Vermicompost is known to be the world's best fertiliser and it is known to change the look of your garden. Vermicompost means that the worms are kept in a bin with shredded paper or other biodegradable bedding. You feed them food waste that you get from your kitchen. They feed on the food waste and digest the waste and bedding then excrete nutrient-rich castings. After a few months, the castings combined with the well-decomposed bedding, become vermicompost -- one of the richest soil improvements around. It is a simple method and it does wonders on your garden, plants, flowers and vegetable garden.

To start Vermicompost you will require the following things.

  • A bin
  • Biodegradable bedding
  • Food waste
  • Worms

For worm containers use wooden boxes, metal tubs and plastic basins, provided they allow good air circulation. The worm container should be shallow and not too deep, no more than 18 inches deep. To determine the size of bin you need, you'll need to calculate how much food waste your family creates in an average week. For example: If your household creates an average of four pounds of food waste each week, a 2x2' bin should be adequate. The bin should have the greatest surface area for proper air circulation and for dumping more food waste. For proper air circulation drill 1/4" drainage holes through the bottom of your bin. For example for plastic, drill 14-20 holes, 9-12 holes for a wooden container. Raise the bin up on bricks or wooden blocks, and place a tray or a sheet of plastic underneath. Put your bin in some comfortable place, and where worms won't be subjected to extreme temperatures. Worms like temperatures ranging from 55-77 F.

Bedding giving worms a place to work and rest. It also helps hold moisture in your box. Use light, fluffy biodegradable materials free from pesticides or chemicals. For perfect bedding tear newspaper (without the colour comics and glossy advertisements) into thin strips, the thinner the better. You can also use shredded cardboard. Put some sand in to the bedding since it contributes nutrients and grit to help worms digest food waste. Periodically sprinkle small amounts of crushed eggshells or ground limestone, which is a good source of calcium. Plan on 5 to 8 pounds of bedding for a 2'x2' box. Place the bedding in a clean trashcan or other large container. Pour in three pounds of water per pound of dry bedding, and mix well. Note that the bedding should be uniformly damp, but not dripping wet. Toss in a handful of soil, crushed eggshells, or other additives. Lift and fluff the bedding to aerate then put it into the bin. Sprinkle the worms over the surface of the bedding, gently untwining any wiggling clumps. Place a bright overhead light over the bin and the worms will burrow down into the bedding. It is advisable to leave a light on your worm box for the first three or four days. After a few days the worms will settle down and do their best.

The best worms for vermicomposting are red worms (Eisenia foetida or Lumbricus rubellus). The red worm is capable of reproducing quickly in captivity, while munching profuse quantities of food waste. If your bin is a 2x2' bin then use one pound of worms (1000 worms). You can buy worms from garden centres or nurseries.

Worms are not picky eaters; they will munch on just about anything. Give your worms peels and other vegetable waste. However while giving them banana waste don't put the peel because banana peel attracts fruit flies. You can even toss in coffee filters and tea bags, but do take off the tea bag tag and the little metal. You can also put plate scrapes, eggshells in the bin. Things that are absolutely No-No are meat and bone, dog and cat litter, plastic, glass, aluminium foil and other non-biodegradable items.

To feed the worms divide the bin in four sections. Bury scraps under a few inches of bedding in the first section and cover it with loose plastic or newspaper. After 4/5 days its time to feed the worms again and then fill the scrapes in the second section. This way you can fill all the sections and you don't have to dig into the waste. Remember red worms are voracious eaters but your bin should not smell of bad odour. If that is the case then you have added too much of food and the worms are finding it difficult to cope up. Stir the bedding to aerate, cover the box and add no more food until the smell hasn't gone. Worms are low-maintenance, and you can skip two or three weeks without feeding them. Any longer than that, and you'll have a big box of dead worms.

The method of harvesting is very simple. Put on your rubber gloves. Place a large sheet of plastic on the floor or on a table. Pour the entire contents of the bin onto the sheet. Shape the compost into cone-shaped mounds. Then shine a bright light above the mounds; this will drive the worms toward the bottom interior of each mound. Wait 5-10 minutes, and then gently scrape off the layers of vermicompost until all you have left is worms. Put the worms into a temporary storage container while you clean out the bin and fill it with fresh bedding. You may see tiny, lemon-shaped cocoons; these contain baby worms, so be sure to add them to the new bin. Bury food scraper for four months and you will get a nice box full of vermicompost after leaving the bin alone for three to four months.

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