A far easier way to get high quality compost material is to harness the power of worms. Vermicompost, or worm compost, is full of excellent nutrition in a good ratio for plants. Many people have had better results with vermicompost than they have with fertilizers. If you don't know where to start I'd recommend The Worm Book: The Complete Guide to Worms in Your Garden* by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor is a superb book for learning about worms and worm composting.
In order to have vermicompost you need a worm bin. This book has excellent information on how to build a successful worm bin. but of course you can also purchase them. Here is some information I got from the book that I'll use for creating my own worm bin.
First you need to calculate the number of pounds of waste (food scraps) you create each week. Your worm bin needs to be about 1 square foot for each pound of waste each week and each pound of food per day you need 2 pounds of worms. So lets say you make 7 pounds of food scraps a week, so 1 pound a day. That means you worm bin should be roughly 7 feet by 7 feet x 1 foot tall, and you need 2 pounds of worms.
The worm bin should have air holes at different depths along the sides to give them oxygen to breathe and have drainage holes at the bottom so the bedding can be kept damp, but not overly wet. It also needs to be well insulated. Worms prefer it to be 72-74 degrees, but can tolerate down to about 50 degrees and up to 86 degrees. This is probably my primary concern with a worm bin in Florida. It gets hot here, so I'm going to be sure to place our bin in the shade and have to use some of their techniques for keeping it cool including keeping it wet so the evaporation can keep it cool.
A number of items can be used for the bedding, peat moss is a common one, however they discuss reasons in the book why that might not be the best option. Therefore we will probably use: wood chips and partially composted leaves. We happen to have both in abundance right now and they are free. When starting the bin be sure to add some handfuls of garden soil to provide necessary microorganisms to create healthy soil. We'll probably use some of the mushroom compost we still have around from starting our garden. One other thing to add to the worm bin is grit. Now I'm familiar with grit from having chickens, but had no idea that worms needed it as well. They can use dried eggshells, rock dust or powdered limestone (NOT hydrated lime) for grit.
Finally to add food you divide up the container into roughly four areas, rotate adding food to each quadrant once (or twice) a week. You dig 2 inches down add the food scraps, and then recover it. Let the worms do their thing and you will eventually have worm castings and/or vermicompost. Worm castings are the worm excrement whereas the vermicompost is that in combination with other organic material. The castings are thought to be more potent, but it all has great nutrition for your plants.
The book also has great information about the biology of worms, the types of worms, solutions for common problems (they say only 7% of worm composters do not have issues!), information about good and bad bugs who may try to get into your worm bin. They also give great information if you are looking to start selling your worms of castings. Finally there is a chapter about eating worms and recipes to try (I skipped that chapter, yuck!).
If you are considering getting a worm bin, or even have had one for a while and are looking to improve it, I highly recommend this book!
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