable option, plastic worm bins are very effective. (See the articles on Moisture,  Air/Oxygen, and How To Prevent Worms From Escaping)