Vermicomposting Guide for Teachers
Smart as Poop has extensive experience working with and supporting teachers along their in-class/school vermicomposting journey.
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Worm Factory 360 Overview
How the Worm Factory 360 Works
Determine where you would like to set up and operate your Worm Factory 360.When selecting a location, keep in mind that your assembled Worm Factory 360 will require an 18” x18” footprint, and will stand approximately 3 feet tall once all 4 trays are in use.
Preparing Your Worm Factory 360
Assemble your Worm Factory 360 as per manufacturer’s instructions.
Smart as Poop Pro Tip:
The spigot should be ALWAYS in the OPEN position. This way, excess moisture will be free to drain from your vermicomposter as needed. Place & leave a container under the spigot to serve as a leachate collection bin.
Line the bottom of the tray uniformly and completely with a minimum of 8 sheets of newsprint. Make sure to cover the entire surface of the bottom of the tray.
This will block the holes in the tray and encourage the worms upwards toward their food source rather than having them explore and getting caught down below in the reservoir.
Note: You will only do this wen you are setting up your Worm Factory for the first time. You do not need (or want to) do this when it comes time to add subsequent trays to your composter.
Fill the tray with your prepared bedding material.
Store the remaining 3 trays in a safe place for future use.
What is bedding material?
Your red wigglers will work harder and more efficiently, if, they are provided with an appropriate environment within which to live, called bedding material. Quality bedding material plays an important role in reproduction rates, moisture and odour control. Coconut Coir, a 100% natural and renewable product is an excellent choice for vermicomposting bedding material. Keeping your worms active, hydrated and feeding will ensure a productive and satisfying vermicomposting experience.
Bedding material is comprised of a compact, carbon rich material
Bedding material serves 2 purposes:
1. It is the physical environment that the worms will live in inside of the Worm Factory 360.
2. It serves as a very important source of food for the worms.
How to Prepare the Bedding Material
What you will need:
- 1 pail
- 1 brick of coconut coir
- 1 litre of soil (from outside)
- crushed eggshells (optional)
- 5-6 litres of tap water
- 1 bin for mixing
1. Add approximately 6L of tap water to a pail.
2. Add 1 brick of coconut coir to the water. Allow to the coconut coir to sit undisturbed for approximately 1 hour.
3. Using your hands, mix the contents of the bin, breaking up the now expanded/rehydrated coconut coir until it is a loose texture, and no clumps remain.
4. Add the soil and crushed eggshells to a bin, and mix.
5. Add shredded paper, one handful at a time, and mix.
6. Test the moisture level by squeezing one handful of the coir/paper mixture in your hand. Adjust moisture level by adding water or shredded paper until the desired moisture level is reached. (The desired moisture level is that of a damp sponge, drops of water should be expressed, not streaming water.)
7. Set aside.
Upon receipt of your shipment of red wiggler composting worms:
1. Open the box and remove the package containing the worms.
2) Open the cellophane bag and gently invert it, emptying its’ contents (worms and shipping medium) onto the surface of the bedding material.
3) Leave the compost bin uncovered and worms exposed to an overhead light in the room. (Worms are photophobic, thus leaving a light on them will drive them down into the bedding material.) Allow the worms to find their own way down into the bedding material.
4) Once all of the worms have made their way down into the bedding material, close the lid of the Worm Factory once more.
What kind of worms will you use?
There are many types of earthworms, however, there are few that are suitable for vermicomposting, particularly in containers.
You will add Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) to your Worm Factory 360.
- are native to North America and can be found in the upper nutrient rich actively decomposing layer of the forest floor, manure piles, etc);
- eat half of their body weight in kitchen scraps EACH day!
- are well suited to life in a composter.
Red Wigglers have a very important role in nature. Each day and throughout their lives, red wigglers break down copious amounts of decomposing organic matter.
Life in a Vermicomposter
A vermicomposter, is essentially a mini ecosystem. In addition to the red wigglers, there are a whole host of other microorganisms that will grow, thrive and co-exist with the red wigglers. Provided the basic needs of the inhabitants of the vermicomposter are met, the organisms there in will multiply, thrive, adjust and adapt to changes in their environment (e.g. availability of food and space). Together they will reduce classroom organic waste to vermicompost.
