The use of a disposer is perhaps the most rational, convenient and technical advanced way of disposing of organic waste today. However, in some cases, for example, in the absence of a centralized sewerage system or the absence of the technical feasibility of installing a food waste disposer, it is necessary to look for another alternative to the trash can. There is such an alternative – this is the best worm composting bin. Read more
It’s taken me quite some time to finally figure out how to keep fruit flies and fungus gnats out of my worm composting bins, but after much exploration and failure I have finally discovered the secret. It is as simple as a large cotton (or other breathable) sheet draped over the entire worm composting system.
Fruit flies and fungus gnats breed either in the air while flying or on surfaces outside of the “nest” (aka: your worm composting bin). While it’s almost impossible to prevent the incoming larvae that may exist on the skins of fruits in your worm composting bin, the addition of the thin fabric sheet prevents them from escaping once mature to continue the breeding cycle. When you lift up the sheet to feed or check on your little squirming buddies you may notice a few flies fly out; this is ok as long as you put the sheet back on when you’re done so they can’t get back in to lay their eggs!
At long last, I finally have an indoor worm composting bin without a fly problem, and I owe it all to the extra bedsheet I had lying around. Want even more fly protection? Tape up a couple of fly strips along the interior sides of your bin to catch any newly hatched monsters as they crawl up the sides of your worm composting bin.
Good worming! Thanks for visiting Mama’s Worm Composting!
Here are instructions for using a homemade bin, open or closed. If you purchase your bin, such as a “Can-O-Worms” or a “Gusanito”, follow the instructions that come with the system.
Things you’ll need to start a worm bin:
A bin. See Build A Bin to decide which type of bin you’ll use.
Bedding materials. See FAQ for information on different types of materials.
A nice, shady place to put your bin
Scraps for your worms
Once you decide on which type of bin you want to buy or build, you should set it up at least a few days in advance of receiving your worms. This isn’t vital, but it makes the transition for your worms a little easier. This allows a little time for microbes to grow (which is what worms actually eat) on your bedding and food scraps. It’s a much friendlier environment for hungry worms if you can let your bin sit for a few days before adding your worms. Don’t have time for that? No worries, it’s not the end of the world, it’s just nicer for the worms.
Fill your bin about 2/3 full with the moistened bedding materials you have chosen. Save some dry bedding for the top of the bin to help keep out flies. I have successfully used shredded junk mail (no glossy or plastic), shredded paper grocery bags, shredded corrugated cardboard, coir (coconut husks) that has been rinsed of salts, and hay/straw. Most of my bins are some combination of a few of these materials. Your worms will eventually eat your bedding along with the food you provide them, turning it into castings as well.
When your bin is full of bedding, make sure that the moisture level of the bedding resembles that of a moistened sponge: not sopping, not dry. Now lay either a layer of food scraps, or put the food scraps over to one side of the bin, your choice. I like to spread my scraps out at least a bit because it helps prevent anaerobic conditions while the food decomposes, which can get stinky. You want to be able to get some air down there so that your compost both stays moist and doesn’t compact too much and produce anaerobic sludge (VERY nasty, believe me!).
After your food scraps go in, put a nice thick layer of dry bedding on top of the whole thing. This bedding will keep out pests and keep things smelling nice. I really like using hay for the top layer; it’s cheap and it smells really nice. But any dry bedding will do fine.
When your worms arrive, gently open the box or package. If this is your first time handling worms, you might freak out a little bit to see 1000 worms squirming around in front of you, but it’s ok. Take a deep breath and say the mantra I use myself when I get overwhelmed, “They’re just little animals. They’re just little animals. They’re just little animals.” Pull back some of the dry bedding in your bin and gently turn out the worms into the bedding in one big pile. Don’t spread them out; they’re probably a little traumatized from traveling and they’ll venture out into the bin when they’re ready. Cover them up with the dry bedding. If there are worms left in the package, simply leave the package on the top of the bin for a day, pointing down so there’s a clear path; the remaining worms will not like the light or dryness of the top of the bin and will burrow down relatively quickly. If you are using an open system, leave a bright light on for a few hours if possible to prevent any escapes from nervous worms.
Give your worms a few days to settle in before you bother them again. You may want to use a hand rake to dig into the bin on the edge just to make sure that the bedding down below is moist enough, but otherwise give them a little time before you feed them anymore. When it looks like they’re starting to make it through the scraps, you can start to add more. Add your scraps every few days in little pockets around the bin, underneath the dry bedding. The worms will migrate to the fresh scraps as they finish the old ones.
Another way to work with your bin is to layer food and bedding like a lasagna. In this case it is not necessary to fill the bin as full of bedding when you first start, perhaps just 1/4 full of moist bedding instead of 3/4. Then, when you feed, layer food and then ample amounts of dry bedding (at least double the volume of what you are feeding). As the food breaks down the liquid will moisten each layer of dry bedding below it.
It seems that fall is high season for classroom worm composting. Email after email comes in to me from teachers asking about worms, worm bins and presentations. Well, I’ve finally decided to put together a worm composting classroom kit, including a short presentation, for all of you folks in the Bay Area.
Here are the rules. First, I need to be able to bring my kids to the presentation (they are 3 and 5). Second, I need to be able to pass out fliers to kids to bring home to their parents which will include some advertising materials for my company. Third, your school must be within 25 miles of Albany, CA for me to make the drive to come see you.
The worm composting classroom kit will include:
2 pounds of Red Wiggler worms
1 homemade worm composting bin
1 30 minute presentation
Are you interested in introducing worm composting into your classroom? Email me for pricing and available dates.
Thanks for visiting Mama’s Worm Composting, and good worming!
My friend Catherine will be so pleased to hear me use the word “resilience”.
