The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Seeding the new worm bin

Compost wormsYou may recall that we've done several experiments with worm bins.  In 2009, we had a small, under-the-sink worm bin, which dwindled away because we gave all of the worm-worthy scraps to the chickens, except for the one thing chickens won't eat --- citrus peels.  Unfortunately, citrus peels also turned out to be the one fruit scrap that kills worms.

We started again last year with an ambitious project of collecting food scraps from a local school to feed a larger worm bin.  That project failed for various reasons, so we filled the bin back up with horse manure and Mouse in worm binbedding, which resulted in some great worm castings this spring.  (We got another ten buckets of castings between the time I wrote that post and the time I'm writing this one.)

But, once again, I made some mistakes.  We located our large worm bin out by the parking area --- perhaps a third of a mile from our core homestead --- because we wanted to be able to put food scraps into it from the school even when the driveway was impassable.  In permaculture terms, I think of the parking area as zone 3 or 4, and a worm bin is more of a zone 1 or 2 project.  Worms don't need as much care as your chickens or vegetables, but good vermiculturists probably open the lid at least once a week.

The result of placing the bin so far from home is that it got neglected.  I should have refilled the bin early this spring with fresh manure, which would have tempted the worms to reproduce and expand from their small winter population.  Instead, they were looking for food in their own waste, and the number of worms dwindled yet further.  There were still enough Storebought wormsworms present to seed the new manure we added to the bin a couple of weeks ago, but not enough worms to move some to our new Cadillac worm bin.

So we bought more worms.  We'd lost the contact information for our local supplier, so settled on buying two pounds of worm castings online.  That's not nearly enough worms for such a huge bin, but I don't really need the castings until next spring, so I figure they've got plenty of time to fill the space.  I also added some soaked, shredded paper since the horse manure smelled a bit like ammonia, a sign that it doesn't have enough carbon and is outgassing precious nitrogen into the air.  (I also figured the paper would give the worms a safe place to hide if the relatively fresh manure gets too hot for them.)

Meanwhile, Mark talked me into building more worm bins (with the number yet to be determined) as a way of stockpiling compost so that it improves with age.  We never Shredded paper in worm binknow when we'll be able to drive biomass in and when we won't, so it's a good idea to work ahead, but it's just sad to see last year's manure piles sink into the ground before they can feed the garden.

Even Mark blanched, though, when I told him it would take at least ten big worm bins to ensure I had enough compost for a solid year.  Maybe we'll just build another one or two for now....

Our chicken waterer is the POOP-free alternative to traditional filthy waterers.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Dont worry about feeding house scraps to the worms. They can live off of newspaper. Trust me you can almost walk into any business around and ask for their old newspapers. I run mine through a paper shredder just for aesthetics. I also want to mention don't worry about feeding the worms only food scraps they need to work for you. Newspaper and water is all you need to keep your worms alive. I throw scraps in when I have them and thats it. The worms work on my schedule.

On the account of Uncle Jims I hope you recieved the right worms. I checked mine and I have three different breeds of redworms. One is a tropical worm (blue worm) and will die in an outdoor bin come winter time. I bought my second batch from Bentley at and they have composted my newspaper and scraps ten times faster than the Uncle Jims batch.

Awesome blog keep up the good work!

Comment by Thomas Proctor Fri Jun 22 12:27:36 2012

Thomas --- Great info all around! I'm surprised to hear that worms can handle newspaper alone --- it seems that the high C:N ratio would make that decompose to a level they can consume very slowly. But it sounds like you've made it work. How long does it typically take your worms to eat their way through newspaper?

I should have peered at the worms more closely. They looked good on first glimpse, but they're deep in the pile now and unaccessible. I may try for my next batch, since I will need to seed those next two bins... :-)

Comment by anna Fri Jun 22 17:57:07 2012
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