If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m one of those people that think you have to be prepared for a slow collapse or “long decline” as some other blogging writers call it. Prolonged recessions, depressions or general economic shittiness. So, this is one of those posts from me, where it won’t help you survive a grid down, a tornado or any other acute SHTF scenario. This post is about one of the ways in which I’ve turned my regular suburban house into something closer to a homestead, which I feel makes my family’s living situation a little more stable.
Vermicompost is the product or process of composting utilizing various species of worms, usually red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and vermicast. Vermicast, similarly known as worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by a species of earthworm.
Containing water-soluble nutrients, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. The process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting. Thank you Wikipedia.
Composting organic matter is a great way to reclaim part of your waste cycle and hold on to valuable nutrients. For those of us living in Northern latitudes, the compost pile freezes up every winter, leaving a part of the year when another solution is needed. Likewise, people in apartments often don’t have a place for a compost pile, and need a different solution. Enter the humble worm. I use red wrigglers, but there are others that work.
Equipment Needed – One of the great things about this solution, is it’s very low tech. A large tub, some shredded paper and worms are all you need to get started. Worms can be bought online, by the pound, it’s also possible to find them in local bait stores, or from other vermi-composters who have a healthy worm colony and can spare a starter population for you. You do have to have a critical mass of worms in order to have them breed successfully and in order to have enough to handle the amount of organic matter you’re likely to toss their way.
How Does it Work? – Basically, you put the worms in their nice dark, slightly moist, shredded newspaper home. Let them settle for a week, especially if they were shipped to you. Gradually, start tossing in organic scraps from your kitchen. They’ll adjust their population to suit the tub size and food level, so it’s best to keep things consistent, they are only worms after all. They’ll break down the shredded newspaper and the food scraps (it all goes in one end and comes out the other) into a dark brown, wonderful smelling, crumbly, dirt-like compost, known as worm castings. The castings can be used like compost from a traditional compost pile, and worked into garden soil. I’ll toss a tablespoon of castings in the bottom of holes that I’m digging for transplants, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes. It’s also very water soluble and can be made into a tea, that is really good for seedlings, or anything that needs some extra nutrient love. Worm castings tea, is basically non-clorinated water, mixed with castings and a bit of sugar, then aerated to encourage microbial growth. (Here’s a more in-depth recipe) The whole mess is then poured on plants. The nutrients, sugar and microbes are all really beneficial for your veggies.
How do you keep the colony happy? – Keep the lid on their home, worms are very sensitive to light. Keep them in a location that has steady temperatures, in the 60-80 degree range. Keep their bedding slightly damp, (not dripping wet, and not bone dry, aim for a damp sponge level of moisture.) Keep the food scraps at a steady rate. Keep meat, bones, grease/oil, fecal matter and heavy citrus peels out. I do put in dry egg shells.
Warning signs that something is out of wack – Worms climbing the side of the bin, usually means the bedding is too wet, and they are trying to get out of the wetness so they don’t drown. Moldy food, or bad smells, usually means you’ve exceeded the amount of food the worms can break down. Quit feeding them for a week or so until they get a handle on the food that’s already in the bin, you can also help things by covering the food with a fresh bit of shredded newspaper. No worms can be found in bin, it’s possible you fed them too little, or let something else get out of wack and they all died, start over.
I’ve found my colony to be very robust. I have a large bin, which helps keeps things stable, but I’ve left them alone for months at a time and had them bounce back quite nicely. I never have to buy expensive organic composts, and I always have plenty around, for whatever I need it for. Plus, it lowers the amount of trash that my house puts out, which right now just lightens our load on the city’s resources, In a grid down or SHTF situation, it would mean less disease-producing, smell-producing trash sitting around on the property. Castings tea could also be a possible revenue source, if you have organic farmers in your area needing reliable sources of high-quality fertilizers. Give it a try, let me know if you have any questions.
– Calamity Jane