Cathy's Crawly Composters

(Frequently Asked Questions)

What is vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is simply composting with specialty worms known as red wigglers. The worms breakdown food scraps into nutrient rich compost.

What are the benefits of vermicomposting?

  • A simple process; very little training is required.
  • Low start-up cost. You can often use existing equipment and available space.
  • No turning, no unpleasant odours. The worms do all the processing, naturally.
  • Can be used indoor year round. Perfect for apartments, condominiums or schools.
  • The resulting vermicompost, or worm cast is rich in nutrients. It is more valuable to farmers, landscapers, and home gardeners than raw manure or traditional compost. Worm castings conserves moisture and improves soil conditions. Enhances growth and yields. Your plants, gardens and lawn will love you.
  • Reduces dependence on chemical additives. Natural worm castings are safe to use on your lawn and gardens and will not harm your pets or young'un's.
  • Removes organic matter from the waste stream. Household waste can be reduced by up to 40 percent!

Does it smell?
Vermicomposting is an aerobic process which means with oxygen. A properly managed worm bin will not have an offensive odour. If there is a bad odour, it is usually an indication of anaerobic (lack of oxygen) conditions. Often this is the result of over feeding the worms. Having too much food in your worm bin can push the air out. Simply remove any large pieces of food that the worms haven't go to yet. Gently "fluff" the bedding to increase air circulation. A bad ordour may also occur if the worm bin is too wet.

What is the optimum temperature?
16-28 Celsius (C) or 60-80 Fahrenheit (F).

What about rodents & bugs?
Vermicomposting is usually done indoors, so rodents are not an issue. A properly managed worm bin will not create odours that attract rodents.

How do you control fruit flies?
Fruit flies can be an annoying if not managed properly. Fruit flies are attracted to exposed fruit in a worm bin. The first defense against these critters is to make sure all food stuffs are buried under the bedding. The worms will eat the bedding, so if you are having a hard time burying you food simply add some more shredded paper on top.
If you already have a bad infestation, you can use a vacuum to suck up any flies (be sure to empty vacuum bag right away or the flies will make there way out again). Then remove the top inch or two of the bedding. This will get rid of any fruit fly eggs that have been deposited in you bin.
Here is a great link to a Wiki page on how to get rid of fruit flies:

How much can worms eat?
Generally speaking, 2 lbs. of red wigglers will recycle 1 lb. of organic matter in 24 hours. Worms can consume their weight daily - they eat half bedding (carbon) and half food scraps (nitrogen).

How do worms reproduce?
Worms are hermaphrodites meaning they have both male & female parts. It still takes 2 worms to mate, both worms produce a cocoon. Each cocoon or egg contains up to 20 babies (average 5 or 6).

How long do worms live?
Worms can live up to 10 years! However, in the wild where there are many predators the average lifespan for a worm is 1 - 2 years.

What if you have too many worms?
Worms will regulate their population to suit the environment (similar to wolves). If there is not enough food, the adults die off to make room for the babies.

If you cut a worm in half, what really happens?
If you cut a worm in half, you have a dead worm cut in half. Worms have 5 hearts located close to the head. If they are cut in half blood cannot get to rest of the body.

Can worms see?
No worms don't have eyes. However, they are very sensitive to light, and try to hide as soon as they are exposed to light.

Do worms have teeth?
Worms do not have teeth and cannot chew their food. They grind their food in their gizzard using muscle action and small bits of soil.

What do red wiggler worms eat?
If it grew, the worms can likely eat it. Red wigglers eat most things organic including fruit/veggie scraps, bread, coffee grounds/filters, tea bags, grains, plant trimmings, paper, leaves, etc.

What should not be fed to red wigglers?
Avoid pet waste, meat, dairy and extremely hot and heavily spiced foods. Do not feed them metals, foils, plastics, chemicals, oils, solvents, insecticides, soaps, paint, etc.

