How I Raise Composting Worms in My Basement - Dengarden - Home and Garden
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How I Raise Composting Worms in My Basement

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I like to write about DIY gardening and general homesteading tips. I hope to provide readers with ideas and inspiration.

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This Isn't My First Worm Farm

This is the fifth time I've tried to raise composting worms. It IS my first successful worm farm though. The four other attempts I've made at making vermicompost for my garden ended in either a mass exodus of worms trying to escape the harsh conditions in the bin, or a mass die-off because they couldn't escape from the conditions in the bin.

I'm considering my current bin a success though, because I've been able to maintain it for a year now. I've also harvested worm castings three times over the last year, and my worm population has grown to a point where I need to divide my bin up if I want my worms to keep multiplying.

In this article, I'm going to tell you how started my bin and have maintained a healthy, growing population of composting worms in it for the last year.

How I Made My Worm Bin

Though there are many styles of premade worm beds and bins for sale commercially, I chose to make my own out of an 18-gallon storage tote that I was no longer using.

I started my worm bed by drilling about 50 5 mm and 10 mm holes in the lid of the tote for air circulation. Then, about 2 inches down from the top of the tote, I drilled about 20 more 10 mm holes the whole way around the tote. After all of the air holes were drilled, I washed the lid and tote with hot, soapy water and left it to dry while I prepared the bedding.

Holes drilled 2 inches down from the top of the tote.

Holes drilled 2 inches down from the top of the tote.

Holes drilled in the lid of the tote.

Holes drilled in the lid of the tote.

Materials I Use for Bedding for My Compost Worms

Much like bins, and beds for composting worms, bedding materials are also commercially available, but I make my own for a fraction of the cost. The only purchased material in my bedding recipe is coconut coir. The rest of the ingredients are cardboard, newspaper, junk mail, toilet paper, and paper towel tubes, and brown paper shopping bags.

How I Make My Compost Worm Bedding

  • 1 - 1.2 pound brick coconut coir
  • 1 pound paper products, shredded
  • 1 pound cardboard products, shredded
  • 2 gallons rain water or water that is chlorine free
  1. Mix the coconut coir, paper, and cardboard in a large container.
  2. Add the water and allow everything to soak it up for at least an hour.
  3. Wring out handfuls of the bedding materials and pile loosely in the worm bin until a depth of 4 to 6 inches of prepared bedding has been reached. ( Wrung out handfuls of bedding should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.)
Worm bedding materials after they have been properly soaked and wrung out.

Worm bedding materials after they have been properly soaked and wrung out.

When I Introduce Worms to New Bedding

When I make up a batch of new bedding for my compost worms, I always do it at least a week in advance. Giving the bedding time to colonize with microbial life is a very important step because the worms need those microbes to survive.

I keep my bedding moist, but not soggy until it either smells moldy, or I see mold growing in the bedding. These are signals to me that it's been aged long enough to have the colonies of microbes necessary to support my worms.

How I Introduce Worms Into New Bedding

I like my worms to feel as little stress as possible to keep the population healthy and growing. Rather than burying them in the bedding, I like to scatter them across the top and use a bright overhead light to encourage them to find their way down into it. The bin is kept under the light for 12 or so hours to keep any worms exploring their new home from crawling up the sides of the bin and getting out. Then I put the lid back on and let them rest 24 to 48 hours before their first feeding.

A few stubborn worms who don't want to go down into their bedding.

A few stubborn worms who don't want to go down into their bedding.

How I Created a Feeding Schedule for My Worms

I started my bin off with 1/2 pound of European Nightcrawlers, which can eat about half of their body weight worth of organic material per day.

With this in mind, I started feeding them about 3 pounds of food every 5 days.

This is about 1/2 pound more than they were able to eat in that amount of time, but an easy way for me to keep track of the population of worms in the bin. Every 5 days when feeding time came back around I would take out everything that was left from the previous feeding, and feed the worms the new food at a different spot in the bin. As the worm population grows, the amount of old food removed gets less and less each week, until a point is reached where they are eating everything in between feedings.

When the worms reach the point where they are eating everything in between feedings, it's time to increase the amount I feed them by 1/2 pound and go back to removing leftover food in between feedings.

I've kept cycling this schedule in my bin for a year now and at about 11 months, my worm population leveled off. I'm feeding them 8 pounds of food every 5 days and removing about 1/2 pound every time. This means I have about 3 1/2 pounds of worms in my bin and if I want them to process any more food than what they are now, I'm going to have to split them and make a second bin.

Compost Your Kitchen Waste With European Nightcrawlers

A frozen banana being thawed out to be fed to the worms.

A frozen banana being thawed out to be fed to the worms.

How I Harvest Worm Castings

There are many ways to separate compost worms from their castings but for a small bin like mine, I use a wire mesh basket with 1/4 inch holes. I place handfuls of the bedding, containing worms and castings, into the basket and shake it over a container to catch the castings as they sift through the mesh. Some worms will pass through the mesh but can be easily picked out and added back into the bin along with anything else that isn't small enough to pass through the mesh.

Raising Composting Worms Is a Rewarding Experience

This isn't by any means an all-inclusive guide to raising composting worms. It's general guidelines that I've followed for the last year that have helped me be successful in raising my own. And by following these guidelines for the last year I have been able to reduce the amount of garbage I have to pay to have hauled off to a landfill, made 60 pounds of organic fertilizer for my garden, made a little bit of money selling them to fishermen, and just plain had fun watching them grow.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Michael