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Red Wiggler Worm

Red Wiggler Worm

WORMS ~ $28.99/lb.
Red wigglers are the heroes of vermicomposting. Whether you’re living in an apartment or on your own farm, a worm bin is a great complement to any gardener’s kitchen.

Here’s how it works. You create a little habitat for your worms inside a lidded tub. Once a week, you dump in some food scraps. Cover them with a layer of newspaper, and close the lid.

Your red wigglers will set to work, turning those scraps into the richest, darkest, loveliest potting soil you’ll ever get your hands on. Not only are worm castings great for potting; they’re also a beautiful fertilizer and, if need be, plant medicine – wonderful to have on hand.

Worm Bins Smell like the Forest Floor

Smells like the Forest Floor

And just to alleviate any fears about this, a healthy worm bin doesn’t stink and isn’t gross. On the contrary, it’s a tidy, self-contained system, and it doesn’t draw a lot of attention to itself. When you open the lid, it smells pleasantly sweet and earthy, like the forest floor.

Everyone’s got their own way to set up a worm bin. Here’s one way that works great.

First, decide where you want to keep your worms. Under the kitchen counter? In the laundry room? Choose a spot that’s:

  • Accessible – otherwise you won’t want to care for them. So, not under a pile of boxes or behind a cramped door.
  • Temperature-protected – worms can die in a heat spell. You don’t want them on the back porch where they could freeze or swelter.
  • Regularly visible to you – so you won’t forget them. Don’t put them in the cupboard under the stairs with the camping gear if you generally don’t open that door more than once every six months.
Plastic Tubs for a Worm Bin

Plastic Tubs for a Worm Bin (from "The Plastic Storage Bins" - click here)

Once you’ve picked a place, get a hold of two stacking plastic storage tubs that fit the nook or cranny in question. (You can use a different type of bin if you prefer, but we picked these because they’re convenient and cheap.) Opaque plastic is best, since worms like it dark, but we’ve known them to do just fine in a transparent bin, too.

Now get out your drill. Make a bunch of 1/4 inch holes all over the base of each bin. These are for drainage, and later, for transitioning. (More on that below.) Next, drill a single line of 1/8 inch holes around the rim of each bin. Finally, drill some 1/8 inch holes all over one of the lids, leaving the other lid intact. These are for ventilation.

Lay the intact lid on the floor wherever you’re going to keep your bin. This is to catch drips. Set two rocks or wooden blocks on the lid. Place one of the bins on the blocks.

Adding Worms to the Bin

Send in the Worms

Rip up some junk mail (non-glossy pages only) and pile it into the bin a couple inches deep. Add your worms, plus a few food scraps to start them off. Cover them with a few more pages of unwanted paper, button down the lid, and your bin is off to a good start.

What about that second bin, you ask? For now, just set it aside. You’ll use it later when the first bin is full and you want to harvest those worm castings.

But when that day comes, here’s what to do:

Remove the lid of the first, full bin. Set the second, empty bin directly on top of the contents. Fasten the lid onto the second bin. From then on, you’ll put your new table scraps into the second, top bin. As the worms run out of food below, they’ll travel up through the holes in the bottom to the fresh stuff.

When the second bin is full, pull the bottom bin out, harvest the castings and set it aside for later, when it’s time to transition again.

Worm Tonic = Plant Medicine

Worm Tonic = Plant Medicine

From time to time, you’ll notice drips collecting in the tray underneath your bin. These are called “worm tea” or “worm tonic.” Pour it off and water your plants with it – especially if you’ve got one that’s not doing well. With a dose of worm tonic, chances are it’ll start feeling better.

What Worms Want

What Worms Want

Worms love egg shells, tea bags, vegetables, fruit peels, coffee grounds and the like. They do not love oils, meats, dairy or citrus. Think “cutting board” scraps, rather than what you might scrape off your dinner plate.

Every time you feed your worms, cover the new offering with a layer of paper. This prevents bugginess or odors. Newsprint is great, but as mentioned, avoid glossy pages.

The paper also helps you moderate their humidity. It should always be damp inside. If the old paper is totally dry when you open the bin, you need to add moisture. Get some new paper wet, wring it out and lay it on top. But if the old paper is drenched and there’s a lot of worm tonic collecting in the bottom tray, you need to dry things out some. Add several dry pages to absorb the excess.

As the weeks pass, you’ll notice the old paper disappearing, because the worms will slowly but surely eat every last bit of it. Paper is important to their diet, supplying them with essential “brown matter,” or carbon. Paper, wood shavings, dead leaves – all of that is brown matter. It balances the “green matter,” or nitrogen, of the food scraps you feed them. Their diet should include 50% of each. As long as there’s some of each available to them, they’ll do fine.

How do you know if you’re feeding them too much? If last week’s scraps are sitting there untouched, slow down a little. Conversely, if every time you open the bin, your worms have obliterated any trace of whatever you put in last, try feeding them more. A worm can eat its weight daily. A pound of worms will eat a pound of food: half a pound of kitchen scraps plus half a pound of paper.

Worms are very forgiving. They’re easy keepers, so if you forget about them once or twice, don’t worry. They actually prefer to be left alone for the most part. As long as the bin smells good and the worms are wiggling, you’re doing it right.

Feel free to call us at (503) 646-6409 if you have questions. Also, check out Cathy’s Crawly Composters: a fine worm website with a ton of information. (Click her FAQ page, and learn the answers to questions you didn’t even think to ask.)

Have fun!




  1. Pingback: Tomatoes & Kale, Started « The Rambler's Journal - March 17, 2012

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