Easy to understand worm bin basics for beginners
The most difficult problem encountered in explaining how to raise red worms for new breeders is the amount of outside information which is required to make everything clear. With this in mind, I will begin by listing several facts regarding worms in general and vermiculture in particular. Though some of these points may be obvious, and others may not, they are all important in understanding the various principles that are at work here. By making sure everyone understands these things up front, we can hopefully avoid any confusion later.
Facts and Figures
- It takes roughly 1000 adult red worms to equal one pound in weight.
- It takes roughly 4000 juvenile or bedrun red worms to equal one pound in weight.
- It takes over 100,000 red worm spawn (probably way over) to equal one pound in weight.
- One pound of worms, regardless of their size, will eat the same amount of waste no matter what size they are.
- Worms will breed most often for one of three reasons:
a) There is an abundance of food available.
b) Their survival is threatened by environmental conditions, or
c) They find themselves in an area which is saturated with suitable mates.
- Beginning with one thousand sexually mature adult redworms, and including their offspring, and their offspring's offspring, etc., it is possible to produce over one million red worms in one year.
- Except in a couple of specific situations, if they are given adequate food and fresh "bedding" material, worms do not appear to be bothered by "overcrowding."
- Worms are perfectly adapted to the purpose they serve in nature, which is evidenced by the fact that their genetic development has all but stopped. They have remained in their present form for hundreds, possibly thousands of years.
- Perhaps the most amazing thing to consider about worms, is their remarkable ability to adapt to an environment while they are still in the cocoon, and their apparent inability to compensate for relatively small environmental changes during their lifetimes.
Your First Worm Bin
What worms need to live
The whole surface of worms skin absorbs oxygen, it passes through, and enters their blood. This is why worm bins need an adequate supply of air. Worms also need moisture
to help them wiggle and move by squeezing muscles around their bodies. Their bodies are filled with water. Water is also needed to help them breath through their skin. Set up a worm bin with lots of bedding in it they eat this along with the food added. The last thing needed is food.
Setting up your worm bin
The easiest-to-build first worm bin is just a plastic or wooden box with air holes. If you are not sure how to start I do sell a beginners kit using this type of bin.
Using the Right Worms
Earthworms live in many different environments. Some live under the ground, like Canadian nightcrawlers. Others live above the soil, wherever there are dying or dead plants. don’t take burrowing worms from your garden soil they won’t live in a worm composting bin. Redworms and some varieties of nightcrawlers including Europeans and Alabama Jumpers feed in the top layers of the soil and are perfectly suited to a worm bin.
Picking out a type of bedding
Good Beddings:white papernewspaper Cardboard egg cartonsShredded cardboardbrown leavesStrawPet mosscoconut husk fiber (coir)
Shred all paper and cardboard into small pieces make it damp, but not dripping wet, then add it to the bin. If only a few drops of water come out when squeezed this is perfect. I also add a handful of sand this helps the worms gizzards to grind the food.
Feeding Your Worms
Redworms will eat one-quarter to one-half of their weight per day. Feed your worms lightly for the first few weeks, as they get used to their new home.
Mix some good compost or worm compost in a new bin, if you have it this will help the food to start decomposing Foods worms likebreadpatsleftoversfruit peels and coresVegetables and their peelingsPulverized eggshellsMelonBananas Coffee groundsCornmealcereal
food worms don’t likemeatdairyfatty foods Highly acidic (tomatoes and citrus)
Chop up your kitchen food scraps for them. It gets eaten faster that way. When you feed your worms, bury the food in the bedding, Change feeding spots each time you feed. When the original bedding is turned to compost it is time to add new bedding and stop feeding in the old bedding worms will migrate to the new bedding.
Temperature of the worm bin
worms do best when the bedding is 70°F-80°F. All the bacteria are happy, and worms are most comfortable. At 45°F, the bin slows down, and at 30° worms can freeze.
Moisture in the worm bin
Now and then it helps to check for and remove excess moisture that may collect in the bottom of your bin (particularly common in plastic bins). “Stink” in a worm bin is a sign that too little oxygen is reaching part or all of the worm bin system. This can occur when the bedding is to wet or worms are overfed. I add dry coconut coir to these areas it will soak up the extra water. Wooden bins can have the opposite problem they can become to dry so may require occasional rewetting.
Harvesting the compost
There are several ways to harvest if using an upward migrating bin such as the Worm Factory simply stop feeding the bottom layer. When all food is gone and bedding turned to compost the worms will migrate upward into the bins with food. When using plastic or wooden bins my favorite method is to move all old compost to one side and start feeding the other side. In a few weeks the worms will have finished composting what is left and will move to the new bedding. The old side can then be removed and used for compost. There is also the method of dividing worms from the compost. Dump out the contents onto a plastic-covered surface in daylight or under a bright lamp and form many small piles of material. The worms will move to the bottom of the pile, and in a few minutes you can remove a small amount of vermicompost free of worms. A few minutes later, the worms in each pile will have gone down again and you can continue to remove the vermicompost. When you get to the bottom you will have only worms left.
The vermicompost you harvest can be used directly in your garden or on your houseplants. It’s an excellent fertilizer you only need small amounts. Because it comes from an earthworm, It will not burn plants if you use more. Mixing it with coconut coir in equal amounts creates a good potting soil. Compost tea Compost tea is very easy to make and beneficial to all garden and houseplants. Take a handful of compost and add to a five gallon bucket of water. Add an aerator and let sit for 24 hours. Your tea is now ready to use. It can be added directly to plants or strain water to separate for use in a sprayer. Compost tea when used regularly helps to control fungus and pests from plants.
