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Small-Scale

Vermicomposting
Rhonda Sherman
Biological & Agricultural Engineering
What is Vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is a process
that relies on earthworms and
microorganisms to help
stabilize active organic
materials and convert them to a
valuable soil amendment and
source of plant nutrients
Why is Vermicompost a Good
Soil Amendment?
• Teeming with beneficial microorganisms and
enzymes
• Improves soil structure
• Reduces erosion
• Increases soil porosity
• Holds moisture
• Improves pH of acidic soil
Vermicompost Effects on Plant Growth,
Disease & Pest Suppression

• Increases in: Germination, Growth,


Flowering, Crop Yields

• Earthworm castings contain plant growth hormones

• Vermicompost can decrease attacks by insects, plant


pathogens, parasitic nematodes
Turnips Grown at NCSU with
0%, 10%, 20% Vermicompost
Why Vermicompost Food Scraps?
• Keep garbage from getting smelly and
attracting pests

• Reduce impacts of landfills


– Largest human-related source of methane in USA (34% of all
methane emissions) (http://www.epa.gov/methane/sources.html 2006)

• Save water, electricity, and money by not using kitchen


sink garbage disposals

• Produce a free, high-quality soil amendment


How Do I Vermicompost At Home?

• Determine bin size


• Build or buy a bin
• Prepare bedding
• Add worms
• Bury food scraps
• Harvest and use compost
What Type of Worm Bin?
• Wooden or plastic bin with lid
• Buy one or make your own

Dark color, not clear!


Drill Holes for Air and Drainage
• Air : around upper sides of bin
• Air options
– One hole on each end (3-inch holes)
• Use 3-inch hole saw
• Insert soffet vents
– Four holes on each wide side (1-inch holes)
• Glue hardware cloth inside bin to cover holes
• Or leave holes open
– A bunch of tiny holes all the way around
• Drainage: six holes on bottom (1/4-inch)
Do not drill holes in lid
Where Do I Put My Worm Bin?
• At home:
– Garage or carport
– Back porch or deck
– Kitchen or basement
– Closet
– Bathroom
– Apartment balcony
• Where you work:
– Lunch or break room
– In your office
What Do I Put in the Bin?
• Moist Bedding
– Shredded newspapers
– Shredded leaves
– Shredded cardboard

• Handful of Soil
How Do I Prepare the Bedding?
• Moisten bedding:
– Soak in water 15 minutes
– Wring out like sponge
– Fluff up before placing in bin

• Fill bin half way

• Add more as it disappears

• Keep bedding moist


– Spritz with plant mister
Add Worms
• Use Eisenia fetida (Red Wigglers)
• Do not get from your yard or bait shop
• More than 4,000 species of worms—get the right one!
• Buy from a worm grower
– Go to http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/people/faculty/sherman
– Click on “Vermicomposting”
– Click on “Directory of Vermiculture Resources
– Prices vary widely, so check around
How Many Worms Do I Need?
• Worms consume ~half their weight daily
• So, 1 pound of worms eats ~½ lb food a day
• ~1,000 worms to a pound (Eisenia fetida)
• Do not start with less than 1 pound of worms
• Best to start with 2 pounds of worms
What Do I Feed the Worms?
• Vegetables
• Fruit
• Coffee grounds & filters
• Tea bags & leaves
• Leftovers
Where Do I Store Food Scraps?

OR

Kitchen Scrap Carrier


What Should I NOT Feed Worms?
• Meat
• Grease
• Bones
• Citrus
• Dairy products
• Cat or dog feces
How Do I Feed the Worms?

Dig hole in bedding


• Use 3-prong tool
• Put food in hole,
cover with bedding
• Cover well to prevent
fruit flies and odor
• Rotate burial of food
scraps
Do not overfeed!
What Do I Need to Be
Careful About?

• Temperature: 55-83 F (60-70 ideal)


• Moisture: 60-85% (80% ideal)
• Aeration: Keep bin aerobic
• pH: 7.0 best

What else?
- Don’t overfeed
- Cover food
How Do I Harvest the Castings?
Method #1: Light Separation

• Empty bin onto large plastic sheet


• On sunny day or under strong light
• Wait 10 minutes, scrape off top layer
• Remove more vermicompost every 10 minutes
• Return worms to bin with fresh bedding
How Else Can I Harvest Castings?
Method #2: Sideways Separation

• Feed worms on one side of bin for several weeks


– Most worms will migrate to that side
• Harvest the side you haven’t been feeding
• Add fresh bedding to empty side
• Feed only that side for several weeks, then
harvest other side
How Else Can I Harvest Castings?
Method #3: Vertical Separation
Interested in Worm Farming?
NCSU’s 9th Annual Vermiculture Conference
June 4 – 5, 2009
– Vermicomposting technologies
– Benefits & uses of vermicompost
– Vermicompost research studies
– Marketing products
– Testing vermicompost, soil and feedstocks
– Brewing and using vermicompost tea
– Class A stabilization of biosolids by vermicomposting
http://www.bae.ncsu.edu/workshops/worms09/index.htm
Slide Set Prepared by:
Rhonda Sherman
Biological & Agricultural Engineering
North Carolina State University
Box 7625, Raleigh, NC 27695-7625
Phone: 919.515.6770
Fax: 919.515.6772
E-mail: rhonda_sherman@ncsu.edu
www.bae.ncsu.edu/people/faculty/sherman
What Will Earthworms Eat?

– Kitchen scraps & plate


scrapings
– Animal manure
– Agricultural crop residues
– Yard trimmings
– Scrap paper
– Organic byproducts from
industries
– Sewage sludge
Vermicompost Application Rates
• Established plants: Add 2T per quart potting mix
around base of plant, water in. Repeat every 2-4 wks
• Seedling establishment: Combine 1 part castings
with 4 parts potting media
• Transplants small containers: add ½ cup to hole
prior to planting; larger plants, shrubs, trees: 1-2
cups prior to planting
• Lawn and turf established: 7 lbs/100 sq ft;
new: 10 lbs/100 sq ft
Source: RT Solutions
E. fetida Reproductive Rate
• Time to sexual maturity: ~85-150 days
– 2.8 months to 5 months
• Average number of young per egg: ~3
• Time to emerge from cocoon: ~30–75 days
– 1 to 2.5 months
• Reproductive rate: ~10 young per worm per week
What Type of Earthworms Are
Used for Vermicomposting?
• More than 4,000 species of earthworms
• Only six species used for vermicomposting worldwide
• Eisenia fetida (Red Wigglers) are most commonly used
• Epigeic species found in upper topsoil where feed on
decaying matter
– Anecic: vertical burrows
– Endogeic: horizontal
Effects of Vermicomposts on Mealy Bug
Infestations on Peppers

Source: N. Arancon, Ohio State University


Plant Parasitic Nematode Populations