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My Worm Composting & Life Update

Worm Ball Anyone?

Hey guys it has been quite awhile since my last blog post. It’s funny how I struggle to decide what’s most useful and relevant. I have 10 different blog posts that have been sitting and I can’t seem to get them “just right” for publication… and so they sit. I decided enough is enough, time to get back to it and share what’s going on in my world! It has been a whirlwind year both personally and professionally and I can’t wait to get you up to speed!

As most of you may know, I am a nurse and this darn night-shift life is taxing! I love my job but sometimes I feel like I eat, sleep and breathe nursing. I do enjoy my worms though and what a huge meditative “escape” it can be at times. Worms and my side worm business are a great distraction from the everyday stressors that we all have to deal with. I figured I would take this opportunity to share what has been going on and what’s in the works.

Before We Get Started:

A huge thank you to all my supporters, friends and mentors in the worm world! I wouldn’t be able to do it without everyone in my corner supporting me! Shocking fact: I am both introverted and very insecure and nervous about “messing up”. I am told I come through very confident and authoritative but I feel far from it. I am working on that! Working on personal development and being the best person I can be both in my personal life and professional life as well.

Bullies have been a little more vocal lately and it has been hard for me not to fall into that little negative trap of feeding into a bunch of B-S. It was suggested to me that giving those bad apples the time of day isn’t worth it and as obvious as that is, I needed to hear it. Why worry about the haters? I have so many cheerleaders and supporters and you guys are the ones I actually want to be here for!

That being said, let’s all remember some etiquette and finesse when we are online. I can see now why social media can be so harmful to young people and their self-esteem because I see the damage to my own psyche at times. Negative and aggressive comments don’t serve anyone and a little love and kindness go a long way. Disagree all you want but remember to be tactful and polite when doing so. Productive conversation is where its at!

A Year in Review (So to Speak)

The Conference:

Amazing Lineup of Speakers

I will try to keep this post as short as possible but I can already see how it may end up being a little novella. Bear with me! Back in November I attended the NC State Vermiculture Conference which was absolutely eye-opening and an insane opportunity to meet so many like-minded people and learn about all the science behind why what we are doing is so incredibly impactful on the environment and the future of waste management. Interested in attending in the future? It’s worth every penny.

Click here for the NC State Vermiculture Conference Info

The Podcasts:

Around the same time as the conference, I was approached by Kevin at Epic Gardening about being featured on his podcast after one of my loyal YouTube subscribers had reached out to him. I was featured on a week-long series devoted to all things worm composting. The short 8-10 minute segments can be heard here:

The Crazy Worm Lady Week Podcast

Shortly thereafter I was also approached by Jill McSheehy at The Beginner’s Garden about being featured on one of her podcasts. I was blown away that my channel was growing and my subscribers were hooking me up with some fantastic people to talk to. The hour-long podcast can be heard here:

The Beginner’s Garden Podcast

The Experiments:

Anyone Need Some Eggshells Ground Up?