Make your own vermicompost

– By Payal Shah

What you need:

  • 250 gms earthworms
  • 1 large bucket or container (not transparent)
  • Lots and lots of newspaper (the regular stuff, not the shiny bits)
  • 2 cups soil (this aids digestion)

How to Start:

Start tearing the newspapers into really small bits. Get someone to help – its a good job for kids. You want about 4 days’ worth of newspaper torn into shreds. If you have a paper shredder, it will make this job much easier and quicker.

Put them all in another bucket (not the one you’re going to use for the worm bin) and add water. Squeeze all the water out of the newspaper and put it into the worm bin. Repeat if necessary till you have about 5-6 inches of fluffy, moist newspaper at the bottom of the worm bin.

Now add the worms, and cover them immediately with more shredded, moist newspaper. They do not like light. Sprinkle soil over the newspaper. Start with one cup of vegetable scraps on top of the soil and then cover the scraps with a sheet of newspaper folded a few times to fit the bucket’s shape. This keeps the light from entering the bucket, which means the worms will come up to explore, and also protects your bin from any pests, or birds looking for food. Do this even if your container has a lid that you’ve drilled holes into.

Place in a shaded area if outdoors or even indoors. Worms don’t like extreme temperatures, so if it is too hot outside, consider bringing the bin indoors. The worms are not going to escape unless the worm bin is too wet, so there is no need to worry about ending up with squiggly things all over your house. If you want to make double sure, use a bin that has a lid, but drill some holes on top or the side for air. If you’re still paranoid about them escaping, you can tape some mosquito netting to the areas where you’ve made the holes so it lets the air in, but doesn’t let the worms escape.

The worms need some time to get used to the new environment and will take a day or two to find the scraps. Especially once the scraps start decomposing. Add another cup of scraps after a day. Check every other day, and add scraps at the same pace as they are eating it. They may take a week or two to get used to the bin, so be patient. You will be surprised at how much you can put into the bin once they get their mojo back!

If you can’t keep up with the rate at which the worms are eating (they are multiplying in your bin, so even though you start out with 250 gms of worms, you may have half a kilo in 6 months), it may be time to share the worms with a friend, or start another worm bin, or simply transfer some worms into your garden or pots. If any bad smells ensue or you find worms gathering towards the top, it is likely that the bin is getting too soggy. Add more shredded newspaper (dry) and mix so it balances the moisture. Don’t worry if you see other insects in the bin, they are either helping the composting or are going to be turned into compost. If you want to go on a holiday, just make sure you put in enough scraps to last them while you’re gone. Usually it is calculated as weight of worms x number of days you are away + a bit of shredded newspaper to keep things interesting.

To harvest the vermicompost, don’t feed the worm bin anything for a week. Eventually, everything you put into the bin will get composted – the newspaper, soil, everything. When the contents resemble regular compost, spread a newspaper on a flat surface, preferably in the sun, and pile the vermicompost onto it. You can work in batches. Leave it alone for half an hour. This will ensure that the worms have some time to burrow back into the compost away from the sun. If you are doing this in your garden, you may want to use a large tub to prevent the worms wriggling away into the garden. Pick up the top layer of compost and spread it out over another newspaper to air and dry out and store it the same way you would regular compost. Harvest as much as or as little as you need, or if you have time, you can harvest the whole lot and store it like regular compost.

Worms really like:

  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves

Worms will happily eat:

  • Vegetable and fruit peels, cores, bad spots
  • Cooked food without salt
  • Juicer waste
  • Paper and cardboard that has not been bleached or coloured

Worms don’t like:

  • Citrus fruits (including lemons), so compost these
  • Salt