Raising worms (Or vermiculture) is an easy and fun way to compost your kitchen scraps, improve you garden’s soil, supply yourself with fishing bait, and treat your chickens to a healthy snack.
What kind of worms to get: When it comes to raising worms and vermicomposting not all worms are equal. Common earthworms you’d pull from the ground dig too deep into the soil to be comfortable living in containers, they also don’t process organic material very fast. Red Worms (also known as Red Wigglers, Manure Worms, or Red Hybrid) on the other hand live their whole lives in the organic material that sits atop the soil. They process organic matter quickly, and live comfortably in containment.
Where to get your worms: There are a few places around the web to purchase red worms from. I got 1000 worms for 25 dollars from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, plus you get a cool worm bag.
Temperature: Worms do their best work in temperatures between 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, but can handle temperatures between 50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing temperatures may kill them, but people have successfully kept their worms alive in snowy northern temperatures by covering them with enough bedding to insulate them.
Moisture: Any skincare addict will tell you, moisturized skin is healthy skin. This is especially true for your worms who breathe through their skins. To keep them and their skin healthy their bedding needs to be moist but not soaked. It should feel like a wrung out sponge. Too little moisture and the worms will dry out, and too much moisture and they may drown.
Bedding: Worm bedding is the second most important thing in raising worms (the first being the worms of course). It’s what the worms eat and live in. The bedding should be able to hold moisture, but still be light enough to provide adequate air circulation.
A wide range of materials can be used as worm bedding. Pick any one (or a combination of a few) that’s most convenient for you. I like re-using left over hay that my animals don’t eat, so by the time I rake it all up it’s a combination of hay, manure, leaves, and soil.
Some good choices are:
- Animal manure
- Peat moss
- Shredded newspaper or cardboard
One of the few precautions to keep in mind about the worm bedding is that it shouldn’t be toxic to your worms. The black inks used for newspapers are normally soy based inks which are safe to use as bedding. Avoid materials with colored inks as the ink’s pigments can contain chemicals that are toxic to your worms.
You can also throw in a bit of soil or crushed egg shells to your bedding to add a little “grit” to your worms diets.
- Size – What you use for your worm container depends entirely on how little or big you want your worm operation to be. If you just want to compost kitchen scraps with your worms Mary Appelhof says in her book, Worms Eat my Garbage, “Plan on one square foot of surface for each pound of garbage per week (one-tenth square meter surface for each half kg)”. A good starting point for composting kitchen scraps with worms is a small bin that’s one foot by two feet by three feet.
- Material – Plastic and wood containers both work well. Wood breathes better than plastic, but will break down in a few years. Don’t use pressure treated lumber or containers that held toxic materials.
- Lid – Make sure your container has a sturdy lid. This keeps light out, and locks moisture in. If your bin is kept outdoors the lid also protects your worms from the weather and pests.
- Drainage – Adding holes for drainage is also very important especially for outdoor bins that could be subject to excessive rain water.
They do make worm containers that you can purchase which work perfectly, but creating your own worm container is a great chance to channel your creative side and/or recycle something you’d otherwise throw out.
Adding worms their new home: Once your worms arrive opened their shipping bag or container and add ½ cup of water to the peat moss to help rehydrate them.
Try to add them to their new home as soon as you can.
To do this, make an indentation in the worm bedding like you would indent your mash potatoes for gravy.
Dump the whole bug into the indentation. You don’t need to spread them out, let them separate themselves on their own.
Cover the worms with a layer of bedding, and sprinkle them with water.
Harvesting your worms, their vermicast, and changing their bedding: Vermicast is the nutrient-rich casting of worms, or worm manure. Vermicompost is just the worm’s bedding before it’s completely converted to vermicast. Both are extremely beneficial for plants.
Depending on the size of your worm container and the amount of worms in it in six months’ time the bedding will be almost completely vermicast. At that point it will be too dense for your worms to dig through. You generally don’t want to wait this long to change your worm’s bedding, and instead should shoot for changing your worms bedding every one or two months.
Worms lay fewer eggs when they get too crowded so regular harvesting helps maximum they reproduction. If they have enough room and good bedding they can double their numbers every 90 days!
Too harvest your worms take the inhabited bedding and place it into piles in either sunlight or under a bright bulb. The idea is that the worms will dig deeper into the piles to get away from the light overhead until they have less and less bedding to dig into. So every few minutes take a few inches off the tops of the piles until you’re left with a pile of worms.