You are already composting your waste in aerobic method. As the logical next step meant to use the home-made compost, you have set up an organic vegetable garden. By now you are addicted to the fun of growing, eating, composting and re-growing. You want to maximise the yield, but don’t want to spend on it. You have heard vermicompost is good for plants, but when you check the price for curiosity, here is how it looks.
- On ebay, people sell a kg of vermicompost for 150 rupees! Sometimes it is even more – Rs 150 for 500 grams!
- In some organic garden shops, you will find vermicompost for Rs 40-50 per kg. Some retail organic shops sell it for Rs 12-15.
- In government/ public organisations like GKVK and KCDC, you will get it for anywhere between Rs 8 to Rs 12 depending upon the quantity you purchase.
Having seen the price, you also want to make sure the quality is good. Quality depends upon the process and the type of food fed for the worms. You will not be able to ensure the vermicompost you buy is of good quality. So, easiest way is to prepare it yourself. And, it is not a rocket science! Here is the guide on how to start vermicomposting.
What do you need to start composting with worms?
- You need worms.
- You need worm bin (container for worms)
- You need waste to feed them, which obviously you don’t have to go searching.
How to prepare the container and bedding for worms:
1. Shred some cardboard into pieces. Say 200-250 grams.
2. Collect some cow dung from somewhere. Say 100-150 grams.
3. Keep both of them soaked together for 24 hours.
4. Take them out the next day or day after. Squeeze them lightly so that the moisture is not less, not excess too.
5. Leave it for maturing in a pot/paint bucket.
How to prepare your worm bin / container:
1. The container should have holes / room for aeration to stop rotting of the food and aid aerobial decomposition.
2. It should be shallow in order to avoid deep clutter that suffocates worms.
3. It should have lid, to stop rats/ bandicoots or other pests from entering the container. Because they all love worms.
4. There should not be any way for house flies or mosquitoes to get in and start breeding. I used plastic mesh to cover the upper lid of veg basket.
Ready worm bins:
1. Syntex worm bin. (2.3k) Has lid, drainage holes, sturdy, has a separator wall between two units (horizontal), enough perforations, easy to harvest and maintain. This can be kept indoors once you learn to maintain right moisture.
This is not available anywhere in Bangalore city – you have to go to Electronic City to buy it. The manufacturers are:
#4/1,GROUND fLOOR, Bommanahalli Industrial Area,
Opp: Indian Overseas Bank, Begur Road,
Bangalore – 560 068.
PH: 080-41316137 /65681827. Fax: 080-41316137.
MoB: + 91 98451 78002
E- Mail: email@example.com
2. Bhoomi Butti
Price: Around Rs 5000 for 17 inch; Rs 4000 for 14 inch).
This comes with a tray for pre-mixing food waste with compost. It also has a chopper to break down waste further. This also has two units (vertical), and worms move to upper part to the fresh food through a separator. This can be kept indoors without any stench or pests. This is designed by enthusiastic social entrepeneurs who want to design better systems of waste management.
Do it yourself!
There are many guides available in youtube and on the Internet on preparing low cost worm bins. I modified a veg basket by lining 3/4th of it both inside and outside with black plastic cover. Remaining 1/4 part was covered with waste cloth, to ensure aeration, at the same time to stop insects from entering into it.
I used plastic mesh to cover the upper lid of veg basket. This cost me Rs 300 rupees for entire set up. I also drilled a drainage hole beneath the container for emergency seepage.
I see no seepage these days. However I have kept a sponge piece on which I place the bin as precautionary measure. The plastic lining I have stuck is coming out, after two months of composting. I need to change the lining to some other material after the harvest. I also plan to either go for one of the ready bins or prepare another bin myself.
You can also simply use Daily Dump Leave-it pots if you are sure you can take care of it properly.
Where are the worms available?
Any person who prepares vermicompost himself/ herself can share a few worms with you if they have extra. Organic Terrace Gardening Facebook group has many such people.
You can also get worms from Here are some places where worms are sold. They are priced anywhere between Rs 500 – Rs 800.
1. Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra (GKVK)
University of Agricultural Sciences,
Gandhi Krishi Vignan Kendra,
Bangalore – 560 065.
2. Karnataka Composting Development Corporation (KCDC)
HSR Layout, Near Kudlu Main Road,
Madiwala Post, Bangalore – 560 068
Phone : 080-25730649/25732265
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Website : www.kcdc.in
3. Navya Disha Trust
Avalahalli, Anjanapura Post,
JP Nagar 9th Phase, Bangalore.
Bangalore, India 560108
4. Hk Global Enterprises
No. 450, Kalika Nagar,
Andhrahalli Main Road,
Peenya 2nd Stage
Bengaluru – 560058
You can start small – buy less worms (100 grams-150 grams maximum), make them happy and adjusted to your bin and waste. Rest will be taken care of by the nature – worms multiply real fast. Put the new worms into the bin and leave for two-three days till they get settled. Start adding waste from the fourth day.
What worms are these:
I have a combination of various worms – earth worms, red wigglers and bluish worms. Red wigglers are not earth worms – they are composting worms, that generally don’t survive in soil. They want specifically organic waste. They are big too, some are 8-9 inch long.
Earth worms are small and survive in soil. These are naturally available in soil. They are also sold by garden material shops, which are put directly into soil by many gardeners. Such worms need some organic material or fertiliser in soil to survive and multiply. They can also be used in composting.
How do they breed:
They lay yellowish eggs, which become baby worms later. Under optimum temperature and less disturbance, the breeding is excellent. They multiply fast, and soon you will have to find ways to make use of them.
