Worm Bin Saga

Discussion in 'Gardening Other' started by Anitra, Aug 18, 2007.

  1. Anitra

    Anitra New Seed

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    Eileen suggested that I start a topic on wormbins and worm composting, in the 'Tips' Forum. I hope I found the right forum. :)

    I currently have three wormbins going, and plan to set up two new ones soon, one in the office of Real Change (Seattle's 'street newspaper'). My first bin was a 14-gallon plastic "Worm Habitat" that cost me $32 plus shipping; #2 and #3 are 10-gallon styrofoam picnic totes that cost $5 each, which are wonderfully easy to poke airholes in and are working out great. I also have three larger plastic tubs I bought at Goodwill for $3 each that will become wormbins as soon as a friend drills holes in them for me. Two of them will stack together; the third is probably coming down to the office to be the Real Change wormbin.

    Worms need darkness, moisture, air, and some minimum amount of space. The first and most basic mistake I made when I started was to order my worms and my wormbin at the same time. I thought that if the worms came before the bin, I could keep them alive for a few days in the box they came in. Do not try this. Worm bins should not be very deep -- unlike in composting, you do not WANT a worm bin to heat up. What they do need is surface area; at least one square foot for each pound of worms. I would recommend two square feet for even a pound of worms, because those little suckers multiply.

    I found some 10-gallon rubbermaid tote boxes at Goodwill for a couple of bucks each. They would have made perfect wormbins if somebody hadn't stolen them before I could punch holes in them. If you can find several small boxes like that, all the same size, they will work better for you than one big bin. You can stack them so that the worms can migrate out of a box when they've filled it up with compost, and you can harvest without picking through live wrigglers.

    My 14-gallon "Worm Habitat" has three clusters of pin-prick sized holes, and that is apparently sufficient air. I punched the much smaller styrofoam boxes with about 60 holes each, from 1/16" to 1/4" diameter. Some people say that larger holes should be screened so that bedding doesn't fall out and worms don't escape. My own experience is that worms will not try to escape unless something is wrong in the bin. The great outdoors is too bright and too dry to attract them. Give them all the air you can without drying them out.

    Many people just fill their wormbins with moist shredded newspaper; that is quite workable bedding and your worm will be fine in it. I like to give my worms two to three inches of mixed soil and compost at the very bottom, then six to eight inches of mixed shredded paper. This was my setup in the first bin that lived, and I'm now compulsive about doing it the same way every time. I just want to assure you that *you* don't have to do it exactly the same way. Do toss in at least a handful of dirt to provide grit, and a handful of compost to provide microorganisms that help the worms break down their food.

    I mix some shredded newspaper and leaf litter into the dirt layer, both to provide food and to keep air channels open. I also mix in some bone meal, and add a pinch more bone meal with each feeding. Worms need calcium to breed, and lots of calcium means lots of breeding. They also need grit in their tummies to help grind their food.

    I started the first box with three inches of soil and eight inches of paper. Two months later it is filled with over eight inches of almost-compost -- it still has some undigested food and paper in it -- and there is room for only a couple of inches of paper on top. When I have a new bin ready, I plan to lift out a section of this bin the size of half the new one, then fill the empty sections of both bins with paper. I will feed on the "old side" of both bins until it is finished compost, then start to feed on the other side until all the worms migrate over there and I can "harvest."

    If I had a drill of my own, I would make holes in the bottom of my "Worm Habitat," even though the manufacturer didn't think it needed it. It is very tricky keeping the top moist without letting the bottom get soupy. Once a week I dig down to see how the bottom is doing, and if it seems too soupy I stuff a handful of dry paper down there. There are always some worms even down in the soup, fat and sassy, even though I tell them that the experts say that's too wet for them. So I guess the lesson is, try to keep your wormbin at optimum moisture level -- described as 'a wrung-out sponge' or 'a damp mop' -- but as long as MOST of the bin is at that level, don't fret too much if a little bit of it is "too dry" or "too wet." The worms will go where they like it.

    The main danger to letting your bin get too wet is "anaerobic bacteria." Those are the germs that make garbage stink so very bad. Worms can't eat food until it starts to rot, but they only get along with aerobic food-rotters. Anaerobic food-rotters make them sick. Your wormbin should smell like the dirt in the garden. If it starts to smell like the bottom of your garbage pail, your worms will start to die, or to migrate out of the bin (and then die, because it's too bright and dry out there).

    If the bin starts to stink your worms are not doomed, if you act fast. Take out some of the food, stir up the whole bin, and leave it open until the moisture level is back down to 'a wrung-out sponge' and the foul odor has blown off.

    All that does not mean you should hover over your worms. Worms are very sensitive to vibration, and if you poke and prod around in the bin every few hours, you might be classed as a predator and they'll try to escape. The first time you stir up the bin, you might find a worm or two hanging on the sides the next time you open it. Stir around in there for a minute or so, about once a week, and the worms will get used to you -- as you will get familiar with them.

