Wednesday, April 17, 2013

'I Got Worms' : My Vermicomposting Venture


Add having a worm composting bin to the list of things I never imagined I would ever do. It's right up there with cloth diapering, raising chickens, and beekeeping. I can't even tell you how many times it makes me think of that part in Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd pitches his idea for a worm farm business. I remember how disgusting that sounded back when I watched it in high school. Who would have thought that someday I'd have a small sort of worm farm? Weird.

Anyway...

I'm not entirely sure where I first learned about vermicomposting (aka, worm composting; vermis is the latin word for worms). I've had a regular compost bin the entire time I've lived in my house (eight years this month!) and I'm always glad when I see worms in it. I've never, though, had a whole compost bin devoted to worms.

I started seeing pins on Pinterest about worm composting and I was intrigued. I read about people keeping bins in their small apartments or under the sink in their kitchens. I saw plans for tall worm compost bins that looked kind of like beehives. It seemed like a great idea to have worms eat food scraps and junk mail to help your garden, but it seemed a bit overwhelming, too.

That was until I saw this pin about making a vermicomposting bin out of storage containers. It seemed so easy and doable! I highly recommend checking out her post (especially the really cute video with author's four-year-old son explaining how it works) -- you can find the step-by-step instructions and a lot of good info.  In this post, I'm going to share the process of how I made mine and some insights to how it's working for us. Keep in mind, I'm new to this whole process and am by no means a worm expert (yes, they do exist). That said, it's been pretty simple thus far.

Making the Worm Composting Bin


While we were waiting for the worms to come in the mail (I say "we" because my six-year-old was super excited about the project), I went to the store and picked up a couple storage containers.

I struggled bit trying to find the right storage containers. The instructions I followed called for two 8-10 gallon storage containers. I found plenty of those at good ol' Walmart but all of them were clear. Same thing at Target. The worm bin has to be opaque since worms are sensitive to light, so none of the ones they had worked. I finally was able to find some black 12-gallon containers (so a little bigger than necessary) at IKEA for about $5 each, along with one lid for $2.

So all together the worm bin cost $12 (plus tax). Much cheaper than the pre-made bins that go for around $100 (and that price doesn't include the worms) .

To make the bin, you need to drill some holes in one of the containers. Seeing as I'm pretty inept when it comes to power tools, I just took the container up to my parents' house (we were going there anyway and my worms had just arrived in the mail). My dad took the containers to his garage and took care of things. I wasn't helpful at all; I mostly just stood there and told him all the reasons why I wanted the bin in the first place so he wouldn't think I was nuts (you can find some great reasons for vermicomposting here).


First, he made some small holes on the bottom for drainage; Dad used a 1/8-inch drill bit.


Then he drilled some holes into the sides (higher up above the compost line, for ventilation) with one of his biggest drill bits. The plastic container was a bit flimsy so a few holes were a little cracked but no big deal.

The second bin doesn't need any holes at all. The purpose of the bottom bin is to catch any drainage from the first bin. In the last month that I've been keeping a worm bin, I've found the second bin to not be that necessary. Just keep the worms damp and not soaking wet and catching drainage isn't much of an issue. Not knowing this in advance, I still use the second bin since I have it.

 

So that the ventilation holes in the first bin don't get covered up, you need to have a something to elevate the main compost bin inside the second. (Does that make sense? Look at the picture below and you'll see what I mean).  To do this, my dad simply cut some blocks of wood from his stash in the garage (did I mention my dad is a talented woodworker? I love that guy.) The blocks are just a few inches tall but they keep the ventilation holes right above the lip of the bottom bin.


That's it -- a homemade worm bin made in about 15-20 minutes, tops. Nothing fancy. That's fine. It's meant to hold worms and their castings (aka, worm poo); I'm keeping it in the garage. I'm fine with it being totally plain.

Filling the Worm Composter

First things first -- you need worms.


Worm composting requires a certain type of worm: red wiggler worms. You can't just go dig around in your yard or go to the fishing bait section and pick up a bunch of earthworms. From what I've read, these specific worms thrive on eating bacteria-laden and rotten food. Getting a pound or two of red wiggler worms is easy. There are lots of places online where you can order them -- even Amazon has listings for worms. I ordered mine from Wiser Worm Farm -- I got a pound of worms for $27, shipping included.

Once your bin has the holes drilled in it, it's ready to be filled.


First, add some shredded up newspaper. I've been using grocery ads that come in the mail, along with my son's book order forms he gets from school (that is, after I'm done spending too much money ordering from them...ahem).


Next, add some dirt. The worms need the grit to help them digest.  As you can see, Max's cousins got in on all the wormy action and they took turns adding the dirt to the bin. (A worm bin is a great educational tool, I think.)


