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Setting up worm composting bins is easy. All you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, and worms. To figure out how to set up a worm bin, first consider what worms need to live. If your bin provides what worms need, then it will be successful. Worms need moisture, air, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. Bedding, made of newspaper strips or leaves, will hold moisture and contain air spaces essential to worms.

You should use red worms or red wigglers in the worm bin, but the worms that volunteer in your bins are even better.  You can purchase red worms or red wigglers if you wish, and they  can be ordered from a worm farm and mailed to you.

How do I successfully Set up a Worm Composting Bin?

Bins or containers

When choosing a container in which to compost with worms, you should keep in mind the amount of food scraps you wish to compost, and where the bin will be located. A good size bin for the classroom is a 5- to 10- gallon box or approximately 24″ X 18″ X 8″. The box should be shallow rather than deep, as red wigglers are surface-dwellers and prefer to live in the top 6″ of the soil.  In natural bins, as long as you keep the environment healthy,  the worms will choose the best place for themselves.

If  you choose a plastic, wooden or glass container to use as a worm container is a matter of personal preference based primarily on what is available. Some bins are made of wood with open ends to allow you to move the compost material from one bin to the next.  If you do this, you want to make sure that the worms can migrate to the newer organic material (the first two bins out of three).

Remember, worms need a moist environment. Worms breathe through their skin. Skin must be moist in order to breathe.  They also  need oxygen to live. They produce carbon dioxide. Air circulation is a must in and around a worm bin. Gently move the compost or turn it on a regular basis.

The three bins or controlled areas are identified as follows:

In the first bin, alternate layers:  6 inches of leaves or other stuff from the “crunchy” (carbon)list; a sprinkling, barely covering, of “green stuff” (nitrogen – this is what starts the “fire”. Layers of living organic matter (we use damp leaf mold or it can be wet kitchen compost, or well-composted manure) really gets it cooking. Repeat these three layers as often as you can gather the stuff until #1 is full.

2 weeks after Bin # 1 is full (this time depends on a lot of factors) or when it seems to have gone down by half or more:

  • Take the top layer of Bin #1 and put it on the bottom of Bin #2.
  • Continue until Bin #1 is empty. Start Bin # 1 anew. You want to pay attention now when you either place worms into the bin, or if they migrate to bin#2 on their own.
  • You will want to ensure that you have the compost moist, and that there is plenty of air for the worms as well as keeping the temperature below 78 degrees, or not colder than 55 degrees , because the worms slow down their eating process.

After 1 week more (again, this depends on how well it’s been cooking) or when it no longer looks like the stuff you put in: Move the stuff from bin #2 to Bin #3.

Move the stuff from Bin #2 to Bin #3. Sift Bin #3 and use in your garden, mulching where the plants are growing quickly (using up the most nutrients from the soil)

Keep it damp if it doesn’t rain for awhile.

If you use plastic or wood worm composting bins, no matter what material you choose, make sure to rinse out the container before using. For wooden bins, line the bottom with plastic (e.g. from a plastic bag or old shower curtain). Cover the bin with a loose fitting lid. This lid should allow air into the bin.

Taking Care of your worms

If you take care of your worms and create a favorable environment for them, they will work tirelessly to eat your “garbage” and produce compost. As time progresses, you will notice less and less bedding and more and more compost in your bin. After 3-5 months, when your bin is filled with compost (and very little bedding), it is time to collect your compost and clean the bin for your worms as after several months, worms need to be separated from their castings which, at high level create an unhealthy environment for them.

How to prepare to separate the worms from the compost in your bins:  Method #1

  • Do not add new food to the bin for two weeks. Then try one of two methods for harvesting:
  • Push all of the worm bin contents to one half of the bin, removing any large pieces of not decomposed food or newspaper. Put fresh bedding and food scraps in empty side of bin. Continue burying food scraps only in freshly bedded half.
  • Over the next 2-3 weeks, the worms will move over to the new side (where the food is), conveniently leaving their compost behind in one section. When this has happened, remove the compost and replace it with fresh bedding. To facilitate worm migration, cover only the new side of the bin, causing the old side to dry out and encouraging the worms to leave the old side.

 

Hands-On Method:  This is more labor intensive, and I learned this from an article related to worm composting bins by  Jen Fong and Paula Hewitt of Cornell University.  They share the following steps:

  • Dump the entire contents of the worm bin onto a sheet of plastic or paper.
  • Make several individual cone-shaped piles. Each pile will contain worms, compost and not yet decomposed food and bedding.
  • As the piles are exposed to light,, the worms will migrate towards the bottom of the pile.
  •  Remove the top layer of compost from the pile, separating out pieces of not yet decomposed food and newspaper.
  • After removing the top layer, let pile sit under light for 2-3 minutes as the worms migrate down.
  • Then remove the next layer of compost.
  •  Repeat this process until all of the worms are left at the bottom of the pile.
  • Collect the worms, weigh them (for your record keeping) and put them back in their bin with fresh bedding.

 

Regardless of which method you choose, the compost you harvest will most likely contain a worm or two, along with old food scraps and bedding. If you are using the compost outdoors, there is no need to worry–the worms will find a happy home and the food scraps and bedding will eventually decompose.

If you are using the compost indoors, you may want to remove old bedding and food scraps for aesthetic purposes and ensure that there are no worms in the compost. Though the worms will not harm your plants, the worms may not like living in a small pot. You can now add the worms to a garden bed.

Worm Composting Bins, and using worms to create a great soil for your Organic Farm and Garden.
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Chris Downs, the Caretaker

Founder hisfarm.org and Ambassador of Natural News and Sustainable Living on How to Live on Purpose.com

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  • I have a compost pile. And it satrted out just as that. A pile of veggie waste out in the woods, until Maggie decided that compost is yummy and satrted dragging it all over the yard and bringing it up on my door mat. Now it is enclosed in chicken wire. I turn it over with a pitch fork once every few weeks and call it good. But now there are onions and pumpkins growing in it and I dont want to turn it over and kill them. And Maggie sometimes stands at the new compost fence and barks at the compost. I am not sure why!

    • Chris

      It is always a great thing to get volunteer plants to grow! You can transplant them into a container. Do not be afraid of turning the compost over, you may find some great worms, a snake, even some other little critters looking for a meal! Enjoy the discovery of your composting circle of life!

      Chris Downs
      The Caretaker

  • Beautiful information. Thanks for sharing.