This Christmas, I got worms! Yes, worms. I was so excited to add a worm bin to our farm. My kids got in on the fun of setting up the bin and figuring it all out. We are few months in, and the worms are going strong.
You may be wondering why I am so excited about worms. Yes, yes, it is a little different. I may be a bit of a nerd when it comes to learning and trying new things. So first, I will tell you why I asked for worms for Christmas and the reasons behind my excitement. Then, I will share about our specific set up along with ways you could set up your own worm bin. At the bottom of the page, there is a great list of resources, which I highly recommend you read before starting your worm bin. (No products on this post are sponsored or affiliated).
Why I asked for worms for Christmas:
I decided that I wanted to add worms to my farm after reading about the benefits of vermicompost. Vermicompost is"the product of earthworm digestion and aerobic decomposition using the activities of micro- and macroorganisms at room temperature. Vermicomposting, or worm composting, produces a rich organic soil amendment containing a diversity of plant nutrients and beneficial microorganisms" (1). To put it plainly, vermicompost is a mixture of worm castings (manure), decomposed bedding, and pieces of whatever else is in the bin, along with other microorganisms. This is really good stuff for your soil!
So knowing vermicompost is good for the soil and for plant health, I can combine this rich biproduct of worms eating my compost with soil and water to super charge my seedlings and flower beds. A few ways that I plan to use my vermicompost are as a "tea" by wrapping a handful of vermicompost in cheesecloth and dunking it in a bucket of well (or rain) water. This tea can be used as a soil drench or a foliar spray. I also plan on using vermicompost as an additive to my seed starting mix and as a liquid to bottom water seedlings. I am patiently waiting for my worms to do their thing before I start making vermicompost tea.
After doing some research, I knew that I would need a bin that would be able to stay indoors during the winter months. Worms don't do well below 50 degrees. They can survive in temperatures between 32 and 95 degrees; but the optimal temperature is between 59 and 77 degrees. At this range, they eat and turn food to waste more rapidly. This meant that they would need to be in our house this winter. So whatever worm setup I chose needed to fully contain the worms with no chance of escape. Ultimately, I chose the Hot Frog Essential Living Composter from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm. I decided on this model because of its compact size and construction. Additional trays can be added if needed. My plan is to keep them indoors during the winter and move them to our covered porch when outside temperatures permit. The bin came with a brick of coconut coir and shredded paper for bedding.
If you want to start a worm bin, you don't have to buy one already made. You can make one from plans on the internet. Keep in mind that worms need to have sufficient ventilation, adequate bedding, and food.
After you have chosen your bin or constructed it, you need to buy your worms. Again, I bought worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm. They came tied up in a bag ready to be re-homed as soon as possible. It is important to note that you can't just head out to your garden and dig up worms to put in your bin. Worms from your garden burrow deeply into the earth and would not do well in a confined space. You want to make sure that you get the type of worms that live on the surface of the soil, do well in a compost bin, and are specifically used for vermicomposting. These are called red composting worms.
After you have your bin and before you add in your worms, you need bedding. We use shredded newspaper with some coconut coir mixed in. When I have extra leaves, I add those in, as well. Fill your bin with moist bedding. You don't want it too wet or dry. There should not be standing water in the bottom of your bin, but the bedding should be damp.
With your bin and your bedding, you can add your worms in and feed them. Worms love vegetable and fruit scraps. Because our family of six goes through so much food, even with feeding the worms, I still have plenty to add to the compost pile. Avoid meat waste and bones. Avoid citrus fruits. I have learned that you do not want to overfeed your worms. Add in food and wait for it to be eaten by the worms before adding more. If you add in too much food, the worms can't eat it all and the food will rot. See below for some resources to help if you are interested in setting up a worm bin and want to make sure you take care of them and feed them correctly.
Resources that have been helpful to me on my vermicompost journey are Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Applehof & Joanne Olszewski; The Worm Farmer's Handbook by Rhonda Sherman; No-Till Flowers Podcast, specifically the episode on Breaking Down Compost w/Jesse Frost; and Jennie Love's IG page and farm tour videos.
As I am at the beginning of my journey, I look forward to updating this post as I continue to learn. I am excited to be diving into very small-scale worm farming and finding new uses for the vermicompost they make.