A viable alternative to disposing of food scraps in the landfill or the sewer system is to compost them. The resulting material is a useful addition to gardens and potted plants.
Consider Vermicomposting In vermicomposting, the primary agents of decomposition are worms. They convert raw organic wastes to a nearly stable humus-like material.
The main process by which organic materials are converted occurs as the wastes pass through a worm's gut and are digested by the worm. The most common composting worm species in North America is Eisenia fetida. Common names for this worm include tiger worm, brandling worm, red wiggler, and manure worm.
This worm is a litter dweller; i.e. it likes to live in piles of organic matter such as leaf litter. Earthworms, such as the night crawler, are burrowing worms that live deeper in the earth. They are not composting worms. It is recommended that you purchase Eisenia fetida.
Creating the Correct Environment for Eisenia fetida Successful vermicomposting requires a worm bin that provides the appropriate environmental conditions for worms. Worms breathe through their skin and require an environment that is moist, but not so wet that they drown. The material in which they live should feel like a damp sponge and release a few drops of water when squeezed. Various worm species have different temperature requirements. Eisenia fetida, the one recommended for a composting worm bin, can survive at temperatures between 35° and 100°F but performs best between 65°and 78°F. Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension
Building a Worm Bin You can purchase a worm bin or you can build your own. Two things to consider when selecting a bin design are the amount of food scraps you generate and where the bin will be located. Amount of food scraps will determine the size bin you need, and location will determine whether or not the bin needs to be insulated.
A good rule of thumb for sizing a worm bin is this: you can process one-half pound of food scraps per day for each square foot of worm bin surface area. For example, a bin that is 18 inches by 24 inches (18/12 x 24/12) is 3 square feet in surface area and can process about 10.5 pounds of food a week (3 sq ft x 1/2 lb/ft sq/day x 7 days/week = 10.5 lbs). Worms can survive over a wide range of temperatures, but temperatures below freezing or above 100°F can kill them. If your worm bin will be in a location where the temperature is moderated such as a garage, mudroom, basement, pantry, or under a sink, then you do not need to worry about insulating it. If the bin is to be out doors all winter, it is a good idea to insulate it or bury it in the ground to help prevent it from freezing. A worm bin must be open enough to allow for good aeration. The bin should include a cover to minimize the attraction of fruit flies and other pests, but if a plastic lid is used, be sure and drill holes in it so air can get in. If the bin is inside or in a location where seepage would be a problem, it should include provisions to catch any liquid that might drain through.
Bins can be made of a variety of materials–wood and plastic are common. The simplest way to construct a bin is to purchase a plastic storage container, drill holes in the bottom and lay down a piece of fabric, e.g. nylon, inside the container to prevent the vermicompost from falling through the holes. The container can be placed on top of its lid with the lid turned up to catch any liquid that might seep out through the bin. If you use the lid as a catchment tray, then a piece of cardboard cut to fit directly on the top surface of the bin will make an excellent cover for the bed. If you want to use the original storage container cover for the lid to your worm bin and devise something else to use as the liquid catchment tray, be sure and drill holes in the lid to allow air into the bin. Even if you use the plastic container lid with holes on top of the bin, it is still a good idea to place a piece of cardboard directly on top of the worm bin surface to discourage fruit flies from entering the bin.
Troubleshooting a Worm Bin Foul Odors
A well-functioning worm bin is virtually odorless. Vermicompost has a faint earthy odor. If your bin has a foul odor it is most likely due to one of the following causes:
The bin is too wet. Do not add excessively wet food, such as watermelon rind, squashes, etc., to the bin. Mix in dry bedding and/or leave the top off to increase drying.
Overfeeding. Stop feeding the bin for one to two weeks and see if the problem is solved.
Food is exposed. Try burying the food under a oneinch layer of bedding. Alternatively, you can add moist bedding on top of the feed.
Not enough air. Make sure there are adequate holes in the bin for ventilation. Fluff the bedding or add additional bedding.
Bin Attracts Flies A vermicomposter contains living organisms other than worms. Fruit flies cause the most complaints. To avoid flies, bury the food in the bin and do not over feed it. Keeping the bin covered will also reduce fruit flies.
Bedding Is Drying Out Too much ventilation and/or a hot, dry room can cause a worm bed to dry out. Keep a lid on the vermicomposter and/or add water to the system.
Worms Are Crawling away from the Bin When a worm bin is drastically disturbed, such as at start up or when vermicompost is removed from the bin, it is not unusual for the worms to crawl out. This can be prevented by leaving the bin in a lit area because worms will not crawl into the light. It is unusual for the worms to crawl out of an established bin if the environmental conditions are correct.
Worms Are Dying If the bin smells like dead fish, the worms may be dying. Typically, the bin may be too wet, too dry, too hot, or too cold or it may need more air