Lifestyles
Vermicompost for a greener 2019!
By Michelle Haynes, Grayson County Master Gardener
Mar 9, 2019
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If "Start Vermicomposting My Kitchen Waste" isn’t one of your 2019 New Year Resolutions, it should be! Vermicomposting—using composting worms (not earthworms) to turn your kitchen waste into an amazing garden supplement—is simple, low-cost, and effective.

Googling “How To Vermicompost” will result in thousands of resources, so there’s no need to provide instructions here, but the basic bin structure is a plastic box with drainage holes drilled into the bottom and air holes drilled around the top perimeter. The contents start out as a bottom layer of damp bedding, red wiggler worms, kitchen waste, and dried plant matter; the worms will rearrange the contents to their liking. Owning a worm bin involves emptying the contents, separating worms from compost, and reassembling the materials. Let’s look at three handy tools that will simplify your worm wrangling tasks: plastic tote lids, large plastic bags, and tongs.

If you have plastic storage bins that break or just don’t need a top, reserve the lids, as they make perfect trays for the leachate that drains from the holes at the bottom of the bin. The leachate (not the same as worm tea) includes the liquids released from the food as it breaks down. If your worm bin sits directly on the soil, you might not mind the leachate soaking through to the ground. But if your bin is in the garage or on your patio, you won’t want that leachate dripping onto and possibly staining the concrete. Instead, use a tray (such as the plastic lid) to catch the liquids. Here’s a nifty trick: raise the bin on cinder blocks, drill a small hole at the edge of the tray, and let the leachate drip into a container for easy disposal or use (dilute leachate with water before you pour it on plants. That’s worth a bit of research too.).

When I empty my worm bin, I dump the material onto a large flattened plastic bag, such as the strong 50-pound bags for sunflower seeds or dog food. I cut along one side and along the bottom seam, then flatten the bag for a handy 3- by 4-foot mat. This is much easier to fold, store, and carry than a 5x7 plastic tarp would be, and it makes clean up a cinch!

The purpose of dumping the bin’s contents on the mat is to separate the components. The bedding, worms, and unprocessed food can go back into the bin, and the beautiful composted material (that “black gold”) can be added to your plants. Tongs are the perfect tool for picking up any of these materials. Just be gentle when picking up your worms! I actually find that my long, manicured fingernails are the best worm scoops (#WormGirl, #IPlayWithWorms), but that might not appeal to everyone!

Diverting your kitchen waste from the trashbin/landfill to a vermicompost bin is a worthy daily routine. If you’re already giving your foodscraps to your chickens, your worms will happily help with the items your chickens shouldn’t consume (e.g., onions, avocado). A worm bin is for organic materials like fruits and veggies, eggshells, cereal boxes, and coffee and tea grounds, but not for meats. Bokashi bran composting can process meats; take a minute to research that! To those people who say that the Texas summer is too hot and the north Texas winter is too cold for worms, I say bah humbug! The worms are usually well-insulated in their compost, and they can be quite comfortable with a little intervention from you. Check out the winter composting article from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farms (https://unclejimswormfarm.com/worm-composting-during-winter-and-insulating-your-worm-bin/). Vermicomposting is a simple and seemingly magical process. Don’t be intimidated by the discussions on ratios of carbon/nitrogen--dry/wet--brown/green. The perfect ratio certainly makes the bin more efficient, but the most important rule is to not let your worms dry out to death. And while anything that goes wrong with your bin is probably your error, it won’t happen immediately and you can certainly fix it. So, vermicompost in 2019! #JustDoIt! 


 Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at mastergardeners@co.grayson.tx.us, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page graysoncountymastergardeners.net, or our Facebook group.