Eco-Saturday: Vermicomposting

Redworms are excellent little gardeners.
Redworms are excellent little gardeners.

I built my first worm bin on New Year’s Eve in 1999. No, I wasn’t drunk; I was just bored at the office (holidays tend to be slow in a newsroom) and decided to kill time on the Cityfarmer website. I’d made a resolution to shrink my environmental footprint as much as possible while living in a second-story apartment in town, and when I ran across an article telling me I could install a functioning compost bin under my sink, I knew I needed one RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

One might reasonably question the feasibility of acquiring redworms at 10:30 p.m. on a holiday in the middle of winter, but at the time, I lived in Belleville, Illinois, where a nice older couple ran a 24-hour bait shop out of their house. I called, and the lady said of course I could stop by on my way home to pick up 200 red wigglers for my New Year’s Eve vermicomposting project.

Worm bins are an awesome winter project, because they allow you to do something nice for the garden without going out in the cold. Worm compost is great for starting tomatoes.

Here is what you need to construct your own worm bin:

Plastic storage tub with a lid
Container to use as a drip tray
Small blocks to elevate the tub
Drill
Shredded newspaper or wood shavings (don’t use cedar; worms hate it)
Water
Small handful of potting soil
Redworms, sometimes called “red wigglers”
Fruit or vegetable scraps

Any excuse to use power tools….
Any excuse to use power tools….

Drill holes in the sides and bottom of your plastic tub for drainage and aeration. I drilled about 50 holes in mine.

My drip tray is a storage basket with a solid bottom.
My drip tray is a storage basket with a solid bottom.

Put a couple of wood blocks in the drip tray and set the tub on top.

Get the worms' bedding wet.
Get the worms’ bedding wet.

Put the newspaper in the tub and douse it with water until it’s about as wet as a wrung-out washcloth. Add the worms at one end and the fruit or vegetables in the other. Don’t feed your worms anything too harsh, like citrus or hot peppers.

I fed my worms apple pulp leftover from making cider. Chopsticks are handy for moving things around.
I fed my worms apple pulp leftover from making cider. Chopsticks are handy for moving things around.

Don’t overload the bin. Start with a couple hundred worms (this should cost about $10 to $15 at the bait shop) and a handful of food. Check your worms once a day to make sure the bin is still damp inside and they have enough food. When the bin contains mostly castings (a fancy word for worm poop), shove all of it over to one side and put some food, fresh bedding and potting soil in the other. The worms will all go to the side with the food, so you can scoop out the castings the next day and use them in your garden or on your houseplants.

Ignore the scribbles on top. I used storage tubs as moving boxes.
Ignore the scribbles on top. I used storage tubs as packing crates when we moved.

Your worms will breed. If you end up with more than the bin can handle, you can build a bigger bin, start a second small bin, sell the excess worms to a bait shop, or put the worms in the garden and let them aerate the soil.

If your worm bin smells weird, it’s probably too wet, or you’ve put too much food in there.

Emily

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