Contrary to general belief all worms are not alike! A compost worm is of the
genus Eisenia. The most common name for them is red worms.
These worms, together with many microorganisms, process large amounts of organic material to make rich dark compost, which when finished is odorless and has aproximately the same consistency and appearance as coffee grounds.
The process by which the organic waste is broken down is called vermicomposting. This is a simple way to turn organic kitchen waste such as fruit and vegetable peels, tea bags and coffee grounds into a useful soil conditioner. This can be used on houseplants, flowerbeds, lawns etc.
It is estimated that in ideal conditions, a worm (with soil micro-organisms) will process it's own weight in food and bedding every second day. In other words, a bin with a pound of worms could process a pound of food in 48 hours. Of course that is in idealistic (and unattainable) circumstances. We have found that it is more realistic to say that a pound of worms can handily process approximately a half pound daily.
WHAT FOODS CAN BE PUT IN A VERMICOMPOST BIN?
The general rule is “If grown in the ground or its ingredients came from things grown in the ground, then it can be fed to the worm bin". Remember, this includes coffee grounds and filters as well as tea bags. With the latter, cut them open and remove string and staple if necessary.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Excess quantities of citrus fruits can kill the worms, so we DO NOT put them in our bins at all. Also avoid adding hot peppers (eg. jalapeno) but bell peppers are okay. Excessively salty foods such as pickles and sauerkraut should also be avoided.
Obviously NO MEAT, NO DAIRY AND NO FATS (A little quantity such as mayonnaise or margarine on bread leftovers is okay.)
The one addition to this rule is eggshells, dry them, crush them and add to worm bin to balance the PH. We also put a few intact eggshells in our bins, (we find many worms curled up inside the shell). Most of the time we dry the shells and crush them in an old plastic bag with a rolling pin or pulverize them in a blender. The purpose of doing this is to make the calcium carbonate more available to the microorganisms in the bin. The calcium is also useful to plants when the compost is put in the garden.
As a rule, you can put all your leftover peelings (witht the exception of citrus), grain products (including cereal & breads), and fruit and vegetable waste, into the worm bin.
We find that the smaller the particle, the faster it breaks down. We keep a stainless steel pail in our kitchen with an old pair of scissors on the top and cut our waste down to thumb nail size before putting it in . It may sound like a lot of trouble but once you get into the habit, it is easy, and makes the work a lot easier for the worms. Others use a food processor or grinder to break the waste down before feeding it to the worms.
Freezing the food before adding it to the bin is an ideal way to prevent fruit flies, as this kills the larvae that might be on the skins. Bananas are particularly bad for carrying fruit fly larvae. Freezing the food before feeding it to the worms also helps to speed up the vermicomposting process because it helps to break down the cell structure. Just remember to thaw the food before giving it to the worms.
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