All you really need to start composting is a garbage can with a lid, a place in the yard for a hole in the ground which you can cover with cardboard or a tarp, pallets or cinder blocks, or the obvious (and usually expensive) composter. The important part is being able to toss the compost every so often so it thoroughly composts all parts and ingredients. You need air to help break down ingredients yet something which pests cannot easily get into to make a mess for you to clean up.
To build your own worm composter instead of purchasing one (quite costly), all you will need:
(2) Garbage Cans same size w/ 1 lid (or even Rubbermaid Containers)
Small Bag of Dirt
Drill or Hammer & Nail
Bedding (See list of items added to compost)
Drill or hammer out several (10-15) tiny holes into the bottom of one of the garbage cans for drainage. These need to be smaller than an 1/2" thick since you only want water draining through and not your worms. You may also want to drill a few holes into the lid for ventilation since the worms still need to breath. Then place the garbage can with the holes inside the other can and add dirt, bedding and worms. You will want to purchase approximately 1,000 or 1# of Red Wiggler worms depending on the size of your can and food waste. The rule of thumb is 1# of worms for every 1/2# of food. This can cost you between $20-$50 depending on the supplier. I say start small since these little guys multiply quickly if the conditions are right and there is ample food supply. You can even ask a friend or local greenhouse for some to get you started since these guys multiply to quickly.
I was amazed to learn all the items you can compost. Here is a list of the items you can add to compost to feed your worms and use as bedding (colored brown and green):
- shredded newspaper/junk mail
- shredded cardboard
- chopped up straw
- shredded fall leaves
- dryer lint/vacuum contents (if only hair and dirt)
- pencil shavings
- dead plants/flowers/wreaths/plant decor
- grass clippings
- fruit and vegetable peels/scraps
- tea bags/coffee grounds
- crushed egg shells/cardboard or paper cartons
- Q-tips (non-plastic)/cotton balls
- kleenex/toilet paper
- hair/nail clippings
- compostable to go containers or pizza boxes
- tooth pics/bamboo skewers
**NO Meats or Dairy Products! These attract pests such as rodents and flies or worse.
You want to have a good 50/50 mixture of brown and green ingredients regardless of composting with or without worms. This will help you get the most out of your waste and make the most "golden" compost especially if using for your garden.
I like to use as much of a variety of food and bedding to keep my worms "happy". Worms need lost of moisture and oxygen so make sure to water and gently toss your ingredients frequently. The moisture level should be that of a wrung out sponge. You can usually collect your food waste in a milk carton or other container for a couple days and then add it to the compost. The worms will not eat fresh leftovers right away anyway. They like to wait a couple days to a week to let the microorganisms begin the break down process, and they actually feed off that "slime". The drainage into the second container can be used as a liquid fertilizer.
**If you begin to notice your worms escaping or hanging out on the sides and lid, there may be a few reasons for concern. This means something is wrong with their environment. Is their enough moisture for them? Have you added enough food waste lately? Is there a variety? Too much acidity can kill them so limit the amount of acidic fruits you toss in there especially in the beginning. Their wastes can also be harmful to them so its possible you need to start a new bin if they have cycled completely through their current one. This also happens quickly if they have multiplied and there is not enough room and food supply for them to survive.
After a few weeks to months, you will notice your compost no longer looks like scraps or slime. When it begins to look like a chunky dirt again, it can be added to your soil. Things like manure can take a little more time depending on the animal and if added to planting soil too soon, it can burn the plants.
When its time to either start a new bin or add compost to your garden/plants, there are two simple ways to remove the worms.
1. You can set up a new section in your bin by moving the old compost to one side and preparing this empty section with fresh new bedding and food. The worms will all gradually move themselves over so you can remove the older compost. This is only if you have a couple days before needing the rich compost since it will take them some time to separate.
2. You can simply pick the worms out either by sifting through with a grate or by hand. This is my favorite way since the kids can help and can learn even more while having fun getting dirty and playing with the worms. We all garden together so this is a way for them to help out!
Thanks for being GREEN...Have fun with your new project!!