Friday, April 2, 2010

Worms and Gardening, Part 2

Making your own Worm Bin
In part 1 of Worms and Gardening, we talked about what vermiculture was and how beneficial it is to use worm compost in the garden.  If you missed it, check out the post here.  There are also a few links on the bottom of the post to get additional information about vermiculture.  So, now that you know all about worm composting, this post will show you how to set up your own worm poo making factory. :)

This is a great setup for someone limited with space, just want a small factory, or just want to try things out for starters.

What you need:

2 plastic bins (with lids) -- Make sure to get non clear ones.
material for bedding -- I used an old phonebook.
handful of soil
red wigglers (also known as red worms)
food for your worms

Note on the worms:   When I first started out, I bought two small containers from a bait and tackle shop. If you don't mind the wait, this isn't too bad for starters.  I think tho, that I probably should have bought 4 for a slightly faster startup.  If you really want to get a jump start... you can buy a half pound from a worm farm.  Also, check around on craigslist for red wigglers. Because worms reproduce in an exponential fashion, you'll occasionally find people selling some of their extra worms to buyers new to vermiculture, fishermen, or as feed for pets (I hear pet fish like these guys).  So, once you've got an established worm bin, with excess worms, you may even consider selling to make a little extra change.  But before you can do that, we need to setup your worm bin... let's get started.

How To:

1.  Drill holes on the top 1/3 portion of both bins.  Lots of them, all the way around the bin and maybe an inch or so apart.  I'm using a 1/8"drill bit for these holes.

2.  Drill holes on one of the lids.  This time, space them out maybe 2" or so. These holes are also 1/8" in size.

3.  Drill holes on the bottom of  both bins.  I used the 1/4" drill bit, and spaced them out about 2 - 3" apart.  For this, one I couldn't find my 1/4" drill bit so, I just used my 1/8" and wiggled it around a bit til I made the drill hole large enough.

4.  Place one bin inside the other, and put the bins on top of the single, non-drilled lid.

5.  Cut newspaper or phonebook pages into strips. (~1" wide).  Crumple the paper and throw it into the double bin til it's at least half full of bedding.

6.  Use a spray bottle to spray water onto strips til you achieve a slightly damp feel.  Continue fluffing and rotating the bedding til the whole bin is damp.

7.  Move some paper aside, and place your handful of soil, the red wigglers, and the food for your worms in your bin.  Re-cover with the paper, and cover the bin with the lid that has the drilled holes.

Maintenance and Placement
That's it.  Place your worm bin at a place that doesn't get too hot or too cold. I have mine in my garage... The bin doesn't smell, so it's actually okay inside the house, or in the garage as it also keeps it from the elements.  For the first couple of weeks, I'd check your bin everyday to make sure the water content is alright.  Keep a spray bottle around and spray it occasionally.  If it seems too wet, add some more bedding.

You should also check your bin every few days to once a week to make sure they still have food and bedding and to spray with water.  There are some who object to turning your compost and others who feel that when vermicomposting in a bin, it's a necessity to turn to help increase aeration.  I think your bin does benefit from the occasional turn.  Perhaps you can do a quick turn every time you add more bedding to your bin.  If your compost is wet and compacted, this generally means you're not getting enough aeration near the bottom of your bin -- this will hopefully be helped by turning your bin.


Okay, so now you have lots of good compost, and your running out of space in your bin.  It's time to harvest your compost.  A good rule is to start harvesting when your bin is about 1/3 to 1/2 full of compost and your worms have eaten all their food and bedding. If the worms have unfinished food/bedding, but you want to start the harvesting anyway,  you can add the unfinished stuff to the new bin.

To start the harvesting process, I like the long way of allowing the worms to make their own journey to their new bin).  What you do is, remove the empty bin (the bottom bin) and place new bedding and food in it.  Then stack it on top of the previous top bin (the one with the compost and worms).  Now, just leave it alone for a month or so (with the exception of occasional spraying of the new bedding, and making sure the new bin has food).  Slowly, the worms will travel up the little holes on the bottom of the new bin and towards the food.

Once all the worms transferred to the new bin, you can take the compost and create your tea or soil conditioner.  Once you've harvested the compost (worm castings), place the empty bin on the bottom of the new bin -- and start the process over again.  BTW, your worm castings will have these little yellow or brown translucent globes.  These are worm eggs.  If you see them, you can add them to the new bin to help increase your worm population. Pictured below, you'll see a small worm egg next to the white piece of eggshell.


There are a few trouble signs to keep your eyes out for.  Here's what to do:

Bin Stinks ... You added too much food.  Remove excess food,
                 ... Non compostable was added to the bin (meat, dairy, etc). Remove non compostable food.
                 ... bin isn't getting enough air or is too wet. add more bedding, you may also try turning the compost to help let the bedding soak up some of the water an add a bit of aeration.

Fruit Flies ... Food isn't buried properly.  Bury food.
                  ... Food that was put in was rotten, or rotting. Remove rotten/rotting food

Compost is wet and compacted ... Bin isn't getting enough air. Turn compost and add bedding.

Worms trying to escape
... Worms are new to the bin and just exploring.  This is okay, just put them back into the bedding.
                                    ... Bin may be too wet or too dry.  Decide which and either spray with spray bottle, or add more bedding.
                                    ... Also check that there is still food.
Worm Death ... Bin is too dry.  Spray water.
                      ... Bin too wet.  Add bedding.
                      ... Bin is exposed to extreme temps. Bins work best between 55 to 77 degrees F.
                      ... No more food. Add more food.

So, best of luck with your worm bins.  I do have to confess that I've only been worm composting for a few years.  Not enough to make me an expert, so if you have additional information, or corrections feel free to leave a message or email me. :)

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