What Your Worms Will Require in Order to Survive and Thrive
- Bedding Material - a mixture of moist shredded paper (carbon) & coconut coir
- Water - source: bedding material & decaying fruit and vegetable matter
- An environment with a neutral pH – This will be accomplished by adding crushed eggshells.
- Food - source: classroom fruit & vegetable waste
What are the nutritional requirements of Red Wigglers?
The red wigglers that you add to your class’ Worm Factory 360 require two different types of food (approximately 50:50).
GREEN matter (Nitrogen):
BROWN matter (Carbon):
source: classroom fruit & vegetable scraps
source: paper in the bedding material
EACH DAY, Red Wigglers Eat
50% of their body weight in CARBON (paper, leaves, etc = BROWN)
50% of their body weight in NITROGEN (food scraps = GREEN)
What to Feed Your Class’ Red Wigglers
While red wigglers will eat ANY decomposing matter, when composting indoors, it is best to follow these simple guidelines.
Classroom waste should be broken down into smaller pieces before feeding it to the worms.
Breaking food scraps down into smaller pieces increases the surface area available for microorganisms to act on, thus accelerating the process of decomposition.
Use scissors to break fruit & vegetable scraps down into smaller pieces.
How Much to Feed Your Class’ Red Wigglers?
Red Wigglers eat half of their body weight in kitchen scraps each day.
You added 1 pound of red wigglers to the Worm Factory 360, therefore, you can feed your worms up to 1/2 pound of kitchen scraps per day.
The recommended feeding schedule for the first month is 1 pound of classroom fruit & vegetable scraps 2 times per week.
Note: this amount will increase over time.
Smart as Poop’s Pro Tips
Caring for your red wigglers and maintaining your Worm Factory will be easy and painless IF you follow a few simple rules.
1. DO NOT over feed.
2. Add a sprinkle of crushed eggs shells weekly when feeding (unless you added them directly to the bedding mixture).
3. BURY the food scraps under 2” of bedding material
It is best if worm food is collected & used on feeding day.
The worms don't care if the food is fresh or day old, however, allowing food to accumulate on a countertop may attract fruit flies. This practice may introduce fruit flies to your system, which you DO NOT want to do.
If you notice fruit flies around the food in your countertop compost bin, do not feed these scraps to your worms. (If you do, you will likely be introducing fruit flies to your system, which you do not want to do. Remember … if you put them in, they and MANY more will come out later.)
How to Feed Your Red Wigglers
When feeding your worms, dig a hole in the bedding material, deposit the food scraps into the hole and then cover the newly deposited food scraps with at least 2” of bedding material. Burying the food scraps will deter flies (e.g. fruit flies) as well as mask any odors which may be produced during the process of decomposition.
Imagine the table below is your worm bin.
- On DAY 1, you will dig a hole in position 1, deposit the food scraps and cover with 2 inches of bedding material.
- On DAY 2, you will dig a whole in position 2, deposit the food scraps and cover with 2 inches of bedding material.
- On DAY 3, you will dig a hole in position 3, deposit the food scraps and cover with 2 inches of bedding. material
- And so on...until you have reached position 9.
- On DAY 10, you will once again bury food scraps in position 2 and repeat the cycle adding additional bedding material as needed.
By the time you return to position 1 there should be no “old” food left. IF food remains in position 1, wait and allow the worms to “catch up”. IF no food remains in position 1, you may add a fresh feeding and continue to feed in the grid like pattern outlined above.
Why am I feeding the worms in this grid like pattern?
The process of decomposition is an exothermic one (produces heat) . Worms are unable to regulate their own body temperatures, and as such do not like the heat! When you add fresh food scraps to the bin you are effectively creating a hot spot in the bin/bedding. By adding food scraps in one location at a time (as is the case with the “grid” pattern approach), you are creating one hot spot at a time, thus ensuring that there will always be some part of the bin that remains “cool” thus providing a safe space to which the worms can retreat if needed.
A mixture of decayed & decaying organic material (leaves, fruit, vegetables, paper, etc) which can be used as a plant fertilizer.
What we call the compost generated when composting with worms. It is made up of a mixture of compost (decayed/ing organic material) and vermicast (worm poop). Worms eat decaying organic material and in turn produce nutrient rich vermicast.
There is not other way to say this … vermicast = worm poop
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