Wrangling Red Wigglers

BLOG / Homestead / June 2, 2013

Lessons Learned From My DIY Worm Bin

by Sean Herman

I’ve always been fascinated by worms. As a child I would spend many summer mornings crawling around in my muddy, chinaberry tree well in search of the illusive night crawlers. I would dig them up with my right hand and tightly hold a wad of them in my left. As soon as the wad was big enough, I would taunt my nearby action figures with the “giant red snakes” I had collected.

I’ve matured a bit since then, and my appreciation for worms has grown greater over the years. I learned about worm-bin composting while interning at La ‘Akea Permaculture Community in 2005, and I’ve incorporated vermiculture into all my gardening endeavors since then. I’ve recently started a small-scale “urban farm” in central Tucson. I have chickens, raised garden beds, standard beds, and container beds (for smaller plants). I’ve also, most fortunately, been granted five, 500 gallon, aquaponic systems by Local Roots Aquaponics as part of their C.S.A. “Farm Box” program. I’ve found worms to be extremely useful in every facet of my daily routine. My composting worm bin efficiently handles all plant waste from my kitchen. In return, I get nutrient rich worm castings, which I can use to amend the soil in my garden beds. I can also use the castings to make compost tea. Using compost tea is a great way to nourish my garden without adding volume to my soil. In the Spring and Fall, when the weather is mild, my worm bin tends to get overpopulated, so I transplant the surplus worms to all of my garden beds, including the aquaponic lava- rock grow beds. Earthworms are highly beneficial to any type of garden bed because all the organic matter they ingest becomes enriched, acid neutralized, revitalized soil. Worms are also a fantastic food source for many animals. I plan to scale up my worm production so I can feed the worms to my chickens, Talapia, Goldfish, and Koi.

Making a composting worm bin is fairly simple. All you need is two 10-gallon rectangular Tupperware containers (with lids) sized to fit in an indoor closet or cabinet. Preferably, these containers would be stored somewhere in your kitchen so you can easily feed the worms with food scraps. I decided to defy convention with my current worm bin and foolishly made a massive (50 gallon) outdoor bin. I’ve discovered that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to worm bins. My bin is so large, that I have a tendency to over feed my worms. Two weeks ago, I put too many food scraps in my worm bin resulting in anaerobic decomposition. My compost became overheated, spoiled, and smelly and all my worms fled from the putrid mess. I haven’t seen them since. Another problem I’m having with my large outdoor bin is a total lack of temperature control. Worms are very sensitive to temperature (worms thrive in temperatures ranging from 60F-80F) so, if you keep your bin indoors your worms will be comfy cozy year round.

Once you have found the right containers, drill small holes (1/8 in. diameter) in the sides and bottoms of both containers. Also, drill holes in one of your lids. Ventilation is essential for a healthy worm bin, so feel free to go crazy with the power tools. Fill one container with one-inch wide strips of moistened newspaper. Next, place one piece of moistened corrugated cardboard sized to cover the newspaper strips. Leave the second container empty and use the lid without ventilation holes as a tray to collect fluids beneath your first (bottom) container. I use layers of wicking cloth instead of cardboard because the worms stick to the wicking cloth, which makes it easier to harvest them.

Start off your worm bin by placing a heaping handful of composting worms (a.k.a Red Wigglers) under the corrugated cardboard. Feed the worms your plant based kitchen scraps by burying the scraps in the newspaper bedding beneath the corrugated cardboard (crushed egg shells are acceptable, while meat, dairy, and oils are not). Be sure to keep the lid on when you’re not tending to your bin. Worms, like most republicans, are happier in darkness. Once your bedding and food scraps have degraded, place the second empty bin inside of the first bin, on top of the compost. Next, fill the second bin with moistened newspaper strips and cover with moistened corrugated cardboard. Once the worms have eaten all the food in the first bin, they will travel upwards through the holes in the bottom of your second bin, leaving behind nutrient rich castings in the bottom of the first bin. Continue feeding your worms in the upper bin and removing their castings from the lower bin. You will eventually end up with an over abundance of wonderful worms!

I heart worms, I honestly do. They are true stewards of their natural environment, tirelessly improving subterranean ecosystems so beautiful flora spring up from the earth. Worm wrangling is a rewarding activity that helps us re-connect with the miraculous world beneath our feet.

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