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How To Start A Worm Bin – Vermicomposting Delight!

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If you’ve thought about composting your kitchen scraps, a worm bin is a great way to do it.  An odorless worm composting system is a great addition to your urban farm.  When properly maintained, a worm bin should not smell bad or attract noxious bugs.  Some people even maintain a worm bin inside their home.

Worms Eat My Garbage!

This book, Worms Eat My Garbagered wiggler worms, is the pre-eminent DIY guide to setting up a worm bin.  It’s a classic, and it’s cheap.  There are also other versions that help you turn this concept into a fun classroom projects for kids.

I prefer to keep my worm bin in the backyard or basement.  It’s a little more forgiving that way.  And if other bugs find their way into my worm compost, due to lack of maintenance on my part, it’s not the end of the world.  In fact, by examining the bugs there (in addition to the worms) you can get a sense of the worm box conditions, and some clues of how it could be improved to better serve the worms.

Also, by keeping the worm bin outside, you have more freedom to add in “borderline” produce, like dairy products, meat scraps and bones, and fatty materials.  Just make sure you’re not putting in a lot of meat that would attract rodents, and/or that your worm bin is rodent proof.

I’ve put bones in after I have made bone broth with them, all the meat is basically boiled off already and the bones are crumbly.  After spending some time in my worm bin, they are completely picked clean, and you can then make your own “Bone meal” fertilizer, by crumbling them up (easy after boiling for 24 hours) and spreading as a top dressing over plants, or leaving mixed with vermicompost.

 

This Vermicomposting Video Will Knock Your Socks Off

If what I said in the above paragraph scares you and you’re afraid to put these wild “forbidden foods” into your worm composting bin, then fear not!  Watch this video.  You will get a big kick out of it and learn a thing or two that is not part of the regular worm composting discussion.

 

So, that video didn’t go into much detail about making a worm bin, just what kind of exciting stuff you can put in it.

How To Set Up The Worm Bin

So, what are the ingredients of a fast-acting garbage-gobbling worm bin that will produce rich worm castings year round?  It’s pretty simple – you need a bedding for the worms, food for the worms, and space for the worms.  In addition, you may need some water to get started, and a bit every now and then, especially in dry weather.

Containers: The container you use should be fairly shallow… 8 – 12″ deep is plenty.  The container should have some sort of lid to keep moisture in the worm bin, and predators out.  In addition, when the top of the worm bin is dark, the worms won’t be afraid to poke their heads up on top of the garbage now and then.

Bedding: The easiest bedding I have found to use is shredded paper.  You can get shredded paper from an office, a paper shredding company, or your own home bulk-mail pile.  You can also use shredded newspaper.  Just try to avoid the glossy pages, staples, and plastic window envelopes.  Plenty of other materials make good bedding, too.  Leaves are the worms natural environment and can make good bedding, but they can tend to mat down, so make sure they are aerated or mixed with something else.  Spoiled straw or hay (without weed seeds), aged grass clippings or manure are also options.  Don’t use fresh nitrogen-rich materials or they may heat up as they decompose, killing the worms.

Thoroughly moisten the bedding before adding the worms.  It should be as moist as a rung-out sponge.

Worm Food: As you saw in the video above, worms will eat just about anything humans will.  But as a general rule, they do have preferences for things that are easy to break down.  Vegetable and fruit waste is at the top of the list.  Breads and grains are also easy for them to work with.  Less desirable are sharp objects like egg shells, food that will attract pets or be hard for them to eat (oils, meat, bones) and citrus rinds.

 

What Type Of Container Can You Use For A Worm Bin?

Here are a few methods you might want to consider:

1) The Worm Factory

The worm factory is probably the most neat and tidy way to compost your kitchen scraps with worms.  The system has several trays with layers, you fill one layer at a time with kitchen scraps, then leave it alone and start filling the next tray.  The worms will work their way up through the layers of garbage.  The idea is that by the time you get back to your bottom tray again, instead of being confronted by an assortment of rotted produce, you find a nice clean tray of worm castings that are ready for your garden.

Click here to view the Worm Factory (and reviews) on Amazon.com.

2) The Bathtub Method

For those with a lot of space, those setting up a commercial or community vermiculture worm composting project, or if you just want to make the best use of your abundance of garden waste and kitchen scraps, setting up a container like this is a great idea. The downside is that it does require a lot of space. However, having such a big container to house your worms will mean they’re less susceptible to drying out, and variations in temperature. Ideally you should be keeping the worms between 50 degrees and 75 degrees for optimum performance.

3) The Cheap-o Method

Is anybody surprised that this is the method that I chose to use? Basically, you get a big rubbermade (or similar) tub from a yard or garden center, and drill some holes in it for ventilation. Add worms and bedding and voila! Worm Compost Heaven! The big downside is that you don’t want to over-fill the worm bin, keep the worms and bedding only stacked about 8-12″ deep so they get plenty of air throughout the layers. You can use this system to approximate the Worm Factory, by stacking several bins, with a concrete block or two inside each one, to elevate them.

Don’t Forget The Worms!

Composting WormsRed Worms

Obviously, worms are the key ingredient for your worm composting system.  You can buy worms, or find them locally in the wild.  The worms you want to go for are not “earthworms” or “nightcrawlers” which you will find in the dirt when you dig your garden.  Instead you’re looking for Red Wigglers.  You can find them in the wild in a “cold” compost pile.  Just look in a big pile of leaves that’s been sitting around for a while (their natural environment) and you should find plenty of them.  Leaves are a great starter bedding for worms too, so if you do find that big pile of leaves… just put it straight into your compost bin.  On the other hand, if it’s not leaf-raking season, you can always buy the worms.

How’s That Working For You?

If you have set up a worm bin in the past, please don’t hesitate to share your experience.  We all have a bit of learning curve as we adapt our own resources and environment to the worms’ preferences.

I have found (despite living in Seattle) my worm bin can dry out when I don’t water it frequently and when it is too dry it attracts ants.  I have also tried adding in meat scraps, which worked out pretty well.  I saw some maggot-type bugs eating the meat.  There were no subsequent flies, and no smell.  No rats or anything either, but it was a small amount of meat and probably gone quickly.

I have also found that fruit files tend to be a problem in my worm bin, but that burying the food scraps beneath the bedding material (where fruit flies can’t go) seems to limit the problem.

I am always intrigued to see what lies beneath when I open up the worm bin, but seeing various stages of decay on last year’s pumpkin or your now-green orange rinds is admittedly not for everyone.  My kids, frankly, are a little turned off by it, and my husband thinks my bags of stored kitchen scraps are gross.  Consider a special compost canred composting worms or a simple 5-gallon bucket with a lid for storing your kitchen scraps while they are still in the kitchen.  They may get stinky if they have no air (anaerobic decomposition) but otherwise, shouldn’t present much of an odor or mess problem in my experience.

Please – try this project and let us know… I feel that when you harvest your first batch of worm compost, you’ll be sold forever!

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