Some points you should know about worms:
- Worms are extremely heat-sensitive, hence the food you put, or the atmosphere inside the bin should never discomfort them. It is advisable to put half-decomposed food that has finished the heating process that happens in composting.
- Worms do not eat compost directly. They feed on the microbes / microbial soup that is produced while decomposing. This is another reason why you should put half-decomposed matter.
- Worms breathe through their skin. So the material you put should be moist. But not wet. If it is wet, worms will die. Not dry too – if the pile is dry worms can’t breathe.
- Worms hate light. They like dark atmosphere. That’s why they are called night crawlers. So you should keep the worm bin in a place that doesn’t receive much light even during day.
- Worms don’t like excess of nitrogen content with no healthy decomposition. They will die if there’s tartaric or citric acid or any other acid.
- Worms eat roughly about their weight daily. So if you have 250 gms of worms you can feed 250 gms or less to the bin in a day.
- Worms can survive without food for 10-12 days. So don’t worry if you did not feed them everyday. When going on break you can prepare excess of half-decomposed material and put it. Or simply bury excess of moist dry leaves into the pile.
- Worms quickly react to uncomfortable situations. They either try to come out, or pile up in one place, or die.
Do’s and don’ts:
- Keep the bin protected from rain, sun, heat.
- Keep the bin out of the reach of rats, bandicoots, lizards and other pests.
- Do not put mixed waste – let the waste be purely organic, with a healthy mix of greens and browns (with carbon and nitrogen.)
- Do not let the pile heat up – avoid putting waste that is not decomposed, in large qualtity.
- Do not spread the fresh waste you introduce. Keep it in a corner or in one place, so that worms will have the option not to touch it they don’t like it.
- Strictly avoid acidic stuff. No onions, garlic, lemon, lime, orange, tamarind, tomato, salty/ spicy cooked food, fresh cow dung or animal waste.
- You an put vegetable peels, green vegetable waste, old soaked cardboard, tea/coffee residue, newspaper pieces, veg peels, matured cow dung, matured waste of herbivorous animals (not fresh any time) rotten melons or apple, garden litter, flowers, old jute bags, organic cotton, egg shells etc.
- Whatever is fresh (not decomposed/ dried) has to be mixed with some compost and kept in a tray or a paint bucket, to aid healthy half-decomposition. Take waste from this and feed to worms every day.
Tea and coffee residue, old jute, cotton, cardboard etc can be fed directly as they contain carbon mostly. Waste that has nitrogen content has to be decomposed.
Daily work after you adjust to the routine:
1. Put your tea / coffee waste directly every day after draining out the milk/ sugar content. Place the strainer with residue under running water for a few seconds, which will clean it and cool it too. If you have the habit of mixing milk and sugar after straining then you can keep it aside till it cools and then put it into worm bin. Sugar content attracts ants which will kill the worms. Milk cream is ok.
2. Chop your daily vegetable peels to bring down the decomposition time. Mix it with some ready compost (vermicompost is better, otherwise regular old compost.) Leave it in a closed tray for two-three days before you introduce it to the worms. You can directly introduce fresh waste in small amounts too, but be prepared to face small insects and flies.
3. Start introducing half-decomposed food waste everyday once you have enough worm population.
3. Check every day to ensure right moisture, no heat and no smell.
- If you notice worms accumulating near the lid or on upper surface you should check to see what’s wrong. Either there’s heat generated. Or excess moisture. Or the atmosphere is acidic or is causing discomfort to them for some reason.
- If the matter is soggy, wih excess of moisture, add lot of unsoaked cardboard pieces. Remove the extra moisture by keeping sponges in key locations to absorb it.
- If the pile is dry, sprinkle little water. The wetness should be just enough to hold the pile together, never more.
When to harvest:
You have to stop feeding worms when the bin is almost full. Turn it once in two days and bring any uneaten stuff to upper half. When you see no more food scraps and the content of the bin is a homogeneous moist black-brown mix, you can harvest it.
How to harvest:
1. Worms are light-sensitive. To harvest the compost, you will have to exploit this nature. You can pour the content of the bin on a paper during daytime in sunlight, spread it and make small heaps of waste here and there. Leave it for an hour or two. Take care to protect this from birds – birds will feed on worms.
Worms will quickly move into these heaps to avoid sunlight. You can put them back into the bin along with the waste in the heap, to retain their familiar atmosphere.
2. You can place a separator between fresh waste and finished waste with worms. Worms will move into fresh food from the done compost.
You can sieve the compost and separate remaining worms to put them carefully back into the fresh waste.
Most important part! Yes.
1. The first benefit is that you get vermicompost that is priceless, because you have put in your time and care into it.
2. Worms can be sold if you don’t want to share them. A price of Rs 500- Rs 800 is not a joke, and will help reimburse your one-time investment. You can tie up with organic shops or GKVK, so that when they need worms they can come to you.
I have done everything except harvesting. There is healthy worm population. I spend maximum five minutes per day on this, sometimes even less, unless I’m showing the earth worms to my kid I don’t let my maid or anyone else handle this – I handle the entire set up myself.
If this looks complex, you can take a step back, decide how you want to go about it, or do you want to do it or not. If you decide to do it, put systems in place, then go for it.
I started it for fun. And it became an addiction! And trust me – it is easy, once you get the hang of it.
Thanks to Vani Murthy for guiding me in every step of vermicomposting when I started off, because of which this write up was possible. Thanks also to countless members of Organic Terrace Gardening facebook who share their knoweldge everyday.