How do you feed red wigglers?
Simply pull back the bedding, add chopped up food scraps in the divot. Be sure to cover food scraps with bedding. Bury food scraps in a different location each time.

Do worms need air?
Worms require oxygen to survive. The oxygen is absorbed through their skin. A constant supply of fresh air is needed by the worms. So make sure your worm bin has plenty of air holes.

How to use worm compost/castings?
Castings can be used immediately, or stored for future use. The castings can be added directly or mixed with potting or garden soil as a soil amendment. Castings make nutrients available to plants. Castings can be used as a top dressing for indoor or outdoor plants.
"Compost tea" can be made with castings. Simply add 1-2" of castings to your watering can or rain barrel. Allow castings and water to "steep" for a day or two, mixing occasionally. Water plants as usual. The resulting "tea" helps make nutrients already in the soil available to plants.

How many worms do you recommend starting out with?
When deciding how many worms to purchase, use the 2:1 ratio. (Two pounds of worms for every pound of kitchen waste produced per day). To determine the amount of worms required, it is recommended that the organic scraps be collected and weighed for a week or two.

What is the bedding material?
Typical bedding materials used are: Shredded paper and cardboard, shredded leaves, peat moss, wood shavings or chips, chopped straw or hay, sawdust (avoid cedar and woods that have been stained or painted). The bedding provides the carbon worms require.

Where do I keep my worm bin?
Any where you wish. Some people keep it in the basement, some prefer the convenience of keeping it in the kitchen. Still others choose a closet. The worms are happy wherever they live. The worms prefer dark and quiet conditions so you may want to avoid bright light, vibration and excessive noise.

Can my worm bin be kept outside?
Yes your worm bin can be kept outside in the Spring, Summer and Fall. However, it must be brought inside for the winter (This applies to Canada and northern United States).

How do I harvest the vermicompost?
Harvesting the vermicompost can be done several ways, but the most popular two are "Dump and Sort" and "Side to Side Harvesting."

Dump and Sort is done by first preparing new bedding. Then, the old bin material is turned onto a large sheet of plastic and placed in pyramid shaped piles under a bright light. Since the worms are photosensitive, they burrow away from the light. The top of each pile can be scraped away. Repeat this process until most of the vermicompost has been harvested.

Side to Side Harvesting is accomplished by only feeding the worms on one side of the bin for a few weeks. The worms will all migrate to that side. Then harvest the vermicompost from the unoccupied side of the bin. Put new bedding in the harvested side and feed the worms only on that side for a few weeks. The worms will then migrate to the new side so the remaining vermicompost in the other side can be retrieved.

How often do I harvest the castings?
The vermicomposting process takes three to six months. Two to four times annually. This depends a lot on how much you feed your worms and how many worms you have.

What problems might occur?
Some problems that can occur are odour, fruit flies or other pests, bedding drying out, and water collecting in the bottom of the bin. These problems can be easily avoided. There will be no odour or pests, if food is properly buried. In a plastic bin it is rare that the bedding dries out. If your bin is drying out, simply add non-clorinated water (let tap water sit for 12 - 24 hours before adding to worm bin). If the worm bin is too wet and water has collected at the bottom, use a turkey baster to suck up the excess moister. Add fresh shredded paper.

Can the worms escape?
Yes - However, as long as the conditions are correct in the bedding, the worms will not try to escape. Worms breath through their skin, so if the conditions become too acidic, the worms will burn and may try to escape. Add some agricultural lime or crushed egg shells weekly to avoid acidic bedding. Worms need a moist environment, if they do leave the bin, they will dry out and die right outside the bin, usually within a foot or two.

What if I go away on vacation?
Have a nice trip. The worms can stay home alone for 2-3 weeks. Longer than 3 weeks, they start to get restless, start having wild parties and generally cause havoc in the neighbourhood. If you are going to be away longer than 3 weeks consider a worm sitter.

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