Vermicomposting is the process of using certain species of earthworms to break down organic matter into vermicompost and worm castings.
This can be done indoors all year, is can be done with small amounts of material at a time, is odor free and pest free, creates a higher quality product, and many find that it is much faster than regular composting when done correctly.
Hundreds or thousands of these worms can be kept indoors in a small plastic bin. As long as you’re doing things correctly there are no odors, no pests, and no other outward indicators that you are housing a small colony of earthworms.
In ideal conditions these worms can process half their weight in food every day. Their diet can include fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds, paper and cardboard waste, fall leaves and more.
As the food is eaten, your worms will produce worm castings which you can eventually harvest for your garden. In the worm world it really is true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
Worm Composting vs. Regular Composting
Many who are reading this post, though not familiar with worm composting, have some experience with composting in general. Maybe you have a small compost pile out back, or a little compost tumbler. So I thought I would mention some of the unique advantages worm composting has to offer.
I have considerable experience with both types of composting and I will continue to do both. But, for someone who is only composting a few gallons or less of food each week worm composting will be infinitely better than regular composting.
Especially for those of you who have a small compost pile, or a little tumbler composter and don’t actually see any decomposition occur, you will love how much better vermicomposting is!
This is because it is easier to create a clean quality product, it can be done all year, and it allows you to compost small amounts of food at a time.
Regular Composting - Thermal Composting
For those familiar with composting, you would know that compost needs to reach 131-170 degrees fahrenheit in your pile for 1-3 days within 24 hours of turning it - which you need to do at least twice depending on your state’s requirements.
If this is not done, there can be no assurance that your compost is free of disease causing pathogens, parasites, or pests.
In order to reach these temperatures, you need to have thermal mass - at least a cubic yard of material, or about 200 gallons to reach that heat, or to start to actually see rapid decomposition occur (which is why you're probably not seeing much decomposition if you're using a tumbler).
And of those 200 gallons you are likely going to need to use some manure to get the pile hot enough.
And unless you have some machinery you have to turn all 200 gallons by hand.
I could go on about the trials of thermal composting from personal experience. Making sure no maggots survive in your pile, managing your pile to inhibit odors etc..
So if you aren’t planning on composting 200 gallons of material at a time and gaining the expertise on how to do that properly - which might take multiple attempts - you are going to have a hard time producing a sanitary compost.
So the following considerations are, again, for someone who is not going to be composting 200 gallons at a time. I would personally switch to thermal composting if I were somewhere around the 50+ gallons per week area - depending on the material.
But, if you’re just looking to compost your home food scraps you’re probably looking at only a gallon or two a week and worm composting is definitely the way to go.
Clean Quality Product
Both thermal composting and vermicompost need to be clean and sanitary. Regular composting is sanitized by temperatures between 131 and 170 degrees fahrenheit. This is different from worm composting because worms will start to die at temperatures above 90 degrees.
Not even mentioning the superior nutrient and biological qualities of worm castings, this means as long as you don’t have any anaerobic pockets (places where you’ve mismanaged your bin and worms don’t want to go) in your bin, you have a product that is free from parasites and plant and human diseases.
Nature needed to hire a professional composter, and created the humble worm.
Accomplished All Year
Again, thermal compost requires heat. Though thermal composting can be done in the winter (I have thermally composted in December in Cache Valley), it just makes all the normal difficulties of thermal composting even harder.
You will need more mass (250+ gallons) and “hotter” materials (often manures) to keep your pile at the appropriate temperatures.
But, assuming you’re a smaller scale composter and can worm compost indoors (or in the garage), you don’t have to worry about temperatures.
Small amounts of food at a time
If you are composting without worms, you need at least 200 gallons of material at a time. You can save up your food waste until you hit 200 gallons, but if that’s going to take more than a couple weeks you can imagine the mess you’ll have in that time.
Because you don’t need to worry about thermal mass to create a clean quality product you can feed your worms as little as you want as frequent as you want. With worm composting, its as easy as eating a banana, or apple, and then tossing the waste and then using your worm bin instead of the trash can.
After you have started your worm bin, if you have any questions feel free to get in contact with me. I am more than happy to talk about worms and all things composting. Many answers will eventually be posted in the data base here as well.