Setting up and using a Worm Composting Bin

Click on the video above for a quick view of our compost bin!

Remember to read our worm composting journal for more tips and things we’ve discovered over the course of our adventures in worm composting.

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WORM BIN BEDDING MATERIALS

We discovered through our adventures in vericomposting that not all bedding materials are created equal. Being new to worm farming, I thought common potting soil might work.  However, I found out that using potting soil is not a good idea. There are in fact a number of bedding materials to choose from that should work fine.

These are my recommendations based on our experience and the research I’ve done.

Try out shredded newspaper, peat moss, corn husks, partially decomposed leaves, straw cut into small pieces, well decomposed compost mixed with washed egg shells, and/or wet shredded cardboard.

If you create a combination of these materials, your worms will be even happier. A small amount of sand or clean garden soil mixed in is also a good idea. Your worms need a little “fiber” in their diet to help them digest food, and sand and soil can help.

Our personal mix was pretty heavy in the soil to begin with. We found that this wasn’t working all that well for the worms because it held a lot of water during the cooler months. Now we’ve mixed in more coconut fiber, shredded paper, etc.

Gather what you’re going to use as bedding materials and get ready to set up your worm bin.

We put about a 1 inch layer of material to start with for our bedding, and as we added a little more soil and shredded paper, that has increased a bit. I’ve read that your worms will break down the bedding materials in roughly 3 months. Soon we plan on removing the worm castings and adding a whole new batch of bedding. Keep reading to find out how to collect your worm castings.

It’s important to wet the materials you’re going to use as bedding before you put your worms in the bin. By wet I mean moisten. Don’t keep your bedding material saturated.   Also, your bedding should not be pressed down and compacted in the bin. It should have plenty of air spaces to keep your worms happy.

Once you’ve got your bedding material set up, you can add your worms.  See the section about worms for more information about how many worms to add.

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Over the bedding and the worms, you can cut out a piece of plastic sheeting to cover the bin to help maintain moisture levels. You can also use wet newspaper, a piece of old carpeting, or moist cardboard. We cut out a piece of transparent plastic to cover our worms. That has seemed to work fine.

How Much Organic Waste to Feed the Worms?

Red wigglers are supposed to eat their own weight in organic waste every day. According to New Mexico State University, 2000 composting worms (about 2 pounds of worms) can break down about 1 pound of food scraps and bedding in a 24 hour period.

You can use that as a rough guide to how much to feed your worms. Frankly, I don’t measure the scraps I feed the worms. Because we’re busy, we conservatively add a small container full of material every week. Sometimes we blend it up a bit in a food processor, sometimes not. Regardless, keep the pieces of food waste tiny to help your worms consume it quicker.

Even if you stray occasionally from how much you feed the worms, their population will balance out. The exception is if you consistently feed them too much or too much of the wrong kind of food.   This can cause the worms to start to die off dramatically.  See below for more information on what to feed and what not to feed your worms.

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In our experience, too little food is better than too much, as the worms can recover from too little food, but the whole batch of worms can die off it you have a ton of food it there.  With our hectic schedule, we like to do things conservatively.

What Kind of Food do Red Wigglers Eat?

Actually, the important question to answer first is what red wigglers DON’T eat! They don’t eat:

  • Meat
  • Plants sprayed with insecticides
  • Animal bones
  • Dairy Products
  • Poisonous plants
  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Bread
  • Soap

They DO eat*:

  • Vegetable peelings and scraps
  • Washed and crushed egg shells. (Please note that we’ve found that whole egg shells make great habitat for baby worms.)
  • Coffee grounds and unfiltered coffee filters
  • Tea bags and tea leaves
  • Leaves and stems from fruits
  • Shredded newspaper (no color ink please!)
  • Old lettuce
  • Corn husks
  • Cut up paper egg cartons
  • Grass clippings

*Remember, cutting up your kitchen scraps will make it easier for the worms to eat them, and will speed the composting process!

When you add new scraps, you can bury them a little under the bedding. Try mixing up the material in the bin periodically so that it is oxygenated. Also, add new waste to a different area in the bin each time to keep the worms moving around and depositing castings throughout the worm farm.

Here are a few things they will eat but that you should keep in low quantities in the worm bin:

  • Citrus peels
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes

Apparently these things can throw off the pH of the soil and affect the worms.

OTHER FEEDING TIPS

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You can choose to blend the scraps in a blender to make them easy for your worms to consume.  Another handy thing that we do is to use a separate container like this plastic compost pail to store food scraps in the kitchen to add to the bin later. This way the scraps will start to break down for a few days before you feed them to your worms.

COLLECTING LIQUID FERTILIZER AND WORM CASTINGS:

WORM CASTINGS

Worm castings are another thing you can gather from your worm bin for use in your garden. Worm castings are the byproducts of the worms’ digestive process. Worm castings sound kind of gross but they look just like soil.

Depending on how many worms you have and the size of your bin, you should be able to start collecting worm castings in about 3-6 months. This involves separating the worms out and placing them in a new batch of bedding. The compost that remains is referred to as worm castings. It is a rich, brown earthy soil additive and fertilizer. It doesn’t smell! You can also use it as a mulch. We have yet to do this.

However, when we do, you can check out worm diary bin diary to see how it goes. For now, here’s what I’ve read in terms of how to collect worm castings and start your worms over again with a fresh batch of bedding and food scraps.

1. Lay out a sheet of plastic and dump out the contents of the worm bin. Set up your compost bin quickly with fresh, moist bedding, just as you did when you began your worm farm. Now, start looking for the worms and shifting them over from the compost to the worm bin. This may take awhile so get your wife and 2-year old to help out! Look also for the tiny worm cocoons which are the eggs. Move those over to the worm bin as well. If you move over some of the old compost along with the worms, not to worry. It’s a good idea to mix some of that stuff in with your bedding material anyway.

2.  The instruction manual for our worm bin also talked about opening the bin up in the sun and letting the worms move down to the bottom of the bin. You can then scoop up a very thin layer of worm castings. Move any worms or food scraps that aren’t completely decomposed back into the worm bin after removing the layer of compost.

3. Our instruction booklet that came with the worm bin also talks about another way to harvest the worm castings. A couple weeks before you’re ready to harvest the worm castings, you can begin to feed the worms only on one side of the bin. The worms should vacate the other side. You can harvest the worm castings with a trowel on the side where the worms aren’t feeding. Don’t forget to add more bedding when you’re done!

Now that you’ve harvested your castings, you can use them in your garden or store them for later use. Just mix the castings deep into the soil wherever you use them. Give some to your friends who are gardeners and turn them on to worm composting too! They will be amazed at how well the worm castings help to beef up their garden soil.

You can also use the worm castings directly on top of a garden bed as mulch. If you sprinkle them around your lawn it will also help improve the health o f your turfgrass.

LIQUID WASTE

Our worm bin is designed to catch liquid waste in the lower half of the bin.

We collect this waste and dilute it with an equal part of water to make a fertilizer that we add to our houseplants and garden. The instructions for our worm bin say to wash out the bottom bin every two months or so and use the liquid. I think because of low humidity we aren’t collecting that much liquid, really. So we’ve only washed it out once in the last 4 months. The key thing is if you have a worm bin like this, don’t let the lower half fill up with liquid and risk drowning the worms!

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