Join Date: Jul 2018
Location: Central America
Ok so those original posts were made in 2012 and 2013. I do not have either worm setup currently. I had the large bin until 2016 when I gave it to a friend because I was moving. I have helped at least a dozen people get started with their own setups. I'm happy to answer any questions you might have.
I've compiled some random tips from my experience. I'll update this post as I think of other things.
- Don't over think it!
Just like with cannabis, the worms don't need to be babied and watched over 24/7. When you start to over engineer, you create problems for yourself. This is a simple process... worms, container, food, moisture, harvest.
- What do worms eat?
So we all know we feed the worms our food scraps, they eat them and turn them into wonderful castings right? Well this isn't exactly what happens. Our worms are actually after the bacteria and fungi that are breaking down our scraps. The advantage over traditional composting is that worms have a much bigger mouth than the bacteria and fungi. So the worms take a big gulp of soft mushy apple that was being fermented by some yeast. Worms have a gizzard much like birds, which grinds the food up before passing it to the stomach. The worm extracts the nutrients that it can and passes the material out the other end. The grinding and mixing action of the worms, provides even more surface area for new microorganisms to flourish. Then another worm comes along and passes through the same material, and this process runs over and over and over again until there is nothing left but beautiful rich castings.
If you want to have a pleasant experience with your worm bin, I highly suggest you pre-compost the material before feeding it to the worms. Fresh food scraps have a very high water content, and a wet bin is the biggest issue for beginners. A lot of resources on the internet seem to ignore this very important fact. An overly wet worm bin has a much stronger odor, and a greater "yuck" factor to the material. Pre-composting also takes the guess work out of feeding, you don't have to worry about whether worms will like it or not. In my opinion with a properly run bin, you can feed worms any sort of pre-decaying plant matter. Cooked food such as steamed vegetables or plain rice is fine, as long as the food doesn't have salt or oils. If they don't eat it right away, they will come back to it in a week or 2 after it has had a chance to break down more. Furthermore, worms don't have teeth! They eat by opening their mouth and pushing their body through the material. So they are only able to eat scraps once they have softened considerably.
- Worm Bedding
Truth is worms don't actually need any bedding material. It's probably beneficial for the health of the bin to have some, but worms don't really seem to mind that much. After the bin is established they make their own bedding. It does help regulate moisture, which is very important. It also provides a carbon rich environment for bacteria and fungi to grow on, which is the worm's food source.
You will read that some people like to use brown box cardboard or newspaper for bedding. I don't like to feed these items to worms, because the paper pulp can be recycled and reused. Therefore, feeding it to worms isn't sustainable in my opinion. Likewise, some people like to use peat. Peat is also not a very sustainable resource. Although it is natural and renewable, it takes a lot of time for a peat bog to build up. This is then mined using heavy equipment, packaged and shipped all around the world. There are only a few industrial peat bogs in the world. Coco coir is a much more eco-friendly option in my opinion. Coir is a waste stream from the coconut industry. I'm fairly certain coconuts grow on every continent, and are regenerated rapidly. Although most commercial coir in the U.S. is imported, at least it's a step in the right direction.
Really bedding can be any dry carbon rich material. In Autumn, you can collect bags of raked leaves. Pick up a few bags from neighbors. They're dry and store very well. You just need to crush/cut them into smaller pieces. Dry, brown grass clippings, cannabis leaves, stalks and roots. All of these can be roughly broken down and used as bedding. If you feed your worms horse manure, it already has some bedding mixed in. If you're just starting a bin old potting soil will work too.
- Flow through for the win!
The flow through design is much better than the plastic bin setup. The design allows airflow from the top and bottom, allowing more oxygen into the material. The increased airflow helps stabilize moisture as well. The vertical design also takes advantage of the worms tendency to move upwards when fed from the top. It's a nice continuous process fresh food goes in the top, and finished castings come out the bottom. No need to move around heavy plastic bins and run the material through a trommel. The worms are left undisturbed, and you can harvest whenever is convenient for you. In my large 96 gallon tote, I once fed them for like 6 months without removing any material. The level inside only raised a few inches. I think the ratio is something like 10 gallon of food = 1 gallon of castings. If you're looking for something smaller 30 gallon trash cans, or 55 gallon drums will work. The internet has a lot of different designs, but they're all similar in functionality.
If you see a lot of worms on the sides of the bin instead of in the material, they are not happy. Sometimes the will try to flee the bin all together. Something in your environment is off, first check the temperature and make sure it's favorable to your species. Then check the moisture content in the bin. The plastic totes tend to have very wet and mucky bottoms if you're not careful. This can quickly go anaerobic and is not an inviting place for your worms. If you've recently added a lot of bedding material the bin may be too dry. You can add water or food scraps with a lot of moisture. Only add a little water at a time, its more common for conditions to be too wet than too dry. Especially when you're first figuring the whole thing out.
Trommels are great machines for sifting materials quickly. If you're going to use the plastic bins, do yourself a favor and build one before your first harvest. I think I hand sorted 2-3 of the plastic bins before I built the trommel, it gets tedious fast. There are various plans out there on the internet. You can even motorize it if you'd like. Personally, I think this detracts from the idea of staying as sustainable as possible. For me it's better to get a buddy over, get baked and spin some worms around. Little kids (mostly boys) make good helpers too, and you have the opportunity to teach them about recycling, food webs, and a respect for nature. Honestly though, your time and energy is better spent on building a flow through system. Sifting the bins before moving to the 96 gallon tote was the last time I ever used that trommel again.
If you're feeding your worms veggie scraps, you're bound to get a few sprouts. Melons, peppers, and tomatoes are probably the most common. Sometimes I move these volunteers to a pot or the garden. Mostly however, I just kill the sprout and toss it back in the bin to be broken down.
Last edited by Hookahhead; 11-22-2018 at 09:51 PM..
Reason: added info about trommels