Composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and help out the environment. If done correctly you can get amazing food for your plants. As worm composting becomes more popular, people often what to know which composting method, traditional aerobic composting vs worm composting is best. While most people assume they are the same, there are many differences between composting and worm composting. In this article, we will go through some of these differences and discuss the pros and cons so you can decide which option is right for you.
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Composting vs worm composting: Indoor vs outdoor composting
One of the first things you need to consider is where you will be composting, indoors or outdoor composting. You can use any composting method outdoors. However, for indoor composting traditional aerobic composting won’t be feasible. Aerobic composting requires at least a 1-metre cube (volume) of waste. This is to ensure the materials get up to a high temperature to break down weed seeds and destroy pathogens. The amount of space that would be required just isn’t practical in most home settings. If you are new to aerobic composting I go through the details here.
However, composting with earthworms can be done very easily indoors. There are several worm composting bins available that one can choose from. You can compost with earthworms even if you are living in an apartment. If you have potted plants you can use them on your plants or give them away if you have more than you need.
Worm Factory 360
Urban Worm Bag Worm Composting Bin
Composting vs worm composting: Time
Aerobic composting takes about 3 months to have a usable finished product. There are ingredients you can use to speed up the composting process, but generally, 2 to 3 months is a pretty normal expectation.
The time taken to convert food waste in a worm composting system depends on the number of worms and how fresh the food is. Food that has already started to break down will get consumed by the worms faster. Also, you can blend your food waste or cut it into smaller pieces. This will increase the surface area, help the food decompose faster and get consumed by the worms faster as well.
Composting vs worm composting: Food Sources
For traditional composting, you would need roughly equal parts of brown and green materials. You should avoid adding any meats, cooked foods, oil or dairy products to your compost bin. These ingredients can cause unwanted bacteria to grow in your pile, attract pests and cause foul odours. If you are new to composting I go into detail on that in this article.
In your worm bin, you should have lots of brown material as bedding. You can’t have too much bedding. Be sure to keep the material moist. The worms will consume the bedding over time and this will make up a significant part of their food source. Suitable bedding options are dried (brown) leaves, coconut husk, non-glossy shredded paper or straw. When feeding the bin you need to be careful not to overfeed them. Just as in aerobic composting, don’t add any meats, cooked foods, oil or dairy products to your bin. Additionally, any acidic or spicy foods such as citrus, or peppers. Earthworms breathe through their skin. Anything that is spicy, acidic or has a very strong odour (like fresh seasoning) could irritate your worms.
When feeding your worms pocket feeding is best. Remove some of the bedding, place the food in a small area and cover the food with the bedding you removed. I recommend Keeping the food covered to deter things like fruit flies in your worm bin. The amount of food you add to the bin should be about the same in weight as the weight of worms you have. To avoid overfeeding, wait until the worms consume all the food before adding more food to your worm bin. Underfeeding is better than overfeeding.
Composting vs worm composting: Temperature
When using aerobic composting methods the temperature in your compost bin or compost pile to go up to around 150 degrees Farenheight. Your pile should remain there for several days. The increased temperature ensures the right bacteria are working to break down the material. This high temperature helps kill off weed seeds and pathogens like salmonella, and E. Coli.
When composting with earthworms it’s the opposite. You don’t want a significant temperature increase in the bin. This is another reason why I recommended pocket feeding instead of mixing or layering the food in the bin. The temperature in your worm bin should be fairly constant. The optimum temperature will vary largely depending on the species of earthworms you are using. I’ve put a table with some of the preferred temperatures for some of the most common composting worms below.
|Optimum Temp. Range
|Min Temp (F)
|75 to 85
|68 t0 75
|55 to 70
|Eisenia foetida or
|70 to 80
|Asian blue worms
|7o to 80
We’ve put some of our best tips on how to maintain a worm farm in this article.
Composting vs worm composting: Curing the final Product
After your compost has heated up it naturally starts to cool down as it enters the curing phase. During this period the biology of the pile changes and any python-toxic (plant toxic) compounds are neutralized. Before using your homemade compost it’s important to let it sit for at least a month before planting in it for best results.
In contrast, no curing period is required for worm castings. After separating your castings from your worm bin, they can go directly on the plants. Worm castings are rich in beneficial microbes that will begin colonising your soil as soon as it is applied.
Compost vs Worm Castings
I frequently come across f people that think compost is compost regardless of where it comes from. I also get asked quite often, can “I use compost as soil?” or “Can I use worm castings as soil?”
Many sustainable and regenerative garden methods use compost as soil. The most famous of these would be the no-dig gardening method developed by Charles Dowen. In short, you layer cardboard on top of your grass to cover it to create a barrier and smother the grass. Then add about 6 inches of compost on top of that. This method works well for most short term crops. The earthworms will eventually come up through the cardboard, populate the compost above it and “mix” the compost with the soil below.
When it comes to worm castings I have a different view. I’ve tried using pure worm castings to start seedlings and failed miserably. I’ve found worm castings to compress too easily, not allowing enough air to permeate the soil. Plant roots don’t just need water to be healthy, they need air as well. Worm castings are great but need to be used in moderation. You don’t need more than 10% worm castings when mixing it with your soil. Using above 25% worm castings in your soil mixture by volume won’t show any additional benefit to plant health. For more details on how to use worm castings in the garden please have a look at this article.
Also, if you think you would be interested in making your own compost tea from worm castings I have step by step instructions here.
Final Thoughts: Which one is right for you – composting or worm composting
Well, the correct answer is it depends. It depends on the amount and type of food waste you have available as well as the space you have available. While results for various home composting systems can vary the first and most important question is, “Given what you have available, what composting method is right for you?” Traditional compost generally lets more air through to the roots than worm compost. However, because the worm compost is extremely potent and full of microorganisms from the worm’s gut you can use a small amount compared to conventional compost and see significant results.
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