Really this post is just an update on the garden and a shout-out to my new friends over at Transition Albany. Since learning about things like Peak Oil and the Transition movement, my desire to create a homestead in my new (little) backyard has grown even more. I’m even thinking about bees, and bees scare the beejeesus out of me. The pics above are of the new boxes I’ve been building for my winter veggies. I’m trying to use as much space as I can for food production while still allowing pathways so that the kids can play. The lower left corner is being left open for an incoming trampoline (shhh! It’s a surprise!). The cement area to the left of the (useless) tree is where the chickens will go.
Worms are being integrated into the entire garden in one way or another. I’m using a hefty amount of my own worm castings, which are a mix of manure and finished castings and which are also full of small worms and cocoons (available for local pickup, BTW). Already I’m seeing worms all over the place, which will help to break down the mulch buried underneath the beds even faster and turn it into rich compost for the plants right at the roots.
Since we moved we haven’t gotten our own worm composting box up and running yet (I’ve been concentrating on the garden); we now have green waste pickup so it’s easy to be lazy in this arena. However, stay tuned for pics of our new worm composting system. It is widely touted that worm castings are a far superior compost to use than traditionally produced compost. Stay tuned for my own growing experiments this spring using different mixtures.
The first part of the question can be taken as “Why did you get into the worm composting business?” . I recall seeing a news article about how the only sector of the economy that was growing was green businesses. So that’s reason #1 that I chose this niche. Reason #2 is that at the time it seemed SO easy. I figured worms grow like mad, eat free poop I could get at a barn, and sell for a pretty good price. 1.5 years in now and I’m still not making a profit, though my business is doing well overall and profits are (finally) on the horizon. Raising thousands of pounds of worms is NOT easy, requires being covered in poop for a good part of your waking life, and truly is farming. You don’t learn how to grow tons of food in the most efficient way overnight, and you don’t learn how to grow worms that fast either. Reason #3 is that I could see a clear opening in the market in the little section of the Bay Area where I live; there are no other growers right here and I try to capitalize on that. Reason #4 is that I thought it would be funny to be a woman and a worm farmer (of all things). This has proved true, and my girlfriends love watching me tell people that I’m a worm farmer. And I’m pretty entertained by those conversations, too.
So, someday it appears that I will make money. I have almost quit many, many times. Being a business owner in any sector is very hard; being a business owner who puts her kids to bed and then goes to shovel poop for 5 hours is even harder.
The second part of the “why worms?” question is really, “Why should I compost with worms? Why would I want to?” Worm composting offers a unique opportunity for urban dwelling folks to compost their waste (even in their tiny apartments) without producing a stinky-garbage smell. It does take a little while to get the hang of it, but once you do you’ll be surprised at what your worms can handle. In about 1 cubic foot of space you can cut your trash outgo by at least 30%. The resulting worm castings are much more powerful as a soil amendment than traditional compost. And let’s face it, worms are just fun. There’s something awesome about maintaining an animal usually thought of as disgusting and watching them grow and feed. I remember holding and keeping caterpillars when I was a kid, so why not worms?
I used to write about how I would squeal in horror at my worms, and it did take me a while to get over my initial fears. These days you’re more likely to hear me say things like, “Hey, little buddy, where are you going?” when I find a worm out of place. And the things that make me squeal these days are usually just unexpected critters I bring back from the barn as stowaways in the load of horse poop I’ve just picked up (grasshoppers, crickets, frogs, the occasional mouse). If it’s not pink and moving slowly, it’s going to get a surprised yelp out of me!
Worms aren’t for everyone, it’s true. But for those of us who have spent years in urban environments longing to be connected with nature like when we were kids, they are a great first step back.
I must admit that, as far as being lucky, when it comes to weather I am extremely well-off. The San Francisco Bay Area has very mild weather compared with a lot of the rest of the country, and it makes growing and maintaining worms quite easy.
With the seasons moving on, however, I know a lot of you out there are staring down the first snowfall of the season and perhaps wondering how you can possibly take your summertime hobby of worm composting and bring it through the long, cold winter. Red worms thrive in temperatures (the temperature of the bedding, not the air) of between 55 and 77 degrees, but can survive perhaps 15-20 degrees beyond that in either direction depending on the circumstances. For you in cold locales wishing to practice worm composting all winter I have a couple of suggestions.
First, and most obvious, is to bring your worm composting bin inside. A garage or basement will suffice and will be several degrees higher than outdoors. That, in addition to the active decomposition of food (which produces heat) will keep your red wigglers happy and warm (enough) through the cold season. When in doubt, take the temperature of the bin. If it’s too low (below 55) then perhaps add a breathable blanket to help insulate and feed a little bit more (don’t forget the bedding!) to increase microbial activity and heat within the bin. Also, when moving a bin indoors don’t forget to cover it with a thin, breathable sheet to keep flies from becoming a nuisance.
Another more adventurous option is to experiment with your worm composting efforts outside, even in frigid weather. With a bit of planning and some manure to help keep things heated you can be successful. Remember, snow is insulating, so use that to your advantage. Dig a trench about 18″ deep and 18″ wide (do it soon, before the ground freezes!). Begin to fill it with horse manure and food scraps, at least 2′ long worth, and add your worms. Cover with a generous application of straw, about a foot deep. Make sure to cover the food well with the manure and straw; while many critters are hibernating during the cold season, you still don’t want to take your chances by leaving a free meal readily available to them. As the season progresses, add to the trench lengthwise your food scraps and more manure (the manure serves as bedding as well as food for the worms). Take the temperature frequently. And remember, if the whole thing goes kablooey, worms lay eggs that can survive through extremely tough weather; any worms you may lose during the winter will come back in the spring in the form of tiny hatchlings and start the work again.