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Now that you have started a compost system, you're going to want the rest of the story. Your thousands of new pets need some attention. They need fed, watered, bedded and pampered. The more you understand their needs the more they will do for you.

Misperception #1- I add the bedding, I add the food, I add the worms,....I get castings. Partly true. There is a little more to do and it's easy.

Bedding and food

Bedding: shredded newspaper, cut up cardboard, aged sawdust, coconut coir, shredded leaves, chopped straw, aged moist wood chips, dry grass, and paper pulp.

Good foods:

From the house: Almost all fruits and vegetables (exceptions: onions, garlic, banana skins (high pesticide)), bread (helps breakdown the citrus), grass clippings garden debris, green leaves.

From the farm: Manures (cow, horse (not if the horses are de-wormed), goat, rabbit, chicken (lots of bedding), Alpaca), chopped hay.

Bad idea: milk products (smell), meats (smell & spoil), dog and cat feces (harmful pathogens).

Cultivating your compost

Most important is to layer your compost food waste & bedding to keep enough air circulating even when it's wet. Your bedding is usually more fibrous and does not let the compost compress while the redworms are working in it.

Redworms are secondary eaters. After the bacteria or other microorganisms break down the food waste your redworms will go around eating the softened food and the dead smaller organisms. The speed that your compost breaks down depends on the moisture, temperature, available air, and the types of materials used to compost.

Question: Why am I told to cut up my food waste?

Answer: Most fruits and vegetables have a protective skin that keeps molds and bacteria from getting in. This does eventually break open, but to speed things up you can cut up your food waste. The smaller the pieces the more area that bacteria and fungi can attack.

Keep feeding in layers and let your compost build up. You should see your compost sink down as it is decomposing. If it becomes too moist you may need to mix in more bedding to keep the air circulating and to release the excess moisture. Even with a screen drain system your compost may get too moist since the compost it very good at retaining water. On a sunny day open your compost and let it dry out some. If your compost gets too dry on top it is ok to sprinkle water on it. A good idea in warm weather is to put a board on top of the compost to keep the moisture even.

Occasionally you should check on the status of your redworms. Redworms don't like to be disturbed but they quickly forget the intrusion and go back to work. Redworms move around so you may not find them in the same area all the time. They do linger in groups to mate and sometimes to tell you there is something wrong with the other side. Smell is the best indicator that something is wrong.

When the bottom of your compost turns dark brown or even closer to black it may be time to think about harvesting some castings/vermicompost.

Personal note: I have a leaf shredder that works great for chopping up food waste. When I shred a large amount of fruit and vegetables and don't get it mixed in with bedding it will become anaerobic and start to sour. Often to the point of turning into vinegar or ammonia. When this happens you will not find any redworms in the mix. This can be prevented and/or fixed with a good bedding mixture.