Thursday, April 14, 2011

EEEWWwwwwwww Worms!

Sure some people are a little squeamish when it comes to live things; slippery, smooth, mysterious little live things.  While we still lived in Virginia we had a speaker come to one of our Master Gardener meetings and talk about worms, vermicomposting.  As her bin was filled with these little guys, she shared some with whoever was interested in starting their own composting facility.  I took some home.  I prepared a home for them and fed them.  My Red Wigglers, or Red Snappers as my husband calls them, produced a lot of worm castings for my plants.  I handed off the bin to a fellow MG when we moved, knowing I could start another quite easily.

Starting a worm bin is really easy.  First you need a container to house the worms.
The Bin 
A bin can be made of wood or plastic.  I chose to use a standard plastic bin, opaque because the worms don't like light.  They do like to breathe, so air holes are important.  I used a small drill bit.  Some web sites say to use 1/16 some say 1/8, I can't tell you what I used. 

The holes were made on the lid and around the sides, about the top 1/3 filled with holes.  My holes were not exactly lined up or counted.  I may been more precise on the first bin. 
Bin placement should be in a location where the temps are between 55- 75 degrees.  Mine is in the storage area of the basement now, was in the laundry room in Virginia.

The Bedding
Worms need a place to live in their bins.  Bedding can be various things-  shredded cardboard, shredded newspaper to name a few.  I use shredded newspaper.  It needs to be damp, like a wrung out sponge.  Worms like it moist not wet.  

On top of the bedding place a cover --also moist.  It keeps the worms a bit more protected.



The Worms

These are Red Worms.  The Latin name is Eisenia fetida and can be ordered online through many vermicomposting website OR you can go to your local bait shop and ask for Red Worms.  My husband calls them Red Snappers and used to tell the kids they were snapping worms and to be careful when you open the lid.  The kids are adults and don't fall for his stories anymore, but he still shares.


The Food

Worms eat your kitchen scraps. A list of acceptible foods include lettuce, apple cores, crushed egg shell, melon rinds, carrot peelings, bread, potato skins,  coffee grounds, tea bags-- in a nutshell, fruits and vegetables.  Large amounts of onions and garlic or citrus are hard for the worms to handle. The grit of the egg shells help them to digest the foods.
Foods to avoid- meat and meat products, grease or oil, dairy products, plastics or tin foil (seriously!) and no pet waste. 
I have found that melon rinds are cause for the worms to party!  Well, not really party but they really like the melons and it disappears quickly.   I cut the rind into smaller pieces just so they don't have such big pieces to break down.


Worm Reproduction

As the worms age, they become of age to reproduce.  See the little band around this worm?  This is an indicator of sexual maturity. 

Sexually mature worms produce egg sacks.  Inside these sacks are somewhere between 2- 6 baby worms.  These little sacks are shaped like a lemon, small and kind of beige/yellow in color.


Knowing that the worms are increasing in number means the bin is a good environment for them and there are more to consume more food!

Harvesting the Castings
After your worms have been in their new home for about 3- 6 months you should be able to start harvesting some of the castings to use around your plants.  There are a couple different ways to gather this black gold.  One way is to dump all the contents on a plastic sheet and mound it in the center.  Pull some of the castings to the edges and allow the worms to migrate back to the center where it is dark and 'safe', harvest the edges.  After a bit of time, pull more to the edges and wait, and then harvest.  Repeat until you have a small pile in the center and return this, with the worms who are hiding in there, to the bin.
Another way is to place the food in one end of the bin and harvest the other end.  You may have to remove some of the worms by hand with this method.
A third method is to have a second bin.  The second bin has holes in the bottom as well as the sides.  Remove the lid from the first bin and stack the second one on top covering with lid.  In the second bin provide new bedding and food.  The worms should migrate to the top bin for food.  I have not tried this method but think it may be the one I use when the bin becomes so full I have to do something. 
The last method, the one I use, is to grab a handful of castings from the bin and hand pick the worms out.  This is the small scale method. 

Troubleshooting
There are a few problems that could occur.  One I have especially when I feed the worms the melon rinds-- the bin becomes too wet.  To correct this you can add bedding that is dry, mixing it into the lower region of the bin where the water is collecting.  You can also ladle the liquid out, mix it with water (one site I read to add a couple Tablespoons liquid with a quart of water) and use this to water your plants. 

