Worms eat my garbage

I know what you’re thinking. Where does that girl get such beautiful compost?

I thought I had written about our vermicomposting system, but searching this blog indicates that actually, I have never really talked about our worms here. That’s weird. We love composting. We’re composting people. We have greatly reduced the amount of waste that leaves our house by composting. We compost food waste, junk mail, cardboard, most of our yard waste, pizza boxes, my co-worker’s food waste, coffee grounds from local coffee shops, and a lot of other things I’m not even thinking of. I talk about composting a lot. I urge everyone to do it. Are you already composting? No? You should be. Too much good stuff is going to landfills.

The main compost strategies of our household:
1. Biostack Composter.
I mentioned this before. This is our main composting solution for yard waste, cardboard, and food waste while waiting for the worms to finish.
2. Cold Composting
This is a pile of branches from various yard projects that are too big to fit into the biostack. It might be several years before this compost is done. This is only marginally, technically a “compost strategy.”
3. The worm bins!
Two, stacking plastic bins full of worms, worm food, and worm bedding.

I bought worms at the Olympia Farmers Market about 15 months ago from the Wiser Worm Farm. I think I spent $10 on them. I drilled holes in some plastic tubs from Target. If memory serves, they were $5. Drilling lots of holes is critical – worms need oxygen to live. They can drown or suffocate if you don’t aerate properly. Here’s a photo of our worm hi-rise.

I use various trays from around the house underneath the tubs to catch the liquid that comes out of the bottom, aka “worm tea,” which is technically “worm leachate” but worm tea sounds cuter, I guess. I shredded all of our junk mail and several newspapers, and then moistened it with water. This is the worm bedding.

Then, you bury food waste in the bedding. The worms find it with their magical worm senses, eat it, make more worms, leave behind a legacy of worm castings (or poo) for you to feed to your plants. Don’t feed them citrus, bones, meat, dairy, eggs, and oil/grease. It’s not good for them. When the bin looks like this, it is ready to harvest.

I like worm composting because it is faster than regular composting. Worms can eat more food waste in a smaller space than traditional composting can take. It’s better in smaller spaces, especially apartments. With traditional composting, you need to balance your wet/dry or green/brown materials. With worm composting, you just have the bedding, the worms, and the food waste. The “mess” is controllable, and if you do it right, there’s no odor. It can take a little practice to “do it right” but I believe it’s within your reach.

“Harvesting” the compost is what I struggled with the most. I have read dozens of “methods” for harvesting worm castings, all of which sounded complicated, messy, or ineffective. I never found a magical solution, so I pulled on my latex garden gloves and sorting through the castings. It was slimy, but it didn’t smell bad. I picked the worms out by hand and dumped them back into the worm condos for the next round of worm composting. Yes, it was messy. Yes, I probably missed some. But it wasn’t as bad as I expected, so I will probably do the same thing next time. If you have a better castings-harvest method, please let me know.

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13 Comments

Filed under spring, urban farming

13 responses to “Worms eat my garbage

  1. Hillary

    Where do you keep your worm bin? I’m thinking about putting one out in the garage, but am worried about temperature fluctuation.

    • jess s

      I have kept it in the basement, the garage, and right now they are kind of in a shady spot near the big, biostack compost bin. Although I’m not totally satisfied with having them outdoors. I worry about the hi-rise getting knocked over, about too much rain, and about them escaping. My plan is to move them back into the garage now that the harvest is done & I am going to re-build their bedding.

      Ideally, their temperature will be between 55 and 75 in the most perfect world, but as long as they don’t freeze or get over 80, they are (more or less) fine. But the most optimal range is 55 to 75, that is when they are the most productive.

    • jess s

      Those wooden worm bins are beautiful and I would also be tempted by them, but I decided that I didn’t want to initially outlay a lot of money for things like that, and I was going to try to do everything as cheap as possible. I did spend $60 each on my two biostack composters, but that is a great bargain (they were like $120+ brand-new, subsidized by my county) and I don’t think I could have built anything comparable myself.

      The worm bin, though, I made in about 20 minutes with a drill. If I were going to buy one, though, I would buy that nice, wooden, locally-made bin! I hope to build a better worm bin in the future, and I’m starting with these plans:

      seattletilth.org/learn/resources-1/compost/WormBinPlans.pdf

      Maybe that would be a nice compromise between having a crappy plastic bucket and spending $$$ on a fancy bin?

      • Hillary

        My friends used to have a giant worm bin that looked like that, that they used as a coffee table!

        After I posted that comment, I was thinking about how I want to get better at woodworking, and need to build a chicken coop soon, so maybe building a [relatively] fancy worm bin would be good practice for me.

      • Hillary

        Sorry about the excessive comments. I just wanted to also mention that the thing that I like about the stacking tray worm bin is that the worms are supposed to move up as you build up the bin, so when you harvest the bottom tray there shouldn’t be worms left in it.

        Can you tell I’ve been thinking about worms a lot?

    • jess s

      I don’t mind going back & forth in comments! It’s just annoying that wordpress won’t let me respond directly to the string indefinitely. I do encourage you to become more skilled in woodworking for the sake of your future coop. I consider our raised beds & potato stacks to be practice for (krista’s) future coop building endeavors. Do it! Tell me how it goes!

      I have heard the theory of the stacking trays and the optimistic belief that the worms will migrate up. It is, in theory, a pretty sound idea but I am skeptical. First of all, they move really, really slowly. It’s not like migrating birds. Secondly, the waste in the lower container would have to be high enough in the tray that they could climb up into the second tray, and it would take a long time to fill it and process it (it reduces greatly in size as they eat), and I worry about it becoming toxic before they can migrate out. Third, worms are just not very smart. I have read a lot about the different variations on worm bins, and it seems like the stacking tray theory gives worms too much credit.

      My original plan for the worm bin I built out of the silver tubs was that it should be a stacking system (i think this is based on the Homegrown Evolution design for worm bins, but it’s been a year and a half so it’s hard to remember the source) and the worms would migrate up. Unfortunately, I found that the composting material sunk down so low that it would never get near the second bin, so I just decided to operate them as two separate populations. Now I’ve recombined them into one box, so maybe it’s time to try again?

      My favorite future worm bin is like a giant wooden box with a lid (think: garden bench) and then I will lay the food in an “S” pattern, the worms can easily find their way and move as slowly as they need to, and by the time they reach the end, the beginning of the “S” will be processed. The lead Master Composter in our county uses this method and I can definitely see the benefits.

  2. Laurie Whitaker

    Good luck with a great project. You’ll enjoy this story: Years ago Randy’s sister started a worm bin for her first grade classroom. The wonderful dad who volunteered to build the worm bin used the wrong key to determine his dimensions, thus they ended up with a gigantic worm box. Needless to say, the whole school fed the worms and enjoyed the compost throughout the community for several years!

    • jess s

      That is a cute story! It takes a village to raise a worm farm! I wonder if they still compost with worms. It would be hard to go back… :)

  3. Very clever. And, your worm knowledge is impressive.

  4. Pingback: Now Harvesting: Homegrown Compost | krista and jess

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