Vermiculture is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build soil.
Worms: Our fertilizing friends.
Why is keeping worms (vermiculture) so great?
Worm compost and worm compost tea are loaded with beneficial microbes that jump start soil health and keep pests under control. Vermicompost provides stable organic nutrients in addition to making nutrients more available for plant uptake. It is also a great way to compost food waste indoors if that is the only option.
The composting worm of choice is Eisenia Fetida, aka the red wiggler.
In vermiculture, the main factors to consider are ventilation, temperature, and moisture.
Worms need to breathe, have conditions that are not too wet or dry, and not freeze or cook. 40-90 degrees F is the safe range. If buried in the ground they will do well in the winter. Moistened shredded bedding is regularly added to the top of the bin. This essential practice serves to reduce insect pests, add moisture, and provide a carbon rich food source and habitat. Most people rip newspaper into strips for this; It seems more natural to me to rip up and soak corrugated cardboard.
The leachate, excess moisture collected from drainage of the worm bin, has value but comes with risks. Since it has gone through an unfinished product, it can contain pathogens. If there is anaerobic decomposition occurring, the leachate could be harmful to plants.
Start small with unlimited potential. Worm populations can double every 90 days. Add items that are considered safe for an outdoor compost pile. Do not overfeed! Provide some soil or grit to help with digestion. Smaller pieces of food are easier for the worms to manage. Blend up a smoothie of food scraps to speed up the process.
I recommend considering efficient harvesting when designing habitat. Worms can be enticed into another container or space with more favorable conditions. Typically food is added to a less mature bin, and as worms go towards the food, vermicompost is collected from where the worms have migrated up or down from. If you don’t mind spending more time with the worms, the simple method is to remove the contents of a bin and continuously scrape off the top layers while providing light. The light causes the worms to burrow down into darkness where they feel more at home.
Worm compost tea is made by hanging finished vermicompost in a filter bag (or sock), in a 5 gallon bucket. Before putting in the “tea bag”, allow chlorine to off gas from the water and mix in a few tablespoons of a sugar. Once the vermicompost is suspended in the water, aerate the bucket through an air stone for a day. This will allow the beneficial microbes to expand in population. Worm compost tea can be diluted or used as is for liquid fertilizer. Spray the tea directly on plants for foliar feeding and pest control. If selling or sharing, make sure to add the obligatory warning: Not for human consumption.
If you are interested in vermiculture and live in Salt Lake City, I would gladly help to get you started.