An interesting twist on composting is to raise worms in a way that allows water to dissolve their castings for easy distribution.
Two bins handle the compost for our family of 4. I used inexpensive, free standing laundry sinks (21” per side and 12” deep) that I purchased at a building supply center for $14 each. I placed a screen over the drain hole and covered it with a few 2-3” diameter rocks. I spread 1-2” of small pea gravel over the bottom, mounding it over the rocks, and topped that with a layer of sand 4” thick. The rocks and gravel allow drainage and prevent the sand from pouring out of the sink.
The worm bedding and worms go on top of the sand; hardwood mulch, moistened and mixed with a shovelful of garden soil, works well. Leave an inch or so at the top to allow room for scraps to be added. Everything is covered with an old towel or rug to prevent fruit flies, and topped with a hinged screen lid. The lid is constructed of a double frame of rot resistant cedar sandwiching 3 layers of screening: aluminum window screen, 1/4” mesh hardware cloth, and a second layer of window screen. The 2 layers of window screen keep anything from getting trapped between hardware cloth and screen; the hardware cloth adds strength. I found a local bait shop that carried the red wigglers I was looking for, and started slowly, with only 1 bin and 3 pint-sized containers.
Composting: To compost, I lift the towel, scratch some mulch to one side with a gardening hand fork, add kitchen scraps collected over several days, and scratch the mulch back over the scraps. If I’m not ready to use compost tea, I add enough water to moisten the new food.
Harvesting: I was surprised to find that I don’t really have to harvest castings. Because the high water volume dissolves and carries away so much of the castings, I just add mulch when the level of the bin starts to drop. When I’m ready to feed plants, I pour water over the surface of the bins and collect it in 5 gallon buckets placed below the sinks. I generally do this once a week, cycling through my plants so they are each fed every 2 to 4 weeks. My plants have thrived. In fact, we recently built a new house, and I grew over 300 plants from seed to 1 and 5 gallon pots, fertilizing with nothing but this compost tea. Grasses, perennials, shrubs and trees all responded equally well.
Temperature: My outdoors bins have been exposed to temperatures ranging from 23°-110°F. In winter, I insulated them with a layer of straw. In the brutal Texas summer heat, take care to provide at least afternoon shade, and keep the bins moist.
Diet: The worms eat all manner of fruits, vegetables, table scraps, eggshells, coffee and filters, and tea bags. Avoid large amounts of citrus rinds, as these can be toxic to them. An occasional bite of meat, fish or cheese has also gone in, but we try to avoid them since we use the compost tea on vegetable crops. The worms will eat almost any organic matter, however, so if you only use the tea on ornamentals, meat and dairy products are okay. Worms that are not fed can still survive for months.
Moisture: Placing bins under a roof overhang affords the best control for rain. During dry spells, the bedding and sand retain moisture, so if I need to leave town for a couple of weeks, the worms just go deeper.
Worms benefit my family in so many ways, and ask only for garbage in return.
This article was contributed by Cathy Ramsey to share her positive experiences. Neither she nor the Directory assume liability if results are not duplicated or if health problems arise. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.