Another issue some have is fruit flies.  In the process of decomposition fruit flies are attracted to the food.  Two things you can do-- one, bury the food deeper in the bin, covering it with the bedding.  The other is to use some sort of fruit fly trap.  One website reccommended yellow sticky tape for them to get stuck to.  My method is a little Cider vinegar with a drop or two of dishsoap in a small dish on the lid of the bin. 

The first problem I encountered was the worms escaping.  Yes, I found many dead little worms on the floor in the morning.  After being joustled around and in new digs they tend to roam.  An easy solution to this is to have a small lamp or nightlight on by the bin. 
More troubleshooting can be found on the links provided as well as most any extension website.
 Extension sites have a publications on vermicomposting-- Clemson's, University of Maryland, to name a few and various blogging sites have great info as well -- one I like is Red Worm Composting.




My worm bin can't handle all the composting needs of our household, so I also have two tumblers outside.  I am careful not to add too much food to the worm bins, only as much as they can eat in a couple days.  The tumblers also have yard debris -- I have one that is being added to, one that is 'cooking' and then I have a dump area along the wood line where it finishes breaking down.    This all works for us.  With our red clay soil, I view composting as a vital part of my garden.
So on this Earth Day I welcome you to visit Jan over at Thanks For Today to read all the other Sustainable Living Ideas.  She has a great list of bloggers contributing to this idea, and lots of donations for prizes.





©Copyright 2011 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

24 comments:

  1. Great info about vermicomposting! You make it seem simple. I worry about keeping them alive, or about having them escape.

    Do you think they would be ok in an unheated garage?

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  2. Fabulous vermicomposting post, with very clear instructions. This is an area that our garden definitely falls short in. We really do need to add a worm bin to the farm soon. We'll just need to keep away from the turkeys and chickens! ;)

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  3. Hi Alison, I added a temp range to the posting of where you can have your worm bin. They will freeze if your garage gets too cold. A temperature range of 55- 75 degrees is best.

    Hi Curbstone Valley Farm, thanks so much! I am sure the turkeys and the chickens would LOVE to get into a worm bin! My husband has started fishing .....now he is looking at my bin!

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  4. Well that is the first time I've seen a worm's egg sack! How cool and neat. I also didn't know about the band. You learn something new everyday and what fun! I'm one of those gardeners who is so okay with slimy worms:)

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  5. Janet,
    What a great post about composting with worms!

    I have a former colleague who had a huge worm bin next to the Nature Center at the Garden -- it was a wonderful instructional encouragement for our visitors. (She's now encouraging Lowcountry folks as a one of our CU Hort Extension agents).

    I don't have a worm bin myself, but definitely all the composting we can do is beneficial to our (worn-out) clay soil in the Piedmont of SC!

    Lisa

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  6. Janet,

    Thanks for so much info on the worms, I did not know about the eggs or the bands.

    Meg uses worms in the compost bin. There are lots of worms. We add the compost and cover it. The worms do not like the surface, so covering the food scrapes with straw or leaves is a must.

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  7. Very thorough post. I have always wondered what the eggs looked like. We happily greet the worms we see in the garden around here, though I didn't like them much when I was young.

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  8. What an informative post! Unfortunately I don't have a good place to put a worm bin right now - but it's something I've always wanted to do. Very cool (and soon I'll return because I need to see what you're up to, and what new plants you're finding to plant up your way!). Hope you're enjoying your first SC spring.

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  9. Great post Janet, I have filed it away for future reference. No good location for a worm bin here, even the garage gets too cool, but one day...

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  10. This was fascinating, Janet, and very informative! As a reformed wormaphobic, however, I don't think I'm ready to take on this project yet--I'm gullible enough to believe your husband's name of "red snappers":) And the thought of them escaping sends shivers up my spine. But I'm sure this must really speed up the composting process and provide you with some wonderful black gold.

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  11. Boy, what a lot of info. Thanks, I didn't know what the band meant. Never saw eggs before.
    I've noticed they do crawl from the grass area onto the driveway & of course it's hot so they perish, sadly.
    My neighbor uses lots of chemicals. Not good.

