WORM COMPOSTING: A VERY, VERY, ABRIDGED GUIDE

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WHAT’S A WORM BIN, ANYWAY?

A worm bin is a container where you deposit food scraps for worms to eat and turn into nutrient-rich fertilizer, or you can use them for fishing, which is something people still do. Your plants will love it, and you’ll save on garbage bills. Hooray! Worms eat kitchen scraps and make worm castings, Though castings are often called fertilizer, they’re rather low in nitrogen, but they’e full of other nutrients plants just adore. Worm bins can be as small as a bucket or as large as a trash can, so even most apartment dwellers can eke out some space for one.

WORMS, A SPOTTER’S GUIDE

There are a bunch of types of worms, you guys. I’m serious. The Wikipedia page was ridiculous.

The two we will be focusing on are commonly known as “Red Wigglers” (eisenia fetida) and “Nightcrawlers” (eisenia hortensis)

Red Wigglers, aka Red Worms, Brandling Worms, Manure Worms, and Tiger Worms. These are the most commonly used for worm composting because they have a wide range of temperature tolerance and are prolific breeders.

European Night Crawlers

These bad boys are unfortunately not radioactive, and will not give you superpowers if it bites you. They can’t bite, anyway. We checked.

European night crawlers aren’t as common as red wigglers, but are becoming more popular. They tend to tolerate slightly lower temperatures than red wigglers. While they have a reputation for not breeding as prolifically as red wigglers, anecdotal evidence is beginning to sway many worm farmers.

WORM BINS AT HOME

There are many commercially available worm bins, but if you’re into the DIY spirit, may we recommend you try your hand at making your own?

List of materials

Two (2) 8-10 gallon sized identical plastic totes like Rubbermaid makes. (you’ll be tempted to go bigger. Don’t. It gets really, really heavy.)

A drill with ¼” bit

Screen (like in a screen door) a three to four inches bigger than the length and width of the bottom of the plastic tote. About 17” x 23” for a ten gallon. You just need enough that the extra material curves up the side slightly. Very fine weave wire mesh will also do the trick but watch out for rusting.

4-6 wooden blocks, bricks, or flat rocks. Cinderblocks would work as well but you’d only need one or two.

Cardboard, the length and width of the top of the tote. You’ll want it to fit inside.

Box cutter with fresh blade or Dremel with saw attachment. In a pinch you can use an X-acto knife or scissors but BE SO CAREFUL.

Newspaper shredded into 1” strips. Most newspaper is printed with soy ink, but it’s always good to double-check so you don’t kill your worms.

Approximately 1 lb of redworms.

2 cups of soil (don’t skip this. Worms don’t have teeth and depend on having grit to grind food. You need the soil.)

Instructions

Step 1: Place one tote aside. Don’t touch it. Don’t look at it. It’s irrelevant right now. Drill ventilation holes about 1 – 1 ½ inches apart in the remaining tote. (diagram)

Step 2: Cut 8 to 10 1” holes in the bottom of the tote. They don’t have to be pretty, but they do need to be relatively evenly spaced. Be creative. No one is going to see it anyway. This allows for proper drainage. One of the biggest issues with home worm bins is they get too wet, leaving a stinking mess of putrefying food and worm carcasses.

Step 3: Place screen in the bottom of the tote. If you’re feeling extra fancy you can thumbtack it into place. This keeps the worms from escaping through those lovely holes you just cut, and hopefully didn’t hurt yourself doing.

Step 4: Shred newspaper into fine strips. The the finer the better. If you have any leftover cardboard, cut it into small squares.

Step 5: Wet the newspaper strips by placing them in a bowl or bucket and drizzling water over them and stirring until they’re all equally damp. Squeeze out as much water as you can. Add the shreds to the worm bin by the handful.
Step 6: After you’ve added about 4 to 6 inches of newspaper to the bin, add the cardboard pieces and about 2 cups of soil. Toss it all together to mix it. Add the worms. Put a the large piece of cardboard over the top.

Step 7: Remember that other tote we told you to ignore? Now it’s time.

Place your cinderblocks/blocks/bricks in the bottom of the tote. Place your finished worm bin on top. Now it has a place to drain that isn’t your floor.

Feeding

Worms LOVE…

Coffee grounds and tea leaves
Crushed eggshells
Fruit of all sorts, except citrus
Lettuce or any leafy green
Oatmeal and other cooked grains
Squash, zuchinni, cucumbers, melon
Wet bread and things like cooked pasta

Worms are cool with…

Just about any chopped vegetable matter, fresh or cooked
Newspaper and uncoated cardboard
Rabbit droppings

Worms will die from or ignore…

Citrus of any sort (It’s antimicrobial.)
Dairy (Traces are OK.)
Meat
Oil
Salty or processed food
Sugar (Traces are OK.)
Vinegar
Tips

Start off with just a cup of scraps on the first day. One pound of worms can eat a half-pound of food per week, so be careful not to over-feed in the beginning. See “What to Feed Worms,” below, for suggestions.

Bury the scraps in one corner of the bin and cover it with about an inch of newspaper. The worms will find the food. After a couple of days, add another cup of scraps in another corner. Proceed cautiously, even if you have lots of worms, because they may not want to eat much at first. Develop an intuition for what is enough and what is too much. While it’s important to feed them plenty if you want them to breed, don’t worry much about them going hungry. If they get hungry between feedings, they’ll eat the newspaper. Eventually, they’ll eat everything in the bin. All of the newspaper, cardboard and food scraps will be reduced to black gold: worm castings.

HARVESTING METHODS

There are a few ways to harvest your worms and/or worm castings. All are effective but require varying levels of time and energy. Below are two of my favorite, because one is incredibly low-energy, and the other requires no planning.

There’s the migration method, which is the laziest. Since worms like to eat food, they will follow the food scraps and be herded in very slow motion over to a certain area of the worm bin. Simply stop putting food in the area of the bin you intend to harvest. The worms will migrate, driven by famine in their homeland, to follow dreams of food scraps a’plenty.

It will take about 3 to 4 weeks.

This will leave you with nearly worm-free castings. Just make sure to replenish the now empty part of your bin with new bedding and food.

The most hand’s on method is appealing because it requires little forethought. Essentially, you sort through the castings and play find-the-worm. Resign yourself to a mess, and dump the bin out onto someplace large and flat. If you do it outside, make sure to do so in the shade. It’s going to take a while to if you’ve been meaning to binge-watch something, now would be an excellent time.

Refill bin from scratch and put the worms back.

This is a very basic guide, but there are so very many resources available online that go into deeper detail. We encourage you to check it out!