Ever heard of “vermicompost,” or composting with worms? Which is better – compost or vermicompost? Which vermicomposting method should I try – bins or worm towers? We asked our friend Jo at Homestead Chronicles to help us out with a Q & A session on the topic of making compost with worms. Here are all your vermicomposting questions answered!
Composting worms are a great place to start with “livestock” on the homestead. The space they require is small and you probably won’t have zoning issues in your town for worms. For a more in-depth discussion of vermicompost, open your copy of The Do It Yourself Homestead to the “Livestock Wherever You Are” section. Don’t have your own copy? No worries, we wrote one just for you! Click below to learn more and get your own copy.
There are a few different ways to keep worms, but they’re not like conventional composting bins so there’s a different science to it all.
Jo, from Homestead Chronicles, cleared it all up for me and gave me some great advice.
Vermicompost Q & A
What are the Benefits of Vermicompost?
I asked Jo – Why do you compost with worms?
Jo says – Worm castings are more than just an incredibly potent fertilizer. It is an all natural, completely organic, and chemical-free fertilizer. But it is also a fantastic soil conditioner.
The slimy stuff that the worms produce help the soil to retain heat and moisture, stay soft and workable, and facilitates good drainage without washing away important nutrients and trace minerals.
If you want an organic garden, it is the most effective & efficient way to fertilize and condition your soil.
Homestead Lady Butts in:
This is an important consideration, especially for those interested in No-Till gardening. That worm slime binds together all the rich, humus material found in the first 4-6″ of the soil. The more worm castings, the more tilth we have, and the more our gardens will grow abundantly!
You can also use worm castings to make various compost teas.
Different Kinds of Vermicompost
I asked Jo – What kind of vermicomposting have you done – homemade bins? Commercial bins? Tower in ground? If you’ve done more than one, which do you prefer and why?
Jo says – We started with homemade bins and it turned into a bit of a fiasco. Funny story but the short version is, “We had no idea what we were doing and did not research it well enough. We ended up being worm-murderers and decided that we could not be trusted with that method. So we switched to a worm tower.” That is the short version.
Lesson: Research it before you do it.
We prefer the worm tower method because:
- it is pretty much fool proof
- the worms won’t freeze because they know to go below the frost line when it gets too cold (so they don’t need to come in the house)
- the worms spread the castings for you and aerate the soil at the same time.
Attainable Sustainable shows you how to make a Vermicompost Bin for Less than Five Bucks here.
Worm Tower in the Garden
Setting up a worm tower in the garden is no more complicated that drilling holes into a PVC pipe and burying it in the soil. At the top, place a screened cap to prevent rodents from getting inside.
When you want to feed the worms:
- Unscrew the cap.
- Insert kitchen scraps into the pipe.
- Replace the cap.
- Wait for worms to show up to digest the scraps.
There are several versions of this idea from simple pipes to buckets, but here’s a simple way to build a worm tower in the garden.
Vermicompost in the Garden
I asked Jo – How many worm towers did you place in your yard? What benefits did you see?
Jo says – We currently have only one tower. We have a small (18 x 20) square foot garden so one was enough at the time. However, we are doubling that this year so we are planning a second tower this spring before the expansion goes in.
Homestead Lady butts in – If you’re looking to grow a better garden this year, get worms! Also, get The Garden Notebook below to stay organized with goals and information. I use this notebook every year!
Is Vermicompost a Time Drain?
I asked Jo – How much time per week do you spend maintaining your bin?
Jo says – With a tower, once it is set in place, you just top the pipe with a few handfuls of kitchen scraps once a week or so and that is it. It is pretty much self-maintaining.
Can Kids Vermicompost?
I asked Jo – In your estimation, is this a project a child could help with, in any of it’s phases? If so, what jobs might a small child do? An elementary aged child? A teenager?
Jo says – Oh sure! In fact, a worm bin is a great, low-risk way to introduce young children to the responsibility of caring for animals. At any age, a child can:
- feed them
- an older child could also assist with cleaning out the bin
- changing the bedding
- harvesting the castings
Teenagers could actually do all the work, and perhaps, even have a small business selling the castings.
Although, if you want the castings for your own garden that may not be a good plan for you. You will not want your teen selling off your precious black gold.
The tower method though … well, there is nothing to it once the pipe is in place. So sure, kids can feed the worms … just give them a few handfuls of scrapes and say, “Please go out the garden and feed the worms.”
However, installation requires power tools and a very deep, narrow hole in the ground, so only a teenager is likely to be able to do that part.
Which is Better – Compost or Vermicompost?
You may have read our several articles on mulch and compost. So, you may already know that composting involves putting your kitchen and garden waste into a container to break down over time. The break down forms a kind of healthy “dirt” for your garden.
Vermicomposting is very similar but the bin into which you put kitchen scraps contains material like shredded paper and red wiggler worms. These worms break down the kitchen scraps by digesting them and excrete their waste, called “castings”, which can then be used in the garden.
Which method is better? Honestly, that depends on which you end up doing more successfully!
Here are a few things to consider:
- An outdoor compost pile requires only that you keep adding organic material to it. You also need to turn the material and see that it gets regular water. However, if you neglect to do these things, the organisms living in your compost bin will simply move on to another spot; they won’t necessarily die. If you forget to feed the worms in your vermicompost bin, they will most certainly perish. Then you’ll have worm death on your conscience.
- An outdoor compost pile must be turned, which can often be laborious. (Unless have someone else turn your compost for you – read more about that here.) However, the soil in a vermicompost bin is kept light and friable by the worms themselves.
- Worm towers in the garden are far less work than either a vermicomposting bin or an outdoor compost pile since you don’t have to turn anything, and the worms in the soil can see to their own water needs. However, they do take time to install, cover, and continually feed.
None of the options are without their pros and cons, so it really depends on which method you end up doing well. That takes experimentation!
More Vermicompost and Compost Information
Thank You, Vermicompost Experts!
A big thank you to Jo from Homestead Chronicles for teaching us so much about vermicomposting, especially using a garden tower. Thank you, too, to Homestead Chronicles for use of their other photos.