I’m a worm farmer!

My friend, Sue, who used to work at the garden center with me, gave me her worm farm a few weeks ago.  I’ve never been a worm farmer before and by the looks of things so far, it’s not too hard!  This is a super easy way to make your own organic, nutrient rich compost.   The cool kids call it vermicomposting and you can do it yourself just about anywhere!

Some of you might be wondering just what exactly IS vermicomposting and why is it different from the compost pile in my backyard?  Vermicomposting, to put it simply, is composting with worms.  It can be done year round, inside and in small spaces too!  With traditional composting you’re typically working with a large pile or a cool looking bin you can spin to turn – and you need heat.  With vermicomposting there’s no heat or turning involved – the worms do all the work!  They’re aerating and “turning” the soil for you!  The best composting worms are Eisenia fetida, aka Red Wigglers or Eisenia hortensis, aka European nightcrawlers, also called bait worms.  These guys are more surface dwellers unlike your typical earthworm who like to burrow deep into the earth.  But be careful – these guys aren’t hardy here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  It gets too cold in the winter for them to survive outside which is why you must keep your worm farm indoors – 59-77 degrees F is ideal.

So, wait, why have a worm farm if the worms die if it gets too hot or too cold?  Easy, it’s actually the worm castings, or their POO we’re after!  I know, sounds gross but it has great nutrients for our plants.  And no, it doesn’t smell.  My current set up is super clean and easy, and takes up hardly any room at all.  It’s just a plastic storage bin and lid with small holes drilled in the top.

To make your own, start preparing the bedding by tearing newspaper into 1/2″-1″ strips.  Stay away from colored print as it can be toxic to the worms.  Dampen the newspaper strips and place into your bin – don’t flatten them though, keep them fluffy so they do not cut off air to your worms.  If your newspaper ends up getting too wet you can always add some dry strips as well.  Your bin should be about 3/4 full of fluffy, damp newspaper strips.  Then add 2-4 cups of soil…pretty much any soil is acceptable (and depending on how large your bin is, you may want to add even more soil than this).  Potting soil, soil from your back yard or garden, etc.  Gritty soil is great for worms as they have no teeth and it aids in their digestive process.

Ok, now we’re ready for worms.  Add your worms to the newspaper and bury food scraps under the bedding.  Practically any type of kitchen scrap is acceptable…fruits, veggies, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.  Breaking it all up into smaller pieces makes it easier for the worms to eat.  A few things to stay away from include bones and/or meats, oils and dairy.  Also it’s important to limit the amount of citrus that goes into the bin.  Some people are pretty scientific about the number or amount of worms they have and the amount of food they feed their worms.  I’m not.  I check on my worms about twice a week and if it looks like it’s low on scraps or newspaper, I’ll add some.  I typically end up adding food about every 10 days or so and occasionally spray with water.  It’s as easy as that!

You can see the egg shells, potato peels and coffee grounds for my worms.
And not sure why this pic came out vertical but you get the idea.

Now to harvest.  I’m still so new at this that I haven’t harvested any compost yet.  Typically the time to start harvesting is 3-6 months after set up and the material in the bin should look like dark compost.  There are a number of ways to harvest but the method I will probably do is a “hands on” method.  Before harvesting it’s a good idea to stop feeding approximately two weeks prior.  This method involves dumping the entire farm onto a tarp or a large area lined with newspaper.  Separate the compost (which will also contain worms and possibly some unprocessed newspaper and food scraps) into a number of smaller, cone-shaped piles.  Once the piles are exposed to light the worms will migrate to the bottom and you can remove the compost on the top – but you may have to also remove some of the unprocessed food and bedding.  This process may have to be repeated a few times for each pile as the worms will migrate further down to the bottom of the piles the more they’re exposed to light.  Finally you’ll be left with a pile of worms and a small amount of leftover scraps which you can then start a new farm!

Using your fresh compost is easy.  Simply add it to your potting soil or bedding soil as a soil amendment or use it as a top dressing for house plants and bedding plants.  And don’t feel like you have to use all your compost at one time.  You can always save it as you would regular potting soil.

It’s as easy (and not smelly) as that!  Happy New Year all and make a resolution to compost a little more and do something great for your plants.  They’ll thank you for it.


7 thoughts on “I’m a worm farmer!

  1. Glad to know it’s super easy…but I’m sticking to my outdoor dump-and-forget-about-it compost pile! Two things make me squeamish, worms and spiders! ;-/

    • Haha Meryl I’m surprised! 😉 I also have a large outdoor compost pile outside as well. We don’t do much to that one either except throw some food and garden scraps on it every so often and turn it occasionally! Easy peasy!

  2. Any issue with fruit flies indoors? I started a worm farm ‘outside’ with bins early last spring. It was doing well until the black soldier flies came in and took over the duty of eating those kitchen scraps. At first I was horrified by the maggots but they did a fine, fast job. Totally took over the worms! So live and let live…I now have a ‘black soldier fly farm’. Once the temps got below 40 degrees, the larvae went dormant. I’m still sending kitchen scraps outside into what is now the stacked bin unit. I like the bin system because it’s self contained. So far no animals breaking into these compost bins. I will likely get bait worms and start again in the spring. The soil conditioners coming out is black and rich which combines well with my native rocks & orange clay!!

    • Hi Sharon! There are a few fruit flies in the bin but they aren’t out of control and I only see them when I open the lid. Hopefully they don’t become a problem.

      I’ll have to check out your stacked system sometime soon. That’s awesome! I’d love to expand sometime soon:-)

  3. Reblogged this on dirt. i dig you. and commented:
    Today’s guest author, Stephanie B, the “Worm Farmer”!! Vermicomposting is amazing. I have felt it with my hands and inspected it under a magnifying glass in our family composting class; the difference between vermicompost and other composts that I have analyzed is that the worms create an incredible richness with the composted material which in my opinion surpasses the rest. I am a beginner at all of this, so it is not like I have gone around inspecting other sources of compost. I just know from what I have seen thus far, the vermicompost is absolutely rich and beautiful! I am going to create a worm bin such as the one in this article… but the funny thing is that I accidentally created a worm bin earlier this past spring without realizing it. I have a bin outside that I pour my compost into and I also have an empty raised garden bed that we did not end up using which is on the side of my house; further away from my main front yard garden plot. As my compost bin fills up, which it does quite frequently due to putting compost into the bin daily. Especially during the summer months when we eat lots of watermelon and organic corn and so many other vegetables; the left-overs, the rinds, cores and husks fill up my bin pretty good. Once the compost bin gets full I dig a hole in a section of my unused raised bed and then pour the compost in; covering it with the soil manure mix that is already in the bed. What I didn’t realize is that my soil and manure in my garden beds are packed with hundreds, maybe thousands of red worms… the kind that you want for vermiculture! I accidentally scored a vermiculture city! These babies have multiplied in my garden beds to the point that if I simply grab a handful of soil they will start squirming around wildly everywhere that I look. Or when I water the garden these little wigglers are doing the rain dance; the soil is alive and moving! So the magic is that I have been feeding those worms and my empty raised bed has become a vermicompost bin all on it’s own! Fantastic. I will also be creating a bin for the winter months for vermicomposting indoors. From kitchen to bin– making earth really is a breeze! I hope you take in and enjoy this fabulous guide to the simple and fascinating practice of vermicomposting, also known as vermiculture. Anyone can do it!

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