Another option for composters is that of vermiculture, or raising earthworms.
For centuries, worms have benefited the soil by eating dead organic matter and turning it into plant food. And, gardeners who want to take advantage of their natural compost production can do so by raising worms.
The compost produced by the worms is called castings and it is described as “almost the perfect plant food,” byRon Greenwood of Unco Industries, a vermiculture company in Mount Pleasant.
“It improves the root structure of plants,” he said.
To start, you’ll need a container, bedding material, worms and organic waste.
The container can be as simple as a plastic dish bin or storage container and the bedding can be topsoil, certain types of cellulose insulation, or even shredded newspaper that has been soaked in water to a damp-sponge consistency, according to Greenwood. When using newspaper, choose only the black and white pages (color ink isn’t safe), he said.
“You want to make sure the bedding is moist so that the worms can get their moisture from it, rather than the bedding getting moisture from the worms,” he said.
The worms most commonly used for worm composting are called red wigglers, according to Greenwood. And one or two pounds of worms is enough to get you started, he said. A pound of red wigglers purchased locally, from Unco, costs $15.
When it comes to feeding the worms, any kind of fruit or vegetable scraps will do, along with coffee grounds and egg shells, Greenwood said.
“They love melon rinds,” he said.
As with regular composting, you want to avoid meat and bones as they tend to attract flies and rodents.
Most food waste can be put directly onto the worm bed just as it comes from the table, but grinding or cutting things into smaller particles will speed recycling time. On average, two pounds of earthworms can recycle one pound of organic waste in a 24-hour period.
Worm composting can be done in conjunction with a traditional compost pile or by itself. Some backyard composters find it to be a good alternative to outdoor composting during the winter, said Rose Skora, an agriculture educator with the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Sturtevant office. Many people choose to raise them in their basement, she said.
Worms can also be added directly to an outdoor compost pile, said Greenwood, as long as you provide a cooler area, in addition to the central compost pile, for them to escape to when the heat of the decomposition gets to be too much for them.
Worm composting has also become very popular in schools in recent years, said Greenwood. Students raise the worms and learn about biology in the process. It can also be a fun project for families, he said.
“It is very easy to do. People shouldn’t be afraid of it.”
At the same time, it is important to remember that when you are raising worms, you are dealing with a live animal, Greenwood said. Even worms have basic needs, including water, food and temperature control, he said.
“You can leave them alone to a certain degree, but you also need to poke your head in every now and then and make sure they are all right.”
For more information on worm composting, visit the Web at www.vermiculture.com