After several years of wanting to start vermicomposting, I finally jumped in this year. I hesitated for so long because we live in a climate that is supposedly very hostile for worm composting. Several locals I know keep their bins indoors to protect the worms from our hot summers but I didn’t want to venture down that road. Everything I read about vermicomposting led me to believe my worms would get fried outside but they made it through their first Las Vegas summer and are thriving. So, what is vermicomposting?
It’s composting with worms. Red Wiggler worms (along with a rich microbial community) turn my kitchen garbage into what is often referred to as “black gold” for my garden. Vermicompost, the end result, is a mix of worm castings (a.k.a. worm poop) and composted nitrogen and carbon materials. That’s it in a nutshell. I’ll get into it deeper in later posts but I thought I should cover that much for anyone completely new to this.
The girls and I added our fourth and final tray to our worm composting bin. We have a Worm Factory 360 which is a system that uses a stack of trays so the worms migrate from one tray to another. It comes with four trays but it can be expanded to seven trays total. The big advantage of using a system like this is that you don’t have to sort the worms out of the finished compost. The worms migrate up and leave finished trays of vermicompost below so harvesting the compost is very simple and fast. I’m embarrassed to say that we started our first tray back in February and we will be harvesting our first tray this month…in December. It was probably ready two months ago but life was busy and we never got around to it. Even though I had spent many hours reading and watching videos about worm composting, it took a while to find our rhythm of actually doing it. I’ll share those experiences in another post but let’s get on with how to add a new tray to this system.
Here is my Worm Factory 360 with three trays. The tray leaning against the system is the one we’ll be adding. The grid bottom is what allows the worms to travel between the trays.
First take off the lid and set it aside. The top tray is called the feeding tray and has several pieces of moist newspaper on top of the bedding and food waste. Remove the moist newspaper cover. Mix 6 tablespoons of the mineral rock dust into the materials in the tray. Add the new tray on top and push it down gently until it’s resting on top.
Put all the new bedding materials in a large bucket or other container. Here is a 5 gallon bucket almost filled with shredded black and white non-glossy newspaper, torn up cardboard and paper egg cartons. Aside from those, you can also use dry shredded leaves and coconut coir as bedding materials. I didn’t have these when we added the new tray but I’ll be adding some in the next week or so. Add water to the bucket, mix it up and let everything soak until it’s thoroughly wet. Squeeze out the excess water and add the bedding to the new tray. The bedding should be damp like a wet sponge. Only a few drops of water should come out when you squeeze it. Aim for about a 1/2 inch of bedding to start the new tray.
Mix in a couple handfuls of garden soil or coarse finished vermicompost to help jump start the microbial activity. Mix in ½ cup of pumice. This helps keep the materials fluffy which promotes air circulation and easier worm movement. Pull back a corner of the bedding and add your food waste. Cover it with bedding to help prevent pests. Grab the moist newspaper sheets that you removed from the old feeding tray and place them on top of the bedding in the new tray. Put the lid back on and you’re done! Even with the girls helping it only takes a few minutes.
The new tray is now the feeding tray and the bottom trays are the processing trays. Only add new food to the top tray. You should start seeing worms in the top tray in a few days. As you can see, the bottom trays are sunken further down into each other. The top tray will sink down as the one below continues to be processed by the worms.
I’ve composted several different ways over the years and this is by far my favorite. It’s something even young kids can do in the garden. Actually, my girls pretty much take care of the whole thing. They get very upset if I try feeding the worms without them. It also takes up a fraction of the space of a regular compost pile which is perfect for the tiny yards we have in this town.