Worm Composting

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Jay Jay
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Worm Composting

Just a comment for folks in apartments, areas with restrictive HOAs, etc.: worm composting can be easily and discretely done inside or on a porch or deck. They're quiet, odorless and produce a wonderful mulch. You may not be able to compost all your waste, but between reducing the pre-waste and the worms, you could have little to no wet garbage left!

We also used a Green Cone until I got too freaked out by the godzilla-sized worms. They require a yard, but again odorless, quick composting. HOAs might OK them since no way rats, other vermin can get in.

There are also electric composters which turn and heat the waste, but that's yet another "gadget".

If you can't use all your compost, you can bet your neighbors will want it!
Marrena Lindberg Marrena Lindberg
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Do you compost junk mail?  Is it okay to compost paper that is heavily dyed?
Jay Jay
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I wouldn't if using the compost on food crops, unless it says soy based. Not sure, though. Google it, I'm sure that's a big issue. BTW, In the past I have used old newspapers (junk mail underneath) as a weed barrier, covered with a thin layer of compost/mulch for aesthetics. Lasts a season or two.
I do know lots of glossy paper is a no no.

Worms are amazing creatures! And you really don't have to buy anything special. I just went to a local fish shop and got a cupful. Maybe that's why they turned into Godzillas. Please check them out.
I SUSPECT, re junk mail, that if they eat it, its okay.
Sandra Sandra
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In reply to this post by Marrena Lindberg
That's a good question. My compost machine recommends composting shredded paper, but I never considered how the dyes would affect the quality of the compost. To stay on the safe side, maybe just compost food-soiled paper products (pizza box, butter wrapper, paper cup) and leave the rest for recycling?
Sandra Sandra
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Does anyone know if fresh mango and papaya fruits are compatible with worm composting? My family eats a lot of mango and the scraps seem to muck up the regular aerobic composter (it produces a sticky, mango-scented compost). I remember Bea mentioning that citrus peels are not compatible with worm composting, and I've been told that walnuts should not be composted because their oils inhibit other plants' growth. I wonder what other produce items I should avoid putting in the compost.
Jay Jay
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Don't know from personal experience. Others seem to say it's ok. No citrus, pineapple; limited garlic, onion peels, cake, biscuits and bread. Too acidic/sugary. Didn't know about walnuts, makes sense though!
A good mix is always important, so if you go on a mango jag, or just consistently eat a lot, the worms might not appreciate it :-)
Sandra Sandra
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In reply to this post by Jay
I saw these directions on making your own worm bin and thought I'd share. It's from Oregon's Metro website (www.oregonmetro.gov). I like the wooden box version, but there are also directions for a plastic bin that looks easier to construct.

I'm considering a switch from outdoor aerobic composting of our food scraps to an indoor worm bin. Any pointers on how to get it started? I have a bunch of worms chomping on the compost in my garden. Can I use those worms in the worm bin or do I have to order some red worms instead? Thanks for your help!
Jay Jay
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Red worms survive the best, and you should be able to get red wrigglers at a local bait shop. Pretty cheap that way!
You could try your resident garden worms, but supposedly they don't handle the intense composting environment very well. I had no trouble getting wrigglers locally so didn't try our locals (never see them!).
Sandra Sandra
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Thanks for the info, Jay. I'll have to search around for a nearby bait shop. Another thing I've wondered about with worm composting is how do you control the population of worms you're feeding? Do they multiply quickly? What do you do with the excess? Thanks again:)
Jay Jay
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My understanding is that they kind of self regulate their population. The only time we "seemed" to have too many were my frankenworms. Have no idea how fast they multiply, but would start with less than you think you need.
Hope you can find some locally!
Jessica Jessica
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I live in Minneapolis, MN and I would very much like to start composting, but I'm not sure what type will be best for my family.  We have very cold winters and a small backyard which I think will limit the amount of use I would get out of an outdoor compost bin.  I've been trying to do some internet research on worm compost bins, but I'm hearing mixed reviews.  For those of you that have them, does it seem worth it?  Are you able to compost a good deal of your solid waste?  Also, what's the best bin to get?  I would like to have one that is not too labor-intensive so it will be easy to maintain.  I keep reading about "The Worm Factory" but again, I hear mixed reviews and it's pretty expensive to just take a chance on.  Any thoughts would be appreciated.  Thanks!
Jay Jay
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This post was updated on .
Could you set something up in a basement or closet? Might find some helpful info among the porch composting posts.
As to personal experiences, maybe others will answer. It worked for us, but we stopped when our city started picking up compostables, and we didn't need the mulch.
Jessica Jessica
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Yes, I was planning on keeping it in my basement I'm just not sure if it's worth it because I've heard they can't handle very much waste and can be tricky to maintain.  I'll check out that link, though, thanks!
Jay Jay
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yes, there are definitely limits to what and how much they can digest. How much is partially dependent on the size of your box since worms tend to self regulate their numbers. A possible issue with it being inside are fruit flies, whose eggs are present in many fruit skins. The worms can also be pretty picky eaters, and having to dig out partially digested goo isn't very exciting. You shouldn't give them meat, fish or dairy, so separating your food scraps may be a pain. Also, if you don't generate much scrap paper that could pose a problem.
It is more work than tossing in the trash, and, perhaps, passive composting -though I was never fond of having to turn the compost pile.
The pros include the great mulch you can get fairly quickly, and if you have kids, a cool eco-lesson.

