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Vermicomposting, or worm composting, involves the use of redworms (Eisenis fetida or Lumbricus rubellus) to consume organic material either in specially designed worm boxes, or in large-scale, outdoor compost piles. Redworms prefer a dark, cool, well-aerated space, and thrive on moist bedding such as shredded newspaper. Kitchen food scraps are placed in worm boxes and are consumed by the worms. Worm castings are left in their place, which can be used like finished compost to grow plants. Vermicomposting is popular among children who like to watch the worms, and among adults who prefer the convenience of being able to make compost under their kitchen counter or in a household closet.

Although vermicomposting involves microorganisms as well as earthworms, it is not the same as thermophilic composting. The hot stage of thermophilic composting will drive away all earthworms from the hot area of the compost pile. However, they will migrate back in after the compost cools down. Earthworms are reported to actually eat root-feeding nematodes, pathogenic bacteria, and fungi, as well as small weed seeds.93

When thermophilic compost is piled on the bare earth, a large surface area is available for natural earthworms to migrate in and out of the compost pile. Properly prepared thermophilic compost situated on bare earth should require no addition of earthworms, as they will naturally migrate into the compost when it best suits them. My compost is so full of natural earthworms at certain stages in its development that, when dug into, it looks like spaghetti. These worms are occasionally harvested and transformed into fish. This is a process which converts compost directly into protein, but which requires a fishing rod, a hook, and lots of patience.

Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing, PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.

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weblife.org | library | Humanure Handbook | Chapter 3: Vermicomposting