In a recent post I discussed how and why making a tiny wormery with your kids could maybe save the world. To build on that thread, today I want to talk about making a larger scale worm bin to compost your family’s kitchen scraps.
This project came up for us because it was an assignment of my fifth grader’s homeschool science curriculum. Meanwhile, I happen to be in the middle of my Permaculture Design Certification, and have gotten to see Vermiculture (using worms for composting) in action and was eager to implement it at our house. Win, win!
I knew we wanted Red Wigglers as our ideal composting worms, but I wasn’t sure where to find them. I called an awesome organic gardening center in Austin called The Natural Gardener to see if they carried any. They didn’t, but they knew exactly where to find them. They referred me to a store I wasn’t familiar with called Bright Ideas, which turns out is an “aquaponics, hydroponics and organics horticulture supplies dealer” in North Austin.
I called and spoke to Mike, and he was really helpful in making sure we knew exactly which supplies we’d need to help our worms thrive. I ended up purchasing from him two containers of Red Wigglers, a large bag of Coconut Fiber, and a bag of potting soil. Now we were ready to build our wormery.
- Two large storage bins from our garage
- One Lid
- A drill with a bit for making drainage and air holes
- A few sheets of newspaper (thanks to our neighbor Lisa for donating!)
- Approximately 1/2 pound of Red Wigglers
- A small bag of fresh, clean soil.
- A small amount of table scraps to start with
First we prepped our bins. I had my girls drill air holes in the lid and also the bottom of the interior bin. Apparently you want the worm bin very well-ventilated, and basically should put as many holes as possible while still maintaining the structure of the bin.
(Bonus benefit: It is so empowering for kids to create something with power tools!)
After that, we brought our bins inside and placed the ventilated one inside the other. The bottom one would serve as a reservoir for catching the very valuable and nutrient dense liquid from the worm castings that can be made into “compost tea” later for our garden.
To create the worms’ “bed”, we lay a sheet or two of newspaper on the bottom of the bin to cover the drainage holes.
Next we put a fluffy layer (maybe 4 inches) of coconut fiber.
Then we tore a few sheets of news paper into thin long strips. I learned you need to avoid the glossy print newspapers and also white printing paper, as that is not as easy for the worms to decompose. After that we dampened the newspaper in a bag and squeezed out the excess water.
Then we scattered the damp strips throughout the bin and mixed it with the coconut fiber.
Next we added a few small cups of soil into the mix and thoroughly combined it with our hands. (Bonus benefit: This is a fun sensory activity for kids who like tactile input.)
Finally, it was time to add our Red Wigglers!
Once the worms were in the soil, we added a few fruit and vegetable scraps. I also added a few small cups of water because I felt like the environment was too dry (but keep in mind there is fine line between wet enough and too wet with a wormery).
Last we covered them with a newspaper “blanket” to help it feel dark for the wigglers…
…and covered it with the ventilated lid. (Scooby Doo PJs are optional.)
I learned from my Permaculture Design Certification class that the following items are what you want / don’t want to feed the worms.
Always Ok: Coffee Grounds & Filters, Fruit and Veggies
Sometimes Ok: Grass, garden clippings, rinsed egg shells (smash them first)
Never Ok: Garlic, Onions, chives, citrus, meat, bones, dairy, heavily coated papers, wax paper.
Some other random things I also learned at my PDC class about having a worm bin:
1) You can store them indoors or outdoors, but if you store them outdoors beware that raccoons can get into them. Right now ours is indoors, but we may end up transferring it to our garage or crawl space under the house.
2) If maintained well, worm bins will not smell or create mold, which helps ease concerns about storing them indoors. I can confirm thus far there is no smell at all to our bin.
3) The warmer the temperature, the more productive your worms will be at decomposing the scraps, and visa versa.
4) There’s something called Soldier Flies that you can feed Red Wigglers. I haven’t explored this option yet.
5) After collecting the drainage you can create a magical elixir called Compost Tea from it for your garden. See the link for directions.
6) The smaller the pieces of food scraps, the more easily they will be eaten by the worms, so I have been chopping and tearing our scraps a bit before adding them.
7) Your worms will have babies.
8) Every three months, the worms will need to be harvested and separated from the “castings”, aka worm poop, aka, new soil. So basically the whole process will begin again and new bedding will need to be created.
You only need to check your worms every few days and feed them as needed. It’s apparently easy to get carried away and give them way too many scraps. We’re still finding the balance, but I am adding my coffee grounds daily. Once I see most of my fruit and veggie scraps gone, I’ll add more.
If you see your worms climbing the walls and trying to escape, then you know something needs to be tweaked. This happened to us the first day and caused us to add a little more moisture and more scraps.
And that is all it takes to get your wormery off and running!
As I said in my recent posts on composting and making a mini-wormery, there are so many reasons to compost food waste into useful soil. A third of all waste in the US is compostable. And the more I learn, the more I accept that we all have a moral obligation to figure out what parts we can play to protect our beautiful planet. This just happens to one that is fun and easy.