Four years ago, my daughter started to have an interest in gardening. More specifically, she wanted to play with the worms in the garden.
I was interested in worms, too. More specifically, I was interested in worm poop.
My friends who had bountiful vegetable gardens used compost. They had compost heaps or one of those spinning compost bins. Although we have a spacious backyard and could technically put a “heap” there, I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of asking my husband to build a corral for it. I also didn’t want to look at a pile of “trash” in our backyard. Those spinning bins were a great idea, but are pretty pricey. So I took matters into my own hand and built a worm bin for composting.
It was amazingly easy. I found instructions online on how to build a worm bin out of two storage containers. For under $20, I was able to get everything I needed in one store — two plastic storage bins and two packages of live “red wriggler worm” bait from the fishing section. Don’t use nightcrawler worms – apparently they’ll die in a worm bin.
This is my setup (excuse the dustiness and cobwebs — we’ve had it for a while):
The top bin has holes drilled on the sides, bottom, and the lid. It rests on two bricks that are inside the bottom bin (to catch excess moisture). You can drill holes in both bins and use the extra lid to catch drippings, too. The latter setup allows your worms to migrate to the bottom bin and you’ll need to make sure to add food to compost in there, too.
Preparing for compost
To prepare the bedding you will need “brown” matter and “green” matter for balance (read: a not-so-stinky bin)
Brown = dead leaves, shredded paper, cardboard (they love cardboard), paper egg cartons
Green = fresh vegetable and fruit scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds (yes, I know it’s brown in color, but considered “green” because of the nitrogen content). You will want to limit onions and citrus since they can change the PH balance of the bin. I’d say no more than 5% of the “green” matter you’re composting.
Grit = (only a little bit) sand/dirt, finely crushed egg shells. The grit aids the worms’ digestion.
You will need to build the bin in layers. Moisten the “brown” matter with a spray bottle. Layer the bin starting with the “brown” matter then alternate with “green.” You can sprinkle a little “grit” in there. Keep layering in the same fashion, making sure you end up with “brown” for the top. This helps prevent flies (which I found out too late with my bin). Every now and then, give the compost a little “fluff.”
What not to compost – Animal products (anything with butter, meats, egg shells are okay but not the egg itself), sticks and big seeds (they don’t break down), cooked food, bones, plastic (obviously).
Give the worms a chance to feed before adding any more scraps. If you want to add more food scraps, you can section off your bin by separating the “old” scraps with the “new” scraps. When you do add more scraps to compost, make sure to always add “brown matter” to balance it out. You will see that the worms will slowly migrate to the newly added “food” once they’re done eating the “old stuff.”
Once your bin is established, you’ll have some little surprises. Number one, food will sprout. I’ve had bell pepper seeds, potato peels and carrot ends sprout in the bin. It is a dark, moist and warm environment after all— conducive to germination and sprouting. But don’t think you’ll be growing a garden straight out of your bin. The lack of light will make those sprouts die and eventually the worms will get to them. I guess you can always pull out the plant and stick it in the garden. I’ve never tried it, but if you do, I’d like to hear how they turn out!
The second surprise — more worms! You’ll find tiny lemon-looking things in your bin. Those are worm eggs. Don’t get rid of them. They’ll help your food compost faster.
The third, and not so welcome surprise – flies. They eventually happen. That means you need to cover up the “green” matter with some more “brown.” Also it would be good to give the bin a “fluff”
Sure, the worms are fun to play with and are fascinating to watch, but the whole point of having a compost bin is to use it in the garden. It takes about 3 months to get a bin to fully compost (but faster when you have more worms). Once you see that your bin mostly looks like soil (and you get over the fact that it’s worm poo) it’s time to harvest the castings. Get a hand shovel, gloves, and a tarp or flat container. Scoop out the castings onto the flat container or tarp and shine a bright light on it. The worms will move to the bottom of the pile and you can scrape the top layer of castings to use in your garden. If your bin is divided with old/new compost, you can scoop out the old castings once the worms migrate without having to use the light/tarp method.
You can also use the excess “drippings” from the bin to make “worm tea.” It’s not what you think… don’t drink it. Just add water to the drippings and water your garden with it. It’s a great fungicide and a natural insect repellant (for certain insects like scale, white flies, and aphids). Worm tea is also a natural fertilizer — no need for chemicals in your garden!
We’ve had our worm bin for quite a while now and it’s still working it’s magic. We keep it in a corner of the garage and it takes very little space. The kids love the opportunity to “feed the worms” since they like playing with them and hunting for the “big ones.”
Once you start vermicomposting, you’ll be glad to have worm poo sitting in your house, too!
Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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