Break It Down (Worm Time)

I’ve been wanting to get my worm bin started again for quite a while.  I used to have it going, before I was pregnant with my youngest, and I would use it to get rid of lots of leftovers and bits from the kitchen.  I enjoyed having large amounts of wonderful vermicompost (worm poop compost) to put on my garden plants, especially my tomatoes.

However, a lot of gardening and composting projects fell by the wayside when I was pregnant.  I had a huge number of houseplant casualties, somewhere in the area of 60-70% suffered an untimely end.  I didn’t want this to happen to my worms, so knowing I wasn’t taking care of them, I set them free into the garden to fend for themselves.

Now, four years later, I was anxious and ready to get my worm bin going again.  I have really been thinking about how much we send to the landfill each week.  I am reading a book about reducing your trash/waste, and I will talk more about this in a related post in the near future.  One great way to reduce the amount of food waste you have is to utilize a worm compost bin.

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I got mine from Amazon several years ago, I think it is a lot like this one.  You don’t have to have a fancy bin with multiple levels like mine to successfully compost with worms though.  A plastic tote with holes in the bottom can accomplish the same thing.

I had never really cleaned out the bin from the last time I used it, so that was the first step. I dumped out all the layers and wiped the outside down.  It’s kind of funny that you want the bin to be clean before you dump a bunch of worms and rotting food into it.  Seems ironic.

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Next, I got some sheets of wet newspaper and laid a layer in the bottom of my tray.  This part is optional, but I like to keep my warms from falling through into the lower layers where there isn’t any food.  When I put food in for them, I generally put it in the corners, so a lot of compost still knocked down through the holes, so the newspaper doesn’t block the process from working.  Plus, the newspaper helps keep the worms moist and the worms eat it too.

Then I assembled my bedding.  I happened to have a bunch of shredded paper ready that I brought home from work.  I mixed that with some garden soil from my yard, checking to make sure I wasn’t bringing in any large bugs or rocks or mulch.  I sprayed this mixture and worked it around to get it uniformly wet.  You do not want the bedding to be so wet that it runs out or drips, but it needs to be wet enough to keep your worms hydrated and happy.

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I also brought some ripped up hosta leaves and some spent lilies in from my yard and mixed those in with the bedding too, just to keep the texture varied.  My dog Ollie was performing quality control in this picture.  I kept adding water until I was happy with the moisture, about the wetness of a sponge.

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Next, I added some food into the corner of the bin.  I pulled back the bedding, and covered the food up with the paper when I was done.  If the food is all in mostly one place, it is easier to see if they have eaten it all.  You don’t want to overfeed your worms.  If you give them too much food, the bin can start to stink, or can attract bugs.  Keeping bugs away is another reason for burying the food with the bedding.

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When I was done preparing the bin, I added the worms.  When I received them in the mail, I followed the instructions and immediately added a half cup of water to the open bag.  By the time I got my bin ready, the worms had been ‘rehydrating’ for quite a while.  To add them to the bed, I scooped a whole in the middle of the paper and emptied the bag into the indentation.  We all stood around poking through the soil and watching the worms wriggle for a while, until they submerged.  I pulled the bedding back over them and spritzed them with a little more water.

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I realized then that I forgot to add eggshells, and so I had my son crush them up and add them to the top.  I can mix them in as I work with the worms in the days to come.  A couple sheets of damp newspaper on the top helps to keep the worms well hydrated.  I decided to put them in the bathroom for a few days, because that is one of the brightest rooms in my house.  When the worms are getting settled in, a really bright overhead light will help them to dive deep into the bedding (to escape the light), and thus will make them less likely to try and escape the bin.  The bin is like alcatraz for worms, you can try to escape, but you most likely won’t survive.

Now you may be wondering, what can I feed my worms?  Here is a list of things that worms may like:  kitchen scraps, leaves, houseplant trimmings, paper, coffee grounds, egg cartons, tea bags, cotton clothes (this is fun to do with the kids, worms will eat all but elastic), rice, pasta.  All should be cut into as small pieces as you can manage, because worms do not have teeth.  Smaller food means happier worms and vermicompost faster.

Do not give your worms:  meat, dairy, pet waste, too much citrus, anything sprouting.  Also, don’t bother offering the worms your toothbrush (as seen below), since they don’t have teeth.

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Store your bin in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.  The worms will like a temperature of 60-70 degrees the best.  Do not leave the worms in a place where they will overheat or freeze!

You can feed your worms once or twice a week, depending on how fast they eat.  You will get a feel for how much they consume by checking from time to time.  I don’t feed mine a whole lot when they are starting out, I will wait until the banana peel is most of the way gone before I add more food.

Besides getting some of the best compost out there, your worm bin will prove endlessly fascinating, especially if you have kids.  I take mine to school sometimes and let the kids poke through gently when we do garden activities.  It can be really fun to see what the worms will eat.  You will probably be surprised by all the things they break down.

Please leave a comment and tell me how you use your vermicompost in your garden.  I’d like to hear about your experiences with worm composting.  I’m excited to see how the bin helps us reduce waste in our house, and I’ll write soon with more about how we are reducing the things we throw away.  Thanks!



2 thoughts on “Break It Down (Worm Time)

  1. Pingback: Break It Down (Worm Time) | FROM SEED TO JAR – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  2. Pingback: What’s In Our Trash Can? | FROM SEED TO JAR

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