Updated: Apr 7
I recommend worm composting if you want to make great compost in your small urban space.
There are tons of benefits from the compost you get from worm castings. From increasing the nutrient density in your compost as well as beneficial microbes. Worm castings are considered the gold standard for growing plants. Please read the article here: Benefits of Black Gold in Your Garden (Worm Castings)
Currently, I have a worm composting bin on my balcony. And in the past, I kept a small worm box in my room. So I know it can be done successfully both ways.
What is Worm Composting?
Worm composting is also known as vermicompost and for this kind of compost you need a specialised kind of earthworm not just any earthworm found in your garden. They are scientifically called Eisenia fetida and commonly known as red wigglers.
This kind of earthworm will eat organic dead material and it will poop out highly nutritional soil filled with beneficial, bacteria and added nutrition from the worm itself (calcium carbonate). It's as close as you can get to rich natural soil.
What you'll need
Worm bin: I bought a tiered worm bin off amazon which came with the worms included. It works perfectly. As you fill the bottom tray up you add another on top and the worms migrate from the bottom tiers when there is no more food available. Click here is the one I bought from Amazon
Bedding: If you follow this blog you'll know I buy hay for making mushrooms and I use this for worm bedding also. Hay mimics the natural environment the best, because its dried vegetation, that would easily be available on a forest floor.
Before that, I used cut-up newspaper and cardboard. The worms eat the newspaper when there's no other food available and I noticed the worms love to hang out in the cardboard, eating that too.
Soil: Regular coconut coir is brilliant as it's cheap and easy to get on amazon. The worms will act like a conveyor belt eating through this and pooping it out. The end product of this is worm castings, which are almost black and rich compared to the brown coconut coir you start with.
Food: Worms will happily eat your kitchen waste or garden waste and turn them into worm castings. However, you should be careful to feed your worms things that they can tolerate are anything except for fish, meat, citrus, acidic and highly processed food.
Worm farm tips
Don't overfeed your worm farm otherwise, the bin will give off a bad smell. Worm compost doesn't smell, so when something's wrong, the smell is like rotting food. If this happens, cover the rotting food with more soil or take it out.
Don't let food over spoil in your kitchen otherwise it will have gone too acidic. I once left a mango out, I knew it had started to go bad, but I didn't realise how bad it was until I picked it up and turned it around and it smelled like fermented alcohol coming off it. I added it to the worm bin thinking that the worms would love it, instead, they avoided it like the plague. The mango attracted white mites, which I hadn't seen in the bin before. I learned that white mites love acidic conditions. Long story short, the alcohol was a sign that bacteria had taken over and the alcohol smell was their by-product, making it too far gone for the worms to eat.
If you underfeed your worms they will die and try to escape. If you see worms crawling at the sides of the bin and poking their noses at the exit points, they might be trying to escape and look for food. If this happens add food or check for uneaten food as per my point above about overly rotten food. Don't worry because even if your worms die, their bodies turn into compost very quickly and their eggs will lay dormant in the bin until you begin feeding your worm bin once more.
Don't worry if you have some other guests like mites or springtails in your worm bin. At first, I was mortified by the sight of tiny spider mites in my bin. I was particularly afraid they were going to crawl all over my apartment, but this never happened. The mites and springtails are supposed to be there. They aren't harmful to your worms and they help decompose the waste. I had to get my mind out of the idea of our manicured sterile society when it comes to raw nature. The best thing is that they never leave the bin, that's where the food is, I've never spotted mites or springtails outside the bin.
Settling in process. Your worms are probably going to try and escape when you first get them because they're trying to get used to their environment. Just keep the light on overnight if you have a light on your balcony or if your work bin is indoors. They shy away from the light and it'll prevent them from leaving. The longer you keep them the easier it gets. I almost tried to return my bin after 2 weeks, but I'm glad my husband persuaded me to keep it going. Now I check on them once a week if that. They never try to escape and I've constantly harvested really great fertiliser from them.
They don't need to be watered. I haven't watered my bin in months. And the conditions are moist and perfect in there. I found that by keeping the lid on all the time, the water condenses on the lid and drips back into the worm bin. In the beginning, I would add water and it attracted mites to the worm bin. I stopped seeing mites about a month since I stopped watering the bin.
Can I leave the worm bin for a long vacation?
I have been able to leave my worms in my apartment with a bunch of food for 3 months at a time, returning to find worms alive and with no problems at all. I add a bunch of wet cardboard, as much as the bin can take, and everything in my fridge.
After 3 months I've come back to find a few sheets of cardboard left and worms wriggling away. What a relief!
I hope this helps you with your worm bin. Hit the heart button if you liked this article. Stay tuned for more updates.