Your best advice might actually come from folks in your area. They could tell you about how well passive composting vs vermiculture work there, or if it's practical to do at all. How about local garden shops, any kind of eco-centers, agricultural extension offices (do they still exist?), etc. as a resource?

If you go with a simple homemade design and get worms locally, the initial expense isn't so bad. If you don't like doing it, just kick the worms to the curb [yard] :-) If it seems to be working, then you could invest in a fancier version.

I assume you don't have curbside pickup of compostables?
KarinSDCA KarinSDCA
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In reply to this post by Jessica
I live in a different climate, but we also have a small yard (townhome). I read up on the topic and spoke with a few people, then decided to do something most people consider "radical". LOL

We compost directly in the ground. I purchased the worms because our area was devoid of any worms. I put some in a plastic container with a lid (poked holes in it) for the indoor bin for educational purposes and then put the rest outside in our two garden patches (small and tiny). We kept up the plastic bin until we went on vacation and then we joined those worms with their brothers and sisters outside. It was a great mini environment to see what the worms liked and disliked, how they grew, how they multiplied, various feeding factors, etc. We carried our experiments over to the outside areas and the worms stayed in our yard, so I guess we did okay.

That was 7-8 years ago now. We still compost directly in the ground and the worms are still happy and healthy and our edible plants are prolific. One of the reasons I did it the way I did was because our soil was in such terrible condition and we have such limited room to dig. It is challenging to use a shovel because of the space constraints. The worms have done a FABULOUS job of loosening up our once-hard-packed dirt by burrowing tunnels and depositing their "waste" a little deeper under the surface.

We put the food waste in certain areas and rotate the location. The worms follow the food and we work through the entire space over time. We've experimented with HOW we give the worms our food waste. We tossed it out there for awhile, but learned that could invite critters. We mostly bury it, which is the best, in our experience. We also cover it with cardboard egg cartons, corn husks, newspaper (recycled paper; soy-based ink), or leaves at different intervals. This works well for certain circumstances, such as when you have excess waste or when you want the worms to move to a new area quickly or when you want to build up the soil in a specific area or when you want to combine composting and weed control.

In general, we practice the direct composting in warmer weather and use the produce scraps in different ways in cooler weather. I make bone broth in cooler weather and use the ends/peels/etc of produce. Since it is combined with meat bones, I don't compost it afterwards in our edible space. I have composted it under the generic bushes in the common areas. It takes so long to decompose and the ground is so hard to dig a hole to put it in (lots of wildlife since we live near a canyon; plus we don't want to encourage less savory critters). Slowly, the dirt is getting better in these areas, too. Our "winter" is very mild, so no frozen ground or snow or anything extreme.

From our experiences, the worms speed up the composting process AND they make quicker work of turning hard-packed dirt into usable soil. Direct composting in the ground can be used with or without worms, though. It is very low cost and very low risk. You can't really fail. You are essentially returning nature's "fruit" [and veggies] to her.
NatalieInCA NatalieInCA
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Your posts are always so useful Karin. I started my own compost pile in a far corner of my backyard a few weeks ago (had been city composting for years before that). I tried digging this afternoon after reading your post but there were too many worms (did not buy any, they just came) and I was afraid to hurt them. Soon, I'll dig somewhere else to save space. It is such a brilliant idea. I could fit at least twice as much. I bought a cover - well a $5 black mixing tub that I use as a cover - to prevent rodents and raccoons, there are a lot of racoons here. So far, it is working great! It does not smell at all (DH was worried about that) and it is decomposing really fast.
As a side note, I mix my compost pile every 4-5 days or so, mixing what's there and adding new waste. I first got ants attacking the pile, a lot of ants, then slugs and centipedes. Now I have black beetles. I was desperate to see worms, and was about to buy some. So thank you, the worms are there, just in the ground, working on the bottom of the pile without me really seeing it. :)
KarinSDCA KarinSDCA
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Happy to help! Good luck with your adventures, Natalie!
brianr brianr
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