Establishing your own worm bin has a two-fold advantage. First, it will make good use of vegetable scraps and secondly, the worm casings, known as vermicompost, act as a highly-effective fertilizer in the garden. There are two types of bin systems, vertical and horizontal, and red worms are available for purchase. You will need about a pound of worms for every ½ pound of vegetable scraps; enough worms to efficiently work through discarded carrot peels, aging celery stocks and other “veggie-has-beens” hanging out in the crisper. To start your worm bin, consider the following:
Choosing the system you would like to use is a personal preference. Both systems work well if properly maintained. What is important to know is how worms navigate.
The worms will need a base to start with, such as shredded newspaper and cardboard. Next is a layer of food, such as apple peels or carrot tops. The worms will work through the food and excrete their casings, reducing bacteria that is pathogenic to animals and people. Upon weekly feedings and bi-weekly base amendments, the worms will travel to the top of the bin, leaving behind a luscious, soil-like microbial environment. Once the worms have traveled to the top of the system, the residual casing compounds are available for harvest.
Keep in mind that a horizontal system is similar to a vertical system (think two vertical systems side by side). Once the worms have reached the top of one side of the horizontal system, they will travel over to the other side of the bin and work their way from bottom to top again.
At Civetta Farm, we wanted a viewing window of our working worms, so we chose a horizontal worm bin from Northwest Red Worms. It is hand-constructed from Cedar and offers plexiglass sliding doors to watch our friends-of-the-earth wiggling and waggling.
Preparing the bin for your earth-worm crew:
As regular online shoppers, we have plenty of thin-cardboard packing material lying around. To get started, we wet this cardboard thoroughly, and when it dried, we ran strips of it through our paper shredder. We also ran newspaper through, and the combination of these shredded materials comprise the base of our bin. Once the base is laid, spray with water, this will provide the structure your new worms will need.
When adding worms to the bin, keep the red worms in the soil they arrived in. The worms will want a familiar medium in which to live, it helps make the transition to their new home quite a bit easier on them. Place the worms inside bedding and then add a layer of food to the bin. We put our scraps, such as kale stems, chicken manure, dead leaves, pea ends and leftover lettuce. We found it best not to use too much of one kind of food, the worms like a variety. We choose to run kitchen scraps through the food processor because it creates a pliable medium for the worms to eat.
It is best to purchase the red worms in cooler weather, such as the fall. It is easier for them to adapt to their new home when it isn’t so hot outside. Also keep in mind, meat, dairy, dog and cat waste will not be something you want in your bin. They attract unwanted bugs and/or do not break down for the worms to eat. If you bin doesn’t smell, you know you are feeding the worms the right scraps.
Some bugs will enter your bin that are beneficial, such as tiny springtails, these insects help to break down the newspaper and cardboard for the worms.
Once a week we spread a layer of food in the bin and water well. You may want to water a couple times a week if the weather is warm, you will have to monitor this and see what works best in your climate. It is advantageous if the worms, food and base are kept moist throughout the week.
Our greatest benefit in having a worm bin at Civetta Farm is forgoing pesticides. Every week, we add a few handfuls of vermicompost with water to our sprayer and make a “vermicompost tea”. We spray our fruits and vegetables with the tea. The nourishment it gives our plants is evident, as our crops have been producing numerous fruits and vegetables. The rich microbes in the vermicompost provide our plants with nutrients for strong roots. Our plants have a healthy immune system, so they are able to better defend themselves against disease.
The worms have been with us for years and they are flourishing. We have transferred our worms from one side of bin to the other several times, still have the same worm system we purchased in 2014. When the weather is warm, try and place the bin in the shade. During the winter, we like to place the bin next to the house and cover with a felt cloth.
It may seem intimidating to start a worm bin, but it really is easy to do and maintain. Whether you live in an apartment with a patio garden of potted herb plants or have acres and acres of trees, a worm bin system is a natural way to protect our environment, produce strong-yield crops and lesson your trash output from the kitchen and coop.