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Worms at Work, Recycling Food Waste

Posted by Nina Bhattacharyya, USDA Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production in Conservation Farming Initiatives
May 04, 2022
Food waste in soil with a worm and a red shovel

Did you know that worms can recycle your food scraps? Vermicomposting, or worm composting, turns food scraps into a beneficial soil amendment that can be used in home gardens, landscaping, turfgrass, farms and more. Over one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste. Composting keeps food waste out of landfills where it decomposes and releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Start vermicomposting by following these easy steps from North Carolina State University Extension:

  1. Select Container: Make your own bin from plastic or wood storage containers or purchase one. Worm bins require holes for aeration and drainage.
  2. Bin Location: The temperature inside a worm bin should be 59-77 degrees F. The bin can be kept indoors or outdoors in the shade. During colder months, insulate an outdoor bin with blankets, straw, or other material to keep it warm.
  3. Worm Bin Setup:
  • Create a bedding of shredded paper (black and white newspaper, non-glossy office paper, paper bags, or cardboard) or dried leaves. Soak the material for ten minutes, wring out excess water, and place it in the bin with a handful of soil.
  • Add at least one pound of worms to your bin. There are over 9,000 species of earthworms, but only seven are suitable for vermicomposting. Red wigglers, which you can buy from a worm grower, are recommended. Do not use worms from a bait shop or your garden since they will not thrive in your bin.
  • Feed your worms vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, and crushed eggshells. Avoid meat, fish, dairy products, citrus, twigs, and branches.
  • Harvest your vermicompost after about four months and use it immediately or store it for later use. Learn three different methods to harvest your vermicompost.

Households, schools, businesses, farms, and municipalities can all vermicompost. Visit the USDA Food Loss and Waste website for overall composting resources and learn about the USDA Composting and Food Waste Reduction pilot program.

Category/Topic: Conservation Farming Initiatives