    I know I'm not the only one here who raises worms -- so, what advice do the rest of you want to pass on? :)
     
    eileen likes this.
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  3. eileen

    eileen Resident Taxonomist Staff Member Moderator Plants Contributor

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    Thanks for posting this topic and letting us know how you went about starting off your worm bins and telling us about prices etc. It's always great to have someone post about their personal experiences in setting up something like this. :-D
     
  4. Droopy

    Droopy Slug Slaughterer Plants Contributor

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    I don't need to raise worms, but I still enjoyed your worm-bin-post!
     
  5. Frank

    Frank GardenStew Founder Staff Member Administrator

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    Fascinating knowledge Anitra.

    So basically it is to ensure that there is an adequate level of oxygen in the soil at any one time? My biology classes are sparking that question off :)

    // Frank
     



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  6. Anitra

    Anitra New Seed

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    Oxygen is one basic

    Yes, Frank, the most important factor in keeping anaerobic bacteria from multiplying is to keep the bin contents well-supplied with oxygen. Air (oxygenated air) is one of the essentials of the wormbin as well as of the garden soil. Too much water fills up all the little channels in the soil (or, in the bin, the paper litter) and leaves no room for air.

    You do also need moisture, food, and some protection, just as in the garden. :)
     
  7. bsewnsew

    bsewnsew Hardy Maple

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    Worms

    I live on a farm.....
    Worms seem to be under rotted manura, and if you really want to get more......Pour heated water on the grass and they come to the top quickly..
    I arent in biology , but know farmers love worms.
     
  8. Anitra

    Anitra New Seed

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    Worms for the bin

    Thanks, Barb. :) Our garden, though, is a small created space (raised beds filled with trucked in dirt) in the middle of an urban wasteland. Even if I piled up manure to rot, no "wild worms" would find their way here through the concrete; and the next-door neighbors would have me arrested.

    Not all the worms that can be found in compost piles and manure piles, or even in the garden, are the kind that thrive inside wormbins. The best place to get composting worms is from somebody else who has an active, thriving wormbin -- or from a commercial wormfarm, like our fellow GardenStew member wormnwoman.

    The best worms for composting are "red wrigglers" (eisenia foetida) and European nightcrawlers (eisenia hortensis). In my own experience, they work very well together.

    The red wrigglers do not do so well loose in the garden; they like it best in a wormbin. The nightcrawlers do well in both the bin and the garden.
     
  9. bsewnsew

    bsewnsew Hardy Maple

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    worms

    Anita

    Thanks for the Worm welcome..

    :oops:

    barb
     
  10. Anitra

    Anitra New Seed

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    Further lessons from the worms

    Passing on what I've learned since last posting...
    • On another forum, a long-time worm-raiser said that she ran some experiments and found varying levels of calcium made no difference in worm reproduction rate. So my worms may not really need as much eggshell and bone meal as I give them. I continue to add it, though, on the reasoning that they do use calcium in some way (worm castings are very high in calcium) and if they don't use it, the plants that eventually get the vermicompost will. But if you don't want to grind up eggshells or buy bone meal, you don't have to to have happy worms. :)
    • If your wormbins are outside and you have any predators in the area (like rats or moles or squirrels) forget using styrofoam wormbins. The worms were quite happy in a picnic-container bin, but not when the rats chewed into it and began chowing down on worms! One of the styrofoam bins went into a 10-gallon Rubbermaid tote, and the other went into the bin for Real Change. I am still finding bits of styrofoam in the castings I harvested from Real Change.
    • Do not feed worms uncooked pizza dough except in very small pinches! One bag of that refrigerated pizza-dough had been thrown away at the foodbank, so I salvaged it and tried it on the worms at Real Change. I gave them just a little bit and they seemed to like it, so I gave them more and more. Then this Friday they started trying to climb out of the bin, for the first time in three months! At first I thought it might be the barometer falling and making them restless, and I just stirred the bin up a bit to make sure it was aerated. When even more were trying to climb out this morning I investigated more closely, and found wads of foul-smelling dough matted together with newspaper. Even though the bin was well-aerated and the wads were near the top, the soggy texture of the wet dough made its own little pocket anaerobic environment. I fished out all the smelly blobs, and the worms are much happier now. The smaller bits of dough were still sweet-smelling, and had worms on them, so I left them.
    • The experts say that worms find their own castings slightly toxic. My worms do not seem to have gotten this memo. So far, when I harvest a bin, there are still a LOT of worms in the layer of castings -- and hundreds of eggs. At this point I have enough worms in the bins that I won't be too upset if a few of them go into the ground with the castings; but if you want all the worms and eggs and bits of undigested bedding and tiny twigs out of your wormcastings, expect to be running your hands through castings for awhile. On the bright side, both my sister and I have found this very therapeutic for arthritis. :D
    • The experts also say that redworms cannot survive in garden soil. Yet I still find redworms in our garden from that first botched wormbin I set loose in June. And the garden-mix I've found for sale in several places contains redworms, as well as European nightcrawlers and a couple of deep-diver species. If you have enough organic matter in the soil and you don't let it dry out, redworms will live in gardens.
     
    eileen likes this.
  11. DerekMc525

    DerekMc525 New Seed

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    Worm Bins!

    I dont have a worm bin yet, I am planing on waiting till i find the perfect container! I want like a Fish tank.


    moderator's note: removed website link, see point 1.1 of usage rules
     

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