Next, we added some food scraps I'd been collecting for the last couple days (more on what and what not to feed worms later).


Now you can introduce your worms to their new home. Once I dumped them in, the kids started naming them. In our worm bin, there's a little red wiggler named Charles and another named Sammy. It didn't take long for the kids to.realize that it's hard to come up with 500 names.


We poured a little water over the newspaper-scraps-dirt mixture and worms. To top it all off, we added a wet piece of cardboard (to keep the light out from the ventilation holes). Put the lid on and the worms are ready to get to work!

Maintaining Your Worm Bin

It's been about a month since we added our worms to the bin. So far, it's been incredibly easy. It's also so cool to see how it's working. They really do eat your garbage!

There are a few guidelines on feeding worms -- there are foods they can and can't eat. The way I keep it straight is to think of them as a bunch of wiggly little vegans because worms can't eat dairy or meat. Unlike vegans, though, they also don't eat oils or citrus.

What do worms eat? They like fruits and vegetables, breads and grains, eggshells (we've got plenty of those), tea bags, coffee grounds (including the filter. We don't drink coffee at our house, but I've heard that worms love coffee grounds), and shredded newspaper.


I've read that it's best to feed the worms food that's already starting to rot a little. This is where my compost pail comes in. Until just recently, I used this pail to hold kitchen scraps before taking them to the compost pile in the yard; now I use it exclusively for worm food. The amazing thing about this pail is that it can hold the stinkiest, most rotten stuff in it and you can't smell anything when the lid is closed. It's awesome. So, I let the food for the worms sit in there for a day or two and then dump it into the worm bin.


Other things to keep in mind when taking care of worms:

  • Keep the bin's contents damp, but not soaking wet. I keep a spray bottle filled with water next to the bin and give it a few sprays when things are looking dry in the bin.
  • I also have an old hand rake next to the bin to stir things around when I add new food for them. This also helps with ventilation so things don't get too compacted.
  • Don't keep your worm bin somewhere that's too hot or cold. You don't want it to be somewhere where it gets colder than 35 degrees or hotter than around 80. Like I mentioned before, I keep mine in the garage (hence all the random stuff piled around the bin in the picture above).
  • Like with a regular compost pile, the worm composter doesn't stink if you're doing it right. If it stinks, that's when some troubleshooting is needed (maybe it's too wet, there's too much food, etc.). When I open my worm bin, it has a sort of pleasant, earthy smell. I say this not to brag but instead to point out how not-hard keeping a worm bin is.
Just as I'm fascinated by my compost pile outside, I find myself looking at the worm bin the same way. It's incredible to see a little sort of eco-system at work. I have yet to get the castings out and add them to my garden. Once I've done it and made a batch of worm poop tea for my garden, I'll let you know. (Yep. Add "making worm poop tea" to that list of things I never thought I'd do, too.)

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

7 comments:

Frances -Penilayne- said...

I was curious how you would get the compost out without removing the worms, so I did a little searching. I didn't realize the "batch" would take such a long period to get harvestable results, but that makes sense. In the first page I found with viable information, there were three methods for trying to separate the worms from the compost. Have you already decided what you'll be doing with yours once there is enough to be worth it? Will you try to save some, or will you just buy new worms?

Heather said...

I'm going to be perfectly honest -- I haven't quite decided exactly how I'm going to harvest them. I figured I had a few months to think over it. I've been reading about a bunch of different methods - the light method, the migration method, etc. I plan on saving as many as possible. It's all really a big experiment but it's, oddly enough, kind of fun.

Frances -Penilayne- said...

I am living vicariously through your weird fun haha

We won't be getting back into gardening very heavily until we make it back to the States. It will be interesting to see how your worm adventure goes!

Michelle Deets Haynes said...

Hi Heather,

I love your VC post! Some of the videos of separating worms from the compost suggest a lengthy or messy process. I do it this way that I've shown in my video. Maybe it will be helpful for you. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2hmfrxc2ew

--Michelle

Heather said...

Thanks so much for the link! I watched the video and it's really helpful. It makes a lot of sense and doesn't seem as overwhelming as some of the other methods. So many great ideas in the video, too -- like the tip about the denim strips and starting a bin for a friend. What a great resource! Thanks again. :)

Andrew's Reclaimed said...

Great post Heather! We make worm bins from discarded food buckets.

Do you have ad spots for small advertisers like us? We are thinking about a 125x125 or a 300x250, and if so, how much would you charge per month?

Our work can best be seen here:

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And our worm bins here:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/154686389/

Andrew and Melissa

Jagadeesh said...

Hey, nice information about preparation of worm composting bin. I am preparing vermicomposting in a small form and this information helps me to do this process in a different way. thank you and keep posting new methods.

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