“Honey, what would you like for Valentines?” asked my thoughtful husband, Mr. Man.
“I’d like a worm bin,” I responded.
“Not gonna happen.” He replied without missing a beat.
When I went through Master Gardener certification in 2012, our class had a fantastic unit on vermicomposting, known as “worm farming.” I got so excited about the possibility of building and managing my own worm bin, that when Valentines rolled around, I really did ask for worms from my sweetie. He gave me a look like I was delusional, refused and walked away.
Since then, I’ve wanted my garden and house plants to benefit from this. Using worm castings indoors or out can be some of the best soil amending you can do.
So, you might imagine how thrilled I was when I received an email this week, inviting Master Gardeners to a “hands on” workshop where we would learn how to manage a worm bin, make one and leave with a working bin—worms included.
The email instructed me to purchase two bins and some small terracotta pots as lifters. I found two 25-quart bins and the pots at a local big-box store for about $12. (I went with a smaller bin than what was recommended, because I thought it would be best to start small.)
Upon arriving at the workshop, our facilitator and University of Idaho Master Gardener program assistant, Kimberly Tate, led a team of educators who taught us the finer points of caring for worms and their environment. We learned the specific benefits of using worm compost:
• Provides beneficial microbes to the soil
• Improves soil structure by improving water holding capacity
• Provides nutrients essential for plant growth
Esenia Fetida, or Red Wigglers are the worms that are used in this project. Night Crawlers will not work. The Red Wigglers are actually tropical worms that thrive in a neutral PH and in temperatures between 55°-77°. So, I knew going into this project, that I would keep my bin in the house.
The bin is actually very easy to make. Use a 1/16” bit to drill holes into the top rim of just one of the bins. Make holes in the bottom, as well.
Ventilation is very important. For added airflow, we drilled in air vents on each side of the bin. We actually used window screening, and drain strainers with spring prongs to secure the holes. You want to avoid attracting critters large and small, especially fruit flies.
Red Wigglers can consume half their body weight every 48 hours. I compost a lot of plant material. While I could easily feed my Red Wigglers a constant diet or citrus and banana peels, I was instructed to avoid these. The citrus peels will change the PH to a more acidic environment while the banana peels could introduce fruit flies. (You can always freeze banana peels for three days to kill fruit flies and their offspring. But, why bother when there is plenty of other stuff to feed hungry worms?)
Mixing the food into the bedding is also recommended. The best bedding is shredded newsprint. Luckily now, the ink used in newspapers is soy based.
Plain, white paper can often have bleach in it. Kimberly recommends buying a cheap/used cross cut shredder. I looked recently and there are some on Craigslist. Do not shred/use the slick adverts that come in the paper.
When you feed your worms, mix the shredded paper and food at a 16:1 ratio. Since I only started out with a half-pound or 500 Red Wigglers, my first feeding will be about 2 cups of shredded bedding to 1/8 cup food. It’s easiest to put the food through a food processor with some filtered water.
Mix it together in a container so that it’s the consistency of a wrung out sponge. Worms need a somewhat moist/humid environment—remember “wrung out sponge.” Also, the worms need a bit of grit to aid in digestion. A teaspoon of sand is the perfect additive.
I’m keeping a log right now, to track what works and what doesn’t. The worms can live up to five years (in favorable conditions), so it will be nice to keep a record of the changes. Kimberly says the worms will communicate. Put too much food in…the bin might start to smell. Don’t put in enough, your bin will be all worms and castings. The worms will double their population every two months. So, feeding requirements will change.
It’s best to cover your mound of worms with some slightly moist shredded paper. They like the dark. So, this gives them a good environment.
It’s up to the worm farmer to determine when to harvest the castings. I want to do it right away to add them to my houseplants.
It’s pretty cool to think that I now have 500 farm workers toiling away under the bed in our guestroom. I know that the Red Wigglers could make some people a bit squeamish. So, I think I’ll keep that little bit of information to myself…
Resources for vermiculture:
University of Idaho Master Gardener program
Ada County: 208-287‐5900
Canyon County: 208-459-6003
Oregon State University Master Gardener program
Jan Shirley, Wiggly Composters