Worm Adventures

As I have previously mentioned, one of the things that I wanted to include in my plans was to get a worm composting bin going. To this end, and after more research than I probably needed, I went out to pick up said worms and met with Ellen Sandbeck. My wife and I had a great time talking to her and she graciously showed us around her setup and outbuilding where she keeps her worm bin. Not to mention, we had the happiness of plenty of time to spend with her dogs, which didn’t go unappreciated either.

Ellen keeps a worm bin that I would estimate to be approximately the circumference of a old fashioned bathtub, and about twice as deep outside in a shed space on her property. Obviously, this is way more than I am looking to start, but it operates under the same principles. It provides a darkish place that keeps relatively moist and warm, and allows enough space to bury new food scraps or food for the worms to work on, while also giving plenty of room for bedding and castings (worm poop) from the worms. In her case, Ellen’s bin is covered by mulched straw from her chicken coop through the winter, to elegantly provide some heat from the decomposition to keep the space warm. From my other research, some care would need to be used if this was used for smaller bins, as you wouldn’t want to either overheat the worm’s environment or put too much chicken waste/ammonia to overwhelm them.

The main reason for the “room to bury” is that even though worms will come to the surface to get food, anything left of the surface is also fair game for other organisms. I am a jealous keeper to my worms – I only want to feed them, not flies or bacteria. Flies eggs do not hatch without an oxygen source, so if the new food or material is buried, there is less opportunity to have them stealing from my worms. Okay, and let’s be honest, I also have no desire to have the flies in the bin and getting loose to the rest of my house.

Through all of my research, the one thing that is stressed about getting a worm bin going is to remember that it is a mini-ecosystem. For my purpose, the main goals that I wanted to accomplish was to make sure that it was a non-intrusive and contained ecosystem. No where in my plans do bad odors or bugs (worms or other) escaping figure in.

So – to my specifics – my bin “system” is essentially two Rubbermaid containers. The top container is a standard, opaque (in my case purple) Rubbermaid container that is the standard size for general storage. I will try to check, but I’m pretty sure it is somewhere around 28 gallons. This is probably larger than I need, but I want to provide room to grow as well. I drilled about 50 small holes in the bottom 1/16″, and about 8 larger holes 3/16″ in the bottom of the bin to provide drainage. Then I drilled probably about 100 small holes in the top 5th of the bin to provide air. Into the lid of the Rubbermaid container, I drilled more small holes, and about 10 larger holes, in an attempt to make sure that I balanced humidity retention for the bin with the ability to get air to the worms. So far, this balance has worked out, as the worms seem happy, and I haven’t yet had any odor problems.

Then, for the bottom bin, I have a clear plastic bin with no holes. On the bottom of this bin, I have small two plastic containers (6 ounce or so) that the top bin balances on. Now, because of all of the drainage holes, there has to be a way to catch excess water drainage and moisture, but at the same time I wanted to limit the amount of worm escapee possibilities out of the bin. So, the space created by the small containers creates a gap between the bins that is needed for air and potential leakage, but the clear plastic of the “catch” bin also discourages runaways. Worms are extremely sensitive to light/UV rays, so they avoid light sources. So far, success – I will let you know if that part of the experiment ever runs amuck – but in all I have read, as long as the ecosystem is kept correctly maintained, there really is no desire on the worms’ part to escape anyway – so I’m very hopeful that it will work as well as my research tells me it will.

With the “home” built, I then stocked it with shredded plain cardboard and leaves for worm bedding, about 3 cups of soil for grit (worms need this about the same way birds need gravel for their gizzards), a dozen egg shells that I had ground up and rinsed off, and Xander is taking care of the food source to start the bin. The weekend before I went up to get the new residents, I filled the bin up with the bedding, soaked it down with water until it was pretty wet, and then layered in dry Xander (rabbit) pellets. I let this sit and equalize, and by the time I came back with the worms three days later, it was ready.

At that point, I dug a smallish hole in the bin, poured in the worms (they were in a recycled gallon milk jug with some transport bedding/soil), and then lightly covered the hole back over. I put the lid back on my bin, and didn’t really do anything with the worms for about 3 days. They seemed to be fine and dispersed themselves around under the surface of the bedding. Since then, I check on them probably more often that I “need” to, purely because it pleases me to see them thriving.

The beauty of this system thus far is that it is actually making my Xander cage cleaning easier. I just slide out the worm bin from under the table that Xander’s house is on, dig a hole in one side of the worm bin, pull out the rabbit catch tray, tip it into the worm bin, and then replace the rabbit tray liner. The only concern so far that I have is that Xander seems to be over-producing what the worms can eat at this point. 🙂 I’m sure my outside gardening projects this summer can take care of this excess, though.

***Special note – Most of the research I did HIGHLY recommended to never use newspaper as worm bedding. I have no experience with this yet, but I’m playing it safe and only using other things for bedding until I have an outside bin to experiment. The main consequence for the prohibition against newspaper is that it is even better habitat for flies than it is for worms.

Below I have a few pictures of the finished project. Also, for reference, I would like to also point anyone who is interested to Ellen’s worm website which has a lot of information on the subject. She was a wonderful resource to me in accomplishing the project. In thanks to her help, I want to give a shout out for her new book, Green Barbarians, which is on my shelf to read in the near future. Check it out either through my link, or through the links to it on her website.


Categories: Animals, Gardening

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