One of the great things about my husband being a locksmith is that he gets to drive around between homes and business and meet different people.
He gets to rekey many investment properties and foreclosed homes and most of the times, the owner of the home (or the bank representative) is happy to give to him anything that is left on the property since it means less cleaning for them.
Once, he found an old worm composting bin behind a house he was working on and the owner was more than happy to get rid of it.
I’ve wanted worms for a while. Their castings are such a great addition to garden soil, and if you keep the bin indoors where it’s warm, they will keep making compost (aka poop) for you even during the Winter.
If you follow my blog, you know that I am working on starting a small organic farm so I can use all the compost I can get. Worm poop, chicken poop, horse poop…thank God animals don’t ever stop pooping.
Let’s back up here for a second in case you are not sure what the hell am I talking about and thinking first she is excited about using an outhouse and now she is messing with worm poop. What in the world is wrong with this lady!
What is vermicomposting?
You can make amazing compost at home by using red wigglers worms.
Those worms can eat their body weight in food scraps daily, and, like all of us, when we eat a lot we poop a lot.
Here is the process:
- You set up a worm bin.
- You add worms.
- You feed your worms your kitchen scraps and keep the bin moist (not wet).
- Your worms eat the decomposing scraps and poop compost.
- You harvest your compost (aka worm castings) and add them to your garden soil.
All this can be done very cheaply and doesn’t take much work. The result, the castings, is glorious. I mean glorious!
Worm castings are rich and full of nutrients, it is said that worm poop contains ten times the nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous that basic soil has. An all natural plant fertilizer that doesn’t need to break up, it’s immediately available for plants to consume and all those nutrients are exactly what your plants crave!
After you harvest the castings from the bin, you can mix them with your garden soil or make worm casting tea and water your plants with it. You’ll see a noticeable change in the health of your plants within days.
Vermicomposting How To…
Step one is setting up your worm bin.
To do that, get a dark plastic bin (should be dark because worms are sensitive to light) and drill a few holes in the lid or at the top of the bin (on the sides).
You can go with a fancy Worm Farm kind of set up if you have the money to spend. I just went with a bin but I am sure the Worm Farm is great too.
To create the bedding, add shredded paper and cardboard to the bottom of the bin. We want to create a moist environment for the worms so it’s a good idea to dip the paper in water.
Next, add an inch or so of moist soil on top of the paper. This is optional. You’ll see below that I did it this way but some people just place the worms directly on the bedding.
Once the bin is ready, add the worms. Composting worms are called Red Wigglers and you can order them online here.
Simply spill the whole bag of worms with the bedding they have in their bag into your bin.
The worms will eat the shredded paper and cardboard so you don’t have to add kitchen scraps right away but you can if you want to.
When you feed your worms make sure to bury the feed.
Worms like fruits and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, washed and crushed eggshells (if you don’t wash the shells they are likely to stink the bin), left over food as long as it’s not processed food, and any garden waste.
They also like animal manure, like cow or horse manure, but don’t feed your worms meat or oils. And I don’t feed them dairy.
It will take a few months, but at some point, you will notice that it’s time to harvest. There will be a nice, uniform soil-like layer in the bin and by that time the worms will have probably eaten all the paper and cardboard.
To harvest the castings, don’t feed the worms for a couple of weeks. Then bury a handful of feed in one corner of the bin. Wait a couple of days and most of the worms will be in that corner eating the scraps. This will allow you to scoop the rest of the casting out.
You can then add a little bit more paper and cardboard to the bin for bedding.
I used to make a really big deal of harvesting the castings, trying not to scoop any worms, but if you scoop a few worms with the casting and add them to the garden it’s completely fine. The worms won’t eat your plants because they are alive and those worms feed on decomposing matter. Additionally, the population in the bin will recover very quickly because those worms multiply faster than rabbits.
Which brings me to another point… If you notice that the worm population in your bin is too high, you can either make another bin and relocate some of the worms, you can gift a bag of worms to another gardener, or you can set some worms free in your garden.
The last piece of information you need to know is that it’s best to keep the bin where temperatures are between 50 to 70 degrees.
In the bin that my husband brought home that day, there were no worms.
I could see that it was an active bin but it was left outdoors in freezing temperatures and all the worms were gone.
However, in between the dry castings, there was this piece of a paper bag full of worm eggs, and I was wondering what if…
What if I could help them hatch, and keep them warm, and feed them, and sing to them, and pat them, and have conversations with them…
And we will have a worm nursery, full of babies (I love babies)…
And they will eat and poop, and I will clean their poop (I already clean so much poop anyway, what’s a bit more).
Then I’ll spread it in my garden and my vegetables will be so beautiful and tasty and full of nutrients, and we (including the worms) will eat them, and feed others and be healthy and live happily ever after!
Ahh, what if…
So I added some wet newspaper to the bin, making sure to wet the piece of paper with the eggs on it because, as I mentioned before, worms like a moist environment, then I closed the bin and placed it indoors.
I didn’t remove the old castings because I didn’t know if there were eggs anywhere else, and if there were I didn’t want to ruin them. I also didn’t add too much bedding because I just didn’t know if the eggs were actually going to hatch or not so I wasn’t going to spend too much time on it. I did throw in some kitchen scraps in case some worms did hatch I wanted them to have some food.
Then I waited about two weeks…
And when I opened the bin two weeks later, I saw a couple of worms. Can you see them in the middle of the picture?
I added some more water, making sure there was enough moisture in the bin, and closed it again.
I waited another week and then decided it was time to clean the bin and check how many worms I had.
I set up a cleaning station outside on the porch and went to work. I put some soil in a bucket where I planned to place the worms that I found and got another bin to collect the castings in.
Since this bin was already active before, I wanted to remove the old castings and kind of “start fresh” with my new baby worms.
I moved the newspaper and food scraps to one side and the castings to the other. Then, I scooped some of the castings and looked for worms…
The worms I found went to the bucket…
And the castings to the second bin.
We found a lot of worms. Maybe 60 or 70 or so. Worms breeding cycle is 27 days so they can double in population every 60 days. Some were big…
Some were tiny.
My kids loved helping to find the worms and placing them in the bucket. This is such a great lesson for kids! Not only are they able to care for the worms, feed, clean and so on, they also learn about amending soil and feeding plants.
And look, look at this glorious poop. Looks like soil, but this is actually worm poop. Just a little bit of this stuff, mixed in your garden soil will benefit your plants tremendously.
After we sorted all the worms from the castings, I added a 1 inch layer of soil to the bin…
And added the soil and worms from the bucket back into the bin.
We dipped some newspaper in water…
And placed it on the soil. Then added some food scraps, closed the bin, and placed it back indoors.
I realize the order of things here is a bit different than I described it above but it really doesn’t matter. Remember you need bedding, worms, and a bit of soil and food in order to start a vermicompost bin.
I hope this vermicomposting how to was helpful!
Vermicomposting is very simple and you can do it anywhere, even in a small apartment in the city. I had this bin inside my house for a year and a half and the worm population kept growing.
I decided to gift it when we moved to the country because I just had too many new things to set up and care for and I was pregnant with our fourth child. My kids miss the worms so much so I am thinking it’s time to set up a new bin! My garden is bigger now and I would love the extra compost.
I also have a germination room now where I start my own seeds for the large garden and little seedlings LOVE worm castings. It makes them so strong and healthy which makes transplanting outdoors very easy.
Last year when I didn’t have my own worm castings I purchased a couple of these bags from Amazon and was very happy with this product. But keeping worms is super easy and cheap so it makes sense to have a couple of bins.