Want worms in your kitchen?

I have a dog and a cat. Both are lovable, sweet, and I can’t imagine life without them, but as productivity goes, I wouldn’t describe them as workhorses. Compared to the labors of the yeasts and lactobacilli I routinely encourage in my labors, or the bees in the yard, my furry friends are slouches.

You want to invite a real powerhouse into your kitchen? Red worms will not only devour your vegetable scraps on-site, but they’ll produce one of the most potent garden amendments you’re likely to find. Worm castings, well diluted in water (like, 20 parts water to 1 part casting) provide a rich nutrient source for plants that gardeners swear by. And the speedy composting of your kitchen scraps provides you with a hearty top dressing for containers or beds.

Here’s a photo essay on constructing a vermicomposter (“vermi” means worm) for the kitchen, or outdoors in a shady location not subject to extreme temperatures.

To begin with, two 5-gallon buckets, which will nest inside each other.

Not a showerhead. This is the inside of the composting bucket after drilling out many, many small holes. This is both for drainage and aeration,

A layer of burlap covers the drainage holes, then a couple of inches of shredded newspaper provide a fluffy bedding material. Be sure to moisten the newspaper.

This is what is known as "well rotted manure." I bought a few bags of horse and goat manure a year ago and had some of the horse manure left over. Interestingly, it had a healthy community of worms chewing away when I poured some into the bucket. I mixed the newspaper into this layer.

Nest! At this point there's a healthy and fertile bed for the worms, so put your composter into the solid bucket to catch drippings and go find worms. They can be had at bait shops (Red Wrigglers are the best type) or they can be harvested from existing compost piles, or even underneath containers or mulches outside. The downside of finding them yourself is that you'll start with few worms. A pound is recommended.

Throw in some scraps. Chop them more finely than shown here, and avoid citrus and alliums (onions, garlic). Worms love coffee and tea, and they'll easily digest filters and bags, so here's your new morning stop. Don't overdo on the scraps right away. The worms need some time to get acclimated.

And from there, put on a lid with a ventilation hole drilled into it. For the moment, I’m just using the remainder of the burlap sack I used as the bottom layer, but it’ll be warm enough for fruit flies in no time, and I’ll switch to a real lid.

There you go – happy composting!

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