Other creatures found in your worm bin
If you thought you just had a bin of redworms this is not true redworms are greatly outnumbered by other organisms. The worm bin is an amazing, complex habitat, with hundreds or thousands species all working together to turn your kitchen scraps into organic rich compost fertilizer.
All these organisms are decomposers and beneficial to your worm bin, so don't fear any newcomer you may find in the bin in all likelihood it's just another one of your redworms friends. Your worm bin is the cozy, damp environment, with meals included, that decomposers enjoy. For this reason the will not leave the bin to explore other areas of your home.
People new to worm composting sometimes worry that these organisms may harm houseplants. All decomposers that eat dead organic matter, and will not eat living plants. Using your vermicompost in your garden or on houseplants is safe - any organisms that come with it will only eat decaying organic matter or simply die.
The following is a list of the most common organisms found in the worm bin.
Fruit flies are small flying insects with large bulbous, often colorful eyes. They pose no health threat to us or to the worms, and do not harm healthy plants.
Fruit fly eggs are introduced to the worm bin on the peelings of fruit which are tossed into the bin. The bin environment is an ideal breeding ground, with food and moisture in abundance the flies flourish. Fruit flies are best prevented rather than controlled.
Preventing fruit flies in the bin:
You can prevent fruit flies by burying food waste under several inches of bedding. Several sheets of damp newspaper will act as a barrier to odors preventing fruit flies from being attracted to the bin. Also try Destroying fruit fly eggs by microwaving fruit and vegetable skins before adding to the worm bin.
If they are in the bin. Make a fruit fly trap using an attractive liquid, such as: beer, soda pop, or fruit juice. Put a few ounces of "bait" into a jar or cup with a lid hat has small holes cut into it. The flies go in, but don't come out.
Sometimes called white worms, these small, white, threadlike worms are found in worm bins when there is a quantity of finished material. Pot worms are small white, segmented worms, which can be mistaken for baby redworms. Their bodies are nearly transparent and their digestive system quite visible when viewed through a hand lens. They are beneficial organisms that feed on decaying organic matter and are considered a prized tropical fish food. Potworms do not feed on living plants and pose no threat to the garden or houseplants.
Sow or pill bugs (Isopoda)
Also known as woodlice or roly poly bugs. Sow bugs have a segmented, armored shell similar in appearance to that of an armadillo, are brown to gray in color, have seven pairs of legs and two antennae. They are usually found in the top layers of the worm bin, where they shred and consume the toughest materials, which are high in cellulose. In the worm bin they are highly beneficial organisms.
There are hundreds of species of springtail, all primarily decomposers of organic matter. Springtails in the worm bin are generally small enough to walk on the head of a pin and range in color from brownish to striking white. They have three distinct body segments, six legs and a pair of short, stubby antennae. They are generally beneficial in the system and have no interest in living plant tissue. The species most commonly seen in the bin is commonly seen in large numbers on the surface of the bin when there is a quantity of finished material.
Centipedes & millipedes
These long, slow moving, wormlike animals are found in small numbers throughout all layers of the worm bin, where they feed on decaying organic matter.
Millipedes are long and segmented, with two pairs of legs per body segment and two antennae with which they sense their environment. Colors range from black to red, but those species found in the worm bin are commonly brown or reddish-brown. The millipede has an armored shell for protection and coils into a ball, like a pill bug, when threatened.
Centipedes resemble millipedes, but their bodies are more flattened and less rounded at
either end. They possess one set of legs on most of their body segments and a large pair of pincers which originate behind the head. The centipede is generally more reddish than the millipede, is very fast moving and is generally found only on the surface of the worm bin.
It's unusual to have many centipedes in a worm bin and one or two are no problem. However, because these arthropods will eat worms as well as other organisms it's a good idea to keep their numbers low. The only way to control centipedes is to remove them by hand which should be done carefully
For more info I also sell an ebook on worm farming see my ebook page
Soldier Fly Larvae, or "Maggots"
The maggot commonly seen in a worm bin is grey-brown and about 1/2" long. The maggot needs a cooler, dryer place to go to in order to pupate so very few of the maggots will become adult flies. Worm composters find that these larvae show up in huge numbers, live a short while, and then disappear. So, be patient. Check to see if you have enough bedding in there. You can reduce the likelihood of having maggots in the bin by mixing in plenty of carbon-rich material every time you feed.
Mites are among the most numerous inhabitants in the worm bin. They are generally found on the surface of the bin, though some predatory species will venture deeper if the material is loose and there is a food source. Mites have large bodies, small heads and eight legs. Their colors range from mottled brown, to red, to glossy white. Species of mite found in the worm bin pose no threat to garden plants or people. While beneficial to the system for the most part, it is not uncommon for mite populations to become so large that they stress the worms. Infestation level blooms generally occur on the surface of the bedding and cause the worms to remain in the lower areas of the bin and to decrease their activity. Mite populations can be controlled by removing the upper few inches of bedding during an infestation. Leaving the bin lid open and exposing the bedding surface to drying and light will also control mite populations.
The vast majority of mite species in the bin are beneficial organisms. Mite species which damage living plants are not found in the worm bin. Control of mite populations should only be considered if the worms are demonstrating stress including refusal to come to the surface, huddling in a ball, low reproduction or escaping from the bin.Bacteria, Molds and fungi
The most numerous organisms in the vermicompost system, and the primary decomposers of organic matter. They work on organic material by secreting enzymes which break the bonds holding molecules together, thus simplifying and reducing the elements for absorption. They are also an additional food source to other organisms in the system, including earthworms.
Molds and fungi can also serve as an indicator, telling us if the feeding rate is adequate. Large amounts of mold and fungi indicate there is more food than the system an quickly manage and the feeding rate should be decreased.