Vermicompost for Beginners

Begin composting with worms for better soil.

| June 2018

  • Using worms in your compost isn't as weird as it sounds.
    Photo by Adobestock/weerapat1003
  • “Compost Revolution” by Helmut Schimmel combines classic and cutting-edge research with real-world experience in gardens and horticultural applications.
    Cover courtesy Acres U.S.A.

Compost Revolution (Acres U.S.A., 2018) by Helmut Schimmel teaches alternatives to conventional composting, particularly those using earthworms. Worm composting is a superb alternative to traditional composting methods, which generally suffer from high-energy losses. Working in harmony with the below-surface army of microorganisms, the lowly earthworm is now known to be the true hero in the underground, a soil builder par excellence, not only in nature, but also in garden- and farm-scale composting systems. This section will help you get started with incorporating worms in your compost.

Suggestions for Beginners

People who are just starting out with brandlings still lack an understanding of vermiculture. The first thing they need to do is adjust their actions to the demands and preferences of the brandlings (Eisenia fetida). Many think that once they’ve acquired a bucket of worm substrate (organic material and the worms themselves), everything else will work itself out. In reality, this is only the beginning of their problems. From my own experience I know that getting started with vermiculture can be a hurdle.

There are a few things that you must keep in mind to avoid jeopardizing the success of your worm raising. I’ve observed this not just in my own case but also among other gardeners.

The same mistakes are constantly repeated: in spite of emphatic warnings and advice, people place their new worms into whatever compost pile they have at hand, reasoning that it provides them with enough space to spread out and develop. The relatively small number of worms then disappear into the large volume of the compost pile and are never seen again. What is happening? This is a case of disregarding the fact that brandlings are social creatures that require contact with others in order to reproduce even though they are hermaphroditic. This makes it important to limit the worms’ living area, especially early on. Building a small worm container out of old boards or some sort of small cold frame doesn’t take much effort, but is a valuable aid.

It’s important for the number of worms to remain within a certain ratio to the surface area and amount of food (e.g., two buckets of worms including substrate per one half to one square meter of surface area). The initial stock of worms (one thousand to three thousand) determines whether the worm operation will ultimately be successful. It’s better to add too many worms than too few.

The ground beneath the area where the worms are being raised should be loosened and protected against predators (moles) from beneath with a mesh of chicken wire. On top of this surface should be a layer (about four inches or ten centimeters) of heavily decomposed material (e.g., compost, garden soil, and decomposed manure). Above that should be a second layer, made up of partly decomposed material (raw compost). Then the worm substrate (large and small worms, including eggs) should be spread on top of this layer. Above that, the worm food should be spread in thin layers. If the temperature exceeds 86 degrees Fahrenheit, then too much material was added. A soil thermometer is essential for checking the temperature. Keep everything nicely moist. If conditions are agreeable, the brandlings will eat their way up to the top as they are drawn to the freshly added food.

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