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How to Compost with Worms and Troubleshoot Vermicomposting Problems

Learning to Vermicompost with The Green Mama and The Urban Worm Factory

Once my worms appeared to be getting acclimated to their new home, their Houndini-like escapades of the first few days mostly ceased. Sure, I’d occasionally find a stray worm on the basement floor, but they mostly seemed to be settling in. I then began feeding them a few times a week, a mixture of roughly half kitchen scraps and half shredded newspaper (by volume, not by weight).  As you might suspect, my kids were happy to help shred the paper into small pieces. I’d open the lid, remove the layers of moist newspaper, dump in the food scraps, cover with the paper, and then replace the moist newspaper and lid.

Easy peasy, huh? I did, however, encounter a few small bumps while creating a feeding rhythm. Luckily, troubleshooting was pretty easy (and some was just good ol’ common sense), and here are some of the most important things I incorporated to keep my bin running smoothly:

  • TOO DRY: before my bin got truly established, the mixture was always dry. The worms appeared to be fine, but the layers of newspaper under the lid did not stay damp. To easily regulate moisture in the bin, I kept a small spray bottle of water handy, and spritzed the newspaper after replacing it and before closing the lid.
  • TOO MOIST: confession: I love coffee. Big time. Every day, I would add coffee grinds to the compost bowl on the kitchen counter, and these would go straight to the bin. And as it turns out, a bowl full of coffee grounds contains a god deal more water than, say, a bowl of carrot peelings. After a while, I was noticing that the bin had gone from dry to moist to slightly soggy. The solution? Up the ratio of paper to food at feeding time. All that shredded paper helped soak up the excess liquid.
  • OVERFEEDING: I cook every day for my family of five, and we try to eat whole foods, which generates a lot of food scraps – banana peels, kale stems, egg shells, it adds up. And is, apparently, more than our initial one pound of worms could easily process. Until your system really cranks into high gear (particularly after your worms multiply), it is common for supply to outpace demand and to overfeed your worms. To look for signs of overfeeding, make sure your worms are actively engaged in the food you added previously. Are they crawling all through it? If they haven’t touched it yet, you could be overfeeding them and the food will start to go anaerobic and smell bad. And while some mold is no cause for concern, excess mold will indicate that the system is out of balance and you should scale back on feedings. I decreased feedings to a few handfuls of food once a week, and kept excess scraps in a container in the freezer.
  • FRUIT FLIES: I had read that fruit flies in the bin weren’t uncommon, but as I settled into managing my bin, I began to pat myself on the back for avoiding this. Sure, I had one or two here and there…. And bam. Just like that, about three months in, they came. A bona fide infestation. It really wasn’t as bothersome as it sounds, but to help you avoid it all together, here is what I learned:
    • Preventative Maintenance: when it comes to introducing scraps into your bin, the smaller the better. Small scraps will get processed more quickly, precluding the eggs from hatching. Plus, the faster processing time will help if you have also been overfeeding. Boiling and microwaving fruits and veggies beforehand works as well, as it will kill the fruit fly eggs.
    • Getting rid of them: our Worm Factory lived in the basement playroom (a great conversation starter for 5-year-old boys!) and since the flies tend not to go far, it was a cinch to vacuum them right up off the walls. You can only imagine how cool this was to my children. They also enjoyed setting up traps with a glass of apple cider vinegar, as detailed here.

Between the tricks for managing fruit flies and a few tweaks to our feeding schedule and amount, I was able to easily regain a healthy balance in my bin. Next: from apple cores to black gold in three months – harvesting the finished product!

Photos and review by Green Mama contributor Renee Bosman, read more.

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