Saturday, May 4, 2013

Making Our Worm Farm

I have wanted to try vermicomposting for awhile. Vermicomposting uses worms to break down and compost your organic food scraps turning them into worm castings (worm poop) that can be harvested and mixed into your soil.

Since we rent our house and can’t have a regular compost pin (or two or three) outside, I thought a worm bin might be the way to go, but ready made materials for vermicomposting were EXPENSIVE!  I began looking into DIY ways to get my worm farm going.

While searching the Colorado State University Extension website one day, I came across an article on vermicomposting. It led me to another site with a DIY worm bin made from two 10-Gallon Rubbermaid storage containers. Knowing we were on a tight budget, and knowing the worms themselves were going to cost quite a bit ($28 = for a pound of WORMS??? Ribeyes would be cheaper!), I kept my eye out for some cheap bins at the thrift store. It took a few visits, but as luck would have it, on back to back weeks, I was able to get my 10-gallon Rubbermaid bins. One for 99 cents and one for $1.50 (no, they’re not very consistent with their pricing).

Following the instructions for the DIY worm bin, I drilled ventilation holes all along the top and drainage holes in the base of one bin. Then I drilled ventilation/overflow holes in the sides of the 2nd bin which would be on the bottom, the leachate bin..

The first bin went into the second bin.  I shredded newspaper, soaked it and squeezed it out then added it to the bottom of the bin, then topped it with dirt and some weeds - not many, though because I didn't was them to start to heat up the bin while they decomposed (food scraps would be added later). Then in went more dirt, more damp newspaper shreds, and finally a piece of cardboard to cover the top. Of course, the lid went on top of all this. You can see there is still PLENTY of room left in the bin.

All that was needed now were the worms…

Worms could be ordered online from a lot of different places, but I wound up contacting my local garden store, Nick’s Garden Center, to see if they offered worms. At the time of this writing, Nick's sells boxes of approximately 300 worms for $14.99.  Since they weren't measured by pound as they are on other sites, I couldn't really compare the price. Some places say one pound of worms is 500 worms and others say it is 1000 worms. Maybe it all depends on the size of the worms, how much dirt is packed with them, the packaging, etc. 

I really like Nick’s Garden Center and they are locally owned so I decided I would buy my worms from them. Besides, it gave me an excuse to go there and see everything else they have available.

The Saturday after I put together my worm bin, I headed over to Nicks, taking the rest of the family with me. It wasn't the crazy madhouse Mother’s Day weekend we've encountered before, but as it turns out, it was their Spring open house. There was more than enough of a crowd to deal with.

We asked an associate to point us toward the worms. Once there, we ran into a "Master Composter" who answered some questions for me about composting with worms vs. a regular compost pile. Apparently, while worm compost is good, it is rather limited in the number of carbon and nitrogen types vs. what you might find in a well mixed compost pile.  He also explained that while newspaper makes a good bedding material for the worms. they  really like corrugated cardboard. You could also use torn up empty toilet paper tubes, but corrugated cardboard is better.

Worm Bin: $2.49 and about 30 minutes
Worms: 2 boxes @ $14.99/box (approximately 600 worms total) = $29.98 (FYI, The 2 boxes of worms came to about 1.6 lbs of worms, dirt and packaging)

Total Worm Composter Cost: $32.47

My kitchen scraps will no longer going to waste. My kids will enjoy harvesting the castings and my plants will thrive.

UPDATE 6/12/2014: It's been over a year since we made our worm bin and WOW! It is really thriving! The worms have really taken off and multiplied!

I have also started to roll my food scraps in newspaper before placing it in the bin. I got the idea from this pin on Pinterest. Supposedly, it helps to cut down on fruit flies. I haven't had much of a problem with bugs since I moved the bin from outside to my basement.

I have noticed the bin gets really moist. I should probably drill more ventilation holes, but until I get to it I have been keeping the lid partially open one night a week.

The bottom should also be drained fairly regularly. Mine would collect a lot of liquid and start to get smelly. The quantity of liquid could be because the bin contents were so moist and therefore may not be a problem going forward.

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