Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Starting the Worm Farm

We have three knife-honing steels, so we picked our least-favorite and heated
it in the gas flame of the stove, and used it to melt drainage holes.

My yard and kitchen are too small to generate enough materials to get a nice hot compost pile going, so in the summer I usually trench compost. We dig holes and trenches in and around the planting beds, and bury most of our kitchen waste. It usually decomposes within weeks. But frankly, I feel completely unmotivated to do that in the winter. I needed a winter composting method, which led me to vermiculture, or worm composting.

After looking at a lot of expensive commercial worm farms, I found instructions for a cheap and easy worm bin that is just our speed. It starts with two 10-gallon Rubbermaid storage bins.

We bought the worms at PetSmart, where they stock them as lizard food. I looked at bait shops and checked with my local Cooperative Extension Agent, but I couldn't find another source. I bought 2 tubs, for about $3.50 each, with 40-50 worms per tub. The worms will multiply, so I shouldn't have to do that again.

I had planned to drill the holes in the bin, but my drill chuck remains stuck. So, DD15 melted the holes with the tip of a knife steel and a metal skewer, heated in the gas stove flame.

We did eat the apples we peeled for the worms.

DD12 shredded and wet the newspaper bedding, then we added the worms in their peat moss, a little dirt and leaves from the garden, and some carrot and apple peels. We covered all that with a layer of wet cardboard. We will feed them only lightly for the next few weeks, to give them time to get settled and start multiplying. Once they get going, we should be able to give them 5-6 pounds of waste per week, according the articles I have read.

Worms are not exactly entertaining to watch.

DD12 has been appointed the Official Worm Farmer. The bin will be under the kitchen table, where we will remember to feed and tend them. The worms like temperatures between 55 and 75F, and the cellar will be too cold in the winter. In the summer we will move the bin to the cellar or outside on the back porch.

Our kitchen table is a storage/work surface, not for eating, so I put stuff under it,
like a big box of extra pots and pans. Now, it also has a worm farm.

We put the waste bucket back on the counter to collect worm food. Hopefully, by spring we will have turned our scraps into buckets of lovely worm castings for the garden.

I checked on the worms today, and they seem to have warmed right up. They shy away from the light when I lift up the damp cardboard. My family seems slightly weirded out by the worms in the kitchen, but it's too cold in the cellar. They'll get used to it.


mandi said...

petsmart- that's genius! i'd been having problems locating worms too, but didn't even think about petsmart. thanks for that!

Katie said...

I've been worm ranching for almost 7 years now and love it! I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. I was surprised that petsmart carried the right kind of worms, but that's awesome. I had to order mine from an ebay seller.

One Dog said...

This is a great idea! I'd love to avoid making all those trips through the snow to the compost bin this winter.

I've vermicomposted before, and this inspires me to start again.

Anonymous said...

Worm composting sounds intriguing. I'm a little scared to start something like that, even though I've read so much about the benefits and improvement it makes to a garden. How did you learn more about it as a concept generally? Maybe having more information could help me face my fears!

Marie said...

I've been interested in vermiculture for a while. I don't know if my DH would ever agree to worms in the house.

Please give us an update from time to time so I know what I would be getting into. Maybe that would also give me some ammunition to convince my DH that this is a good idea.


Matriarchy said...

My DH wasn't so sure, either. But so far, it's just a blue bin under the table. No smell, no rampaging worms terrorizing the living room. He puts his tea bags in the garbage bowl to get composted.

It's pretty much a non-event. Marie, you could, um, always just DO it, and then forget to mention it until the bin has been there for weeks without incident. "What? The worms? Didn't I tell you about that? I must have forgotten - it's no big deal. Just a way to save us a little money on garden supplies." They like it when we save money. :-)

I can't really tell you how it's going yet. I buried two small batches of waste in the bedding, mostly tea bags and apple peels. I don't want to put in too much stuff at first, since I don't know how fat they eat. We went through a whole case of clementines this week, but that seemed like too much citrus peel to add all at once.

The worms have definitely warmed up and are in there worming around. There should be about 100 worms, but they are hard to find. I might go buy another carton to add. I don't know much about the worm lifecycle yet, buy I hope they are having lot of worm sex and producing more little worms.

I will definitely post about the worms periodically. This seems like a low-risk experiment. At worst, I end up with a box of dead worms and garbage, which I just dump in the garden. At best, we get nice worm casting fertilizer and the feel-goodness of composting our garbage. It will probably be somewhere in between - a slow start, a little bit of screwing up as we figure things out, and then a long period of uneventful worm farming.

Anonymous said...

We tried this similar method. It just didn't work for me, probably because of my total neglect. Whoops.

Instead we threw our worms in our yard and started digging holes and burying our compost. Now we have a worm farm in our front yard - *literally* thousands upon thousands. We'll see how it goes when it comes time to plant!

Marie said...

Thanks M,

I've used the "Didn't I tell you?" ploy before. My DH usually shakes his head and walks away.

Thanks for the additional information. I hope your worms are making mad, passionate love.

SoapBoxTech said...

Awesome! I can't really imagine why anyone with the small amount of space needed would be uneasy with having a worm farm around. I have some scrap lumber around that I have been wanting to put toward a couple of worm farms for my parent's basement.

As for the food waste that you are uncomfortable adding directly to your farm, and bury instead...might I suggest another small tub for such waste to start composting indoors? You can keep odors away, and add carbon, by sprinkling wood shavings over the top of the pile. This is done with compost toilets so I am sure it would negate the food odors, all the while preparing the whole mess to be added to the worm farm when ready!

Matriarchy said...

Hi, SoapBoxTech. People are funny about bugs, or anything they think might be bug-like. They are also funny about garbage, and need to be eased into the idea that it can be turned into something valuable.

I like your sawdust composting idea, but I live in a rented house in an urban neighborhood. We fight cockroaches and other urban pests. I can get away with composting outdoors, but not indoors. My landlord would probably nix the worm farm if he knew, and composting garbage indoors might invite pests and attention that would get us in trouble. I don't wanna be evicted in the winter.

When we are surrounded by supportive online friends of similar mindset, it can be easy to forget how crazy we look to the average person. Stockpiling food, a box of worms under the table, turning off my oil furnace and dryer, my kitchen full of jars and stockpots, not having Christmas lights and an inflatable Santa Claus. I look loonie - now. In a few years, we will look less crazy. :-)

Jonathan Tanedo said...

Bins are very useful on starting a farm worm and space are important as well to be well taken care of.

Have you every check out this social site about gardening? Here it is http://happyhouseandgarden.com/