Operation and maintenance of Vermicompost
When closed, a well-maintained bin is odorless; when opened, it should have little smell—if any smell is present, it is earthy. The smell may also depend on the type of composted material added to the bin. An unhealthy worm bin may smell, potentially due to low oxygen conditions. Worms require gaseous oxygen.Oxygen can be provided by air holes in the bin, occasional stirring of bin contents, and removal of some bin contents if they become too deep or too wet. If decomposition becomes anaerobic from excess wet feed stock added to the bin, or the layers of food waste have become too deep, the bin will begin to smell of ammonia.
Moisture must be maintained above 50%, as lower moisture content will not support worm respiration and can increase worm mortality. Operating moisture-content range should be between 70 and 90%, with a suggested content of 70-80% for vermicomposting operations. If decomposition has become anaerobic, to restore healthy conditions and prevent the worms from dying, excess waste water must be reduced and the bin returned to a normal moisture level. To do this, first reduce addition of food scraps with a high moisture content and second, add fresh, dry bedding such as shredded newspaper to your bin, mixing it in well.
Pests such as rodents and flies are attracted by certain materials and odors, usually from large amounts of kitchen waste, particularly meat. Eliminating the use of meat or dairy product in a worm bin decreases the possibility of pests.
Predatory ants can be a problem in African countries.
In warm weather, fruit and vinegar flies breed in the bins if fruit and vegetable waste is not thoroughly covered with bedding. This problem can be avoided by thoroughly covering the waste by at least 5 centimeters (2.0 in) of bedding. Maintaining the correct pH (close to neutral) and water content of the bin (just enough water where squeezed bedding drips a couple of drops) can help avoid these pests as well.
Worms generally stay in the bin, but may try to leave the bin when first introduced, or often after a rainstorm when outside humidity is high. Maintaining adequate conditions in the worm bin and putting a light over the bin when first introducing worms should eliminate this problem.
Commercial vermicomposters test and may amend their products to produce consistent quality and results. Because the small-scale and home systems use a varied mix of feedstocks, the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) content of the resulting vermicompost will also be inconsistent. NPK testing may be helpful before the vermicompost or tea is applied to the garden.
In order to avoid over-fertilization issues, such as nitrogen burn, vermicompost can be diluted as a tea 50:50 with water, or as a solid can be mixed in 50:50 with potting soil.
Additionally, the mucous layer created by worms which surrounds their castings allows for a “time release” effect, meaning not all nutrients are released at once. This also reduces the risk of burning the plants, as is common with the use and overuse of commercial fertilizers.