taking care of my worms
How do I set up my bin?
Acquire a container. For a typical home vermicompost system for a family of four, a 50-70 litre opaque plastic tote will work perfectly. Remember, surface area is more important than depth. The worms live on the surface, so to maximize your population, don't use a bucket. Your worms also need darkness, so make sure your bin is not transparent. Important! Please prepare your bin 3 or 4 days before you collect your worms! This way, your worms will have a microbially active environment to move into, and therefore will begin processing right away...
For aeration, drill 3 holes in the lid, 2 holes on each of the sides, and 2 holes in the bottom. The holes should be 1/2"-3/4" wide. Use a spade bit if you have one. Proper aeration is essential for your worms' happiness. (If your bin is maintained with correct moisture levels, there should never be excess liquid draining out the bottom.)
Fill your bin 10-12 inches deep with shredded newspaper and cardboard, straw, shredded leaves, coconut coir, and/or composted horse manure. A mix is best. Don't uses shiny coloured flyers or heavily coated cardboard as the inks are toxic. Also, DO NOT USE SOIL as bedding material. These worms are not like our native worms living in your garden, deep in the soil. In the wild, they live on the forest floor, processing fallen leaves, animal manure, and other surface material.
Add some food scraps. Not too many, 2-3 handfuls will do, and bury them in the bedding. Moisten the bedding with filtered or rain water. Avoid softened water because the sodium will harm your worms. The bedding should be as wet as a damp sponge, not soggy. If you can, add crushed egg shells, food-grade diatomaceous earth, or rock dust to provide the worms with digestive grit.
Let it sit for a few days before adding your worms. Remember that your worms eat the microbial life accumulating on your food scraps. This waiting period will ensure that your worms have plenty of food when they arrive.
Keep your bin in a closet, heated garage, or basement.
How many worms do I need?
For a family of 4, one pound of compost worms is a great start. Start feeding slowly, being careful to bury the scraps in fresh bedding every time you feed. Use small handfuls, scattered over the surface area of your bin. The worms will not get overwhelmed, and they can concentrate on making more worms! Once a period of 3-5 months has passed, and you have managed your bin, you will have approximately 1000 worms per square foot.
Do the worms reproduce inside my bin?
Yes they do! In a properly managed bin, your worms will create 3 cocoons per week with a conservative average of 3 baby worms in each. This essentially adds up to a 9-fold population increase potential per week!!! Your bin should always be damp, but not soggy, and should remain between 10-25 degrees celcius for optimal worm reproduction. But don't worry...Your bin will never over-populate. The colony will utilize the entire space and plateau according to food supply. You never have to worry about your worms escaping, and taking over your house...well, hardly ever ;)
What do I feed my worms?
You need to provide your worms with a relatively even mix of nitrogen and carbon, also known as 'green and brown'.
Your greens include, but are not limited to: fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters (included in green because of the high nitrogen content), tea bags, small amounts of starches (rice, pasta, bread, but in moderation). Freeze your scraps if you can, and thaw before adding it to your bin. Your worms have a sweet tooth....bananas, pumpkin, squash, watermelon, cantaloupe, and all the rinds and peels are favorites. Remember, bringing your worms together with their favorite food will encourage reproduction....like a dance club :)
Your browns include: lots of shredded paper and cardboard, dryer lint, pet hair, hair from your hairbrush, used paper towels, toilet paper tubes, the inside of your vacuum bag (it's true, they love it), sawdust from untreated wood, DRY herbicide-free grass clippings in moderation, hay, dried leaves. The worms need grit for digestion. Grind up your eggshells to a fine powder, add rock dust, fine sterile sand, or river sand. These will aid in your worms' processing and lead to finer quality castings.
Well aged manure (horse, sheep, or steer) is an excellent food/bedding material, contributing to superior quality castings. If you have access to manure, make sure it is aged at least 3 months to ensure that the ammonia has dissipated, and weed seeds are dead from the hot composting process that occurs naturally. Your worms will throw a party in old horse poop :)
Is there anything I should not feed my worms?
Think of your worms as very bland vegetarians. They can't have salty, spicy, oily, or acidic food (no citrus fruit or pineapple). No meat or dairy, not because they can't process it, but because it will stink and attract pests (blech, maggots). Moderation is always key in feeding your worm colony. Worms composting requires patience, and over-feeding can kill your worms through the release of toxic gases and alcohol fermentation. Small handfuls, buried, and spread out over your bin will make for happy worms.
Does a worm composting bin smell?
A well-balanced bin won't smell at all. If you notice a foul odour, it means that you have added more food than the worms can handle. Give your bin a turn. Use a garden fork, or wear gloves to bring the bottom to the top, and then add fresh bedding. And then....leave it alone for a week to let the worms catch up. The fresh bedding will absorb excess moisture, and the stir aerates the old bedding, and the smell will go away.
I think my bin is too wet /too dry/ stinky, what should I do?
When it comes to an unbalanced vermicompost bin, a great cure-all is fresh bedding. It gives the worms a place to move into when the rest of the bin becomes inhospitable. The new bedding will absorb excess moisture and aerate. Keep some new bedding handy at all times. If you think your bin is too dry, sprinkle or spray with water until it is damp like a wrung-out sponge, but not soggy.
Can I put my worms in my garden?
No!!! These worms are not like our native nightcrawlers. In warmer climates, red wigglers live on the surface in large groups, processing forest floor material. They will begin to die off at 4C. Sad for the worms, and a huge waste of money for you!!
To attract earthworms to your lawn and garden, add compost 2-3 times per year. This will add beneficial microbes to your soil, perfect food for our worm friends.
Will other creatures be attracted to my worm bin?
Yes. The fact is, you are managing a small eco-system, and that system includes other composters. You may find mites (usually white and brown), springtails (tiny white jumpy insects), small beetles and their larvae, etc. The majority of the critters you find in your bin are beneficial partner composters and will NOT harm your worms. I have never had any of these escape my systems and invade my house.
You may find the occasional slug. They stowaway on leaves from outside, lettuce and kale leaves, or other vegetable scraps. While they will not harm your worms, and are in fact partner composters, you may want to pick them out and toss them outside.
The most common pest you will experience is the fruit fly. The eggs and larvae generally stow away into your bin on the rinds of tropical fruit, with banana peels being the biggest culprit. This is another good reason to freeze your compost before adding it to your bin. If you are dealing with fruit flies, again, bury your food under fresh bedding, and rinse the lid. Set out a trap on top of your bin, a great recipe is red wine, vinegar, sugar, plus a drop of dish soap.
A really effective method as well, is taking your bin outside and giving it a really good shake. They will fly to their peril.
I have managed a couple of invasions within a few days using all these methods at the same time.