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Setting up a new worm bin

Shredded paper bedding in a worm binAlthough various waste products (like sawdust and wood chips) can be used as bedding in the worm bin, Binet Payne found that shredded paper was the most effective.  I've just about talked myself into buying a shredder to turn junk mail into worm bedding since that's one of the few waste products we don't fully utilize on our farm, and since I've had bad luck keeping worms going in the bedding materials I've used in the past (leaves, unshredded paper, etc.)  The trick is that worm bedding should be high in carbon to counteract the high nitrogen food wastes, should hold water well to keep the worms moist, and should stay fluffy to allow plenty of air to circulate through the bin.

When preparing your worm bin the first time (or adding bedding later to cover up food), soak your shredded paper with three times its weight in water.  The perfect bedding is damp but not soggy, so you can't squeeze any water out by hand.  If the bedding is too wet, just let it drain in the bin for a while before adding your worms.  As the bedding drains, sprinkle a shovelful of dirt over the damp paper to provide grit for your worms and to stock bacteria to expedite the decomposition process.  Then toss in a bit of food waste and manure worms (Eisenia fetida), cover them up, and let your worms get to work.

Eisenia fetidaYou need to provide two pounds of worms for every daily pound of food waste you'll be adding to the bin, which should also equal two pounds of worms for every cubic foot of bin space.  So, your 2 cubic foot kitchen sink worm bin will need to start with 4 pounds of worms, and your 8 foot by 4 foot by 1 foot bin will need 64 pounds of worms.  These aren't the same worms you can dig up in your backyard, and buying manure worms can be expensive, so you might need to stock your bin with fewer worms than is recommended.  In that case, add less food waste to the bin at first, slowly putting in more as the worm population grows.  Binet Payne notes that 8 pounds of worms will fully stock a 32 square foot bin within three months.

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This post is part of our Worm Cafe lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:




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I just set up my first worm bin a couple months ago and did a lot of reading about it at the time. I have used an old, broken Tupperware bin and the shredded credit card offers that have accumulated.

One thing i discovered is that, contrary to what is often stated, some paper and newsprint may contain toxins even without colored inks. Sorry i can't provide the reference -- i just took note of the fact and filed it as "interesting, but below threshold of useful". I think it was in a discussion of vermicomposting as "organic" practice.

Pick your battles.

Thanks for your great work sharing your projects, and congratulations on 4 and 2 year anniversaries!

Comment by Pouletic Thu Dec 2 18:13:21 2010

Binet Payne was a bit leery of this toxicity too, and she went so far as to have her compost tested at a lab after she finished it. Her conclusion was that as long as you mix things up with lots of different types of paper and food, the toxicity isn't a problem.

I've read that fungi are great at breaking down problematic chemicals like that, and I suspect that they might go to work in a worm bin without us even knowing it.

Thanks for your congratulations!

Comment by anna Thu Dec 2 18:43:32 2010
Drat, it looks like I accidentally deleted someone's comment while taking it out of moderation. She was having problems with her worm towers because she kept adding worms to the tower along with horse manure and food, and they kept disappearing. My first thought is that perhaps she wasn't using compost worms? Garden worms aren't adapted to living in colonies in masses of compost, so they'll escape into the soil quickly if placed in a worm tower or worm bin.
Comment by anna Wed May 8 08:19:34 2013

Hi Anna,

Thanks for the reply. That was me who asked about my disappearing worms from my worm towers. I am sure my worms are compost worms as I got them from my Mother who has had a worm farm for years and years.

Should I be putting the worms on top or underneath the bedding layer (wet shredded paper)?

Should i put any dirt on top of the worms? Do worms eat in the tower at night perhaps and leave during the day which is why i can not see any? Do you think the worm that are in the tower would still be crawling around the soil in my raised beds or would they die?

Sorry for so many questions but i am really stumped as to what to do next.

Thanks in advance, Monique

Comment by Monique Thu May 9 04:09:59 2013

Monique --- Thanks for checking back even though your original comment got deleted!

If the problem isn't the type of worm, it's probably the habitat. It shouldn't matter whether you put the worms on top of or under the shredded paper --- they'll move down to where they want to be. Dirt on top of the worms also shouldn't be necessary. But are you paying attention to temperature and moisture? Worms need it cool and damp, so if your worm tower is drying out or baking in the sun, the worms would move out. Ditto if you're adding dry paper rather than paper soaked in water and drained to about the consistency of a sponge. Finally, it could be a problem of cold temperature --- compost worms can't handle extremely cold weather, so they might have frozen over the winter and died. From my understanding, worm towers originated in Australia, where winters are more moderate --- I'm not positive they'll work over the winter in the northern U.S.

Unfortunately, if the worms are no longer in the tower, they probably aren't going to crawl back in. Compost worms don't last long in garden soil.

I hope that helps!

Comment by anna Thu May 9 10:22:29 2013

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