Becoming a Worm Farmer

This morning, my daughter and I attended a Vermicomposting Workshop at Paradigm Gardens taught by Joanne Tooley, owner of Earth Stew Compost Services. I had attended Joanne’s Composting Workshop last October (sponsored by the Madison Area Permaculture Guild), but this worm-specific workshop grabbed my attention since we would be building our own worm bins during the class.

In preparation, I borrowed a friend’s copy of the book “Worms Eat my Garbage” to refresh my memory on the process. I hadn’t done vermicomposting before, but had learned about it from different sources. I liked the idea of worms as an alternate method of creating compost (in addition to our backyard compost pile). Vermicompost is an excellent fertilizer for plants and can be created indoors in the wintertime when the outside compost bin slows down. What held me back in the past was finding the time to get all the supplies together and also a concern about attracting insects to the basement. Despite that latter concern still lingering in the back of my mind, I decided to give vermicomposting a try and see for myself whether it would work for us.

Completed worm bin

Completed worm bin

The workshop started with an explanation of vermicomposting. Then we started working on our worm bin. The bin is an opaque blue plastic container, 20” long x 14” wide x 8” deep. We used a drill to make small holes on the bottom of the bin and a smaller drill bit to make holes on the sides of the bin. Next we received one pound of shredded newspaper. In a five-gallon bucket, we slowly mixed the newspaper with two pounds of water to create a moist bedding. We also mixed in about two handfuls of soil as an inoculant and a handful of sand to help the worms grind up the food in their gizzards. We put the bedding and ¼ pound of worms in the bin and laid a piece of black plastic over the top to keep out light. The bin’s cover and two wooden blocks were placed under the bin so that excess moisture that accumulates at the bottom (leachate) can drain out.

When we got home, we found a place to put our 250 new little workers. We set up the bin on a table in the basement below an egress window so that there would often be some indirect sunlight to prevent the wigglers from wanting to escape. I’ll also leave a light on for a few days while they’re getting settled. When food scraps are fed, they can be wrapped in bedding and buried to prevent flies. The worms will need about 40% of their weight in food scraps per day, which is about 3/4 pound of food scraps per week. We easily create more than that so our food scraps will be divided among the worms and our compost bin. The size of the bin could handle about one pound of worms, based on surface area and worm comfort, so if the worms are happy, we might be able to add 2 1/2 pounds of food scraps per week in the future. Alternately, compost can be given to the worms to prevent flies from being attracted to the food scraps and to enrich the compost further. I found a notebook for record keeping so I can write down the inputs and outputs from the bin. All in all, the total cost of becoming a worm farmer was $38 (cheaper than most animal setups with the promise of a rich end product).

Red wigglers escaping from the light

Red wigglers escaping from the light

Someday it might be interesting to have an outside bin and create vermicompost on a larger scale. However, this would require a bigger commitment, a new type of construction, and some winter creativity to keep the worms alive.

For now, we’ll see how our small-scale worm farm works for us.


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