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  12. This is such a thorough explanation of vermicomposting - I bet you're going to inspire at least one person to give it a try. Good for you and all your composting efforts!

    Have a great weekend :-)

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  13. Fantastic article, I've never known much about worm bins and this was a great introduction.

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  14. Did you post about this when you did it in Virginia?? I think it's a great idea. I keep saying I need to start some kind of compost system. It's one of the areas I'm lacking and I would love to have some of that incredible compost!
    Have a great weekend ~ any boating on tap??!

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  15. totally hilarious about the spiderwort!!

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  16. I may have to try this again. I failed the first time. I did not know that you could go to a bait shop, I ordered mine on-line and they were a pretty penny for some squirmy worms that I managed to exterminate, on accident.
    This is a great project for my son. I know what he's doing this summer now!
    Thanks
    ( I never even considered that the hawks in my neck of the woods could be scaring off other birds!)

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  17. Great post. I have red wigglers in my compost pile--or something that looks like them. They sure make great soil amendments.

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  18. great info about the worms, as a gardener I love them!

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  19. Great post Janet, I've never tried worm composting but it looks easy enough. Thanks for all the great tips. :)

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  20. This was a really interesting post. I wish I had a spot to keep them, I'm sure our garage would get too cold in the winter. I found lots of worms while out digging today. I love seeing worms and sometimes move them to new locations when I'm digging (like our new raised beds).

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  21. Great info for a worm garden! We put all of our kitchen waste (Fruit and veggie) into a compost pile behind our garden. We have tons of big juicy worms! I dont mind touching a worm at all. My motto, if it does not bite, I will touch. LOL. Interesting on the band and the castings, never knew that…

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  22. tina, egg sacks are pretty cool, aren't they? Glad you are ok with the slimy worms!

    Lisa, thanks! We did worm bin demonstrations at the State Fair as MG's --kids do love it!

    Randy, Happy to share a little info. Good for Meg!

    VW, I used to like them as a kid, playing with them. I am happy now to find them in my garden, knowing they are adding to the health of the soil.

    Pam, I am enjoying my first full SC spring a lot! I need to stop by your blog again...Happy Spring!

    Janet, worm bins are easy and really don't take up a lot of room, hope you start one someday.

    Rose, Charlie appreciated your red snapper comment! Glad you are a reformed wormaphob!

    Lola, Isn't learning something new fun? I didn't know about the band either, until I started researching for this post. sorry about your neighbor and his chemicals.

    Ginger, I hope I have inspired someone to start a bin.

    Marguerite, so maybe you will start one? :-)

    Kathleen, You have such a good memory! I did a partial posting on worm bins recently.
    Yes, boating is on tap....each and every nice day!

    Ginger, I know!!!

    Rosey, I hope you try it again, it would be hard to lose some of the pricier worms...oops. Kids love playing with the worms. Tell him he can make some money by selling the castings....how's that for incentive?

    Grace, they sure do make for great soil amendments.

    Jilda, they sure help out the gardener!

    Racquel, it is easy! Give it a try!

    Catherine, I bet your little gardener would love to have a worm bin! Your new raised beds are super!

    Skeeter, I put some of mine out in the composting bins, but slowly, the worm population will grow enough to be able to eat lots more. good motto!

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  23. I left you a message on FB but wanted to leave one here, as well, to tell you how cool this is! My husband read your post and neither of us had ever seen the little lemon shaped eggs...or ever knew what the bands were on the worms! Hard to believe we could have gotten to our mid-50's without learning that! Thank you for educating us! It really does look pretty easy to make a vermicomposter and to go about the business of keeping one. I will definitely follow your directions if I ever feel ready to own one. I love your two big tumbling composters...those look amazing! I have found that the one I have been trialing & am giving away just isn't large enough to hold everything. Thank goodness we started a pile in the back yard last year...as it will need to be added to again soon. Happy Earth Day and thank you for joining my project;-)

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  24. Jan, thanks for hosting this event. What a great turnout! I know what you mean about the banding on the worms, I didn't know that either...nor did I know about the egg sacks. Learning is good!!!

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