Worms are typically kept in a box or bin and can be fed fruit and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, cornmeal, shredded leaves, newspaper, and more. Experiment—see what they will or will not eat. Worms can survive on a diet of vegetable trimmings and newspaper but will flourish on a more diverse diet.
Night crawlers and field worms are a familiar sight in my garden; however, the species best adapted to life in a worm bin is Eisenia foetida, a.k.a. the redworm, red wiggler, or tiger worm. This worm consumes large amounts of organic materials and will be quite happy turning your “garbage” into black gold! Worm castings are created as worms eat food and deposit their castings behind them. Worms process food in their stomach with assistance from small amounts of bacteria and soil particles. Both bacteria and soil particles help break down the food by changing the physical and chemical structure before it is “deposited” in the soil as castings.
Worm castings, or worm droppings, provide three main benefits to our plants:
1. They are a great source of readily available nutrients.
2. They improve water-holding capacity, the ability of soil to accept and retain moisture for growing plants.
3. They help create good soil structure. This is due to the sticky coating surrounding each casting, which is comprised of compounds known as polysaccharides. These polysaccharides bind with soil particles to produce soil aggregates. Aggregates prevent soil from becoming waterlogged, eroded, or compacted, and they keep soil loose whether it is wet or dry.
Another reason for keeping worms is faster processing time compared to traditional composting. One pound of worms is actually 1,000 worms! Each worm can eat half its weight every day. For example, 6 pounds of worms will eat 3 pounds of food each day.
Just like composting, vermicomposting helps keep organic materials out of our landfills. Individuals doing their part to reduce the waste stream going to landfills contribute to local and regional environmental stewardship. Saving landfill space for true garbage reduces the number of new landfills needed and saves local tax dollars that would otherwise go towards landfill construction.
Did I give enough reasons to start your own worm bin? I hope so. I use mine to process veggie scraps in the wintertime when the slog to the compost pile is blocked by snow and ice. They eat less in winter, more in summer, due to their preferential temperatures. Want to learn more? Check out Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System, by Mary Appelhof. For even more info, visit Cornell University’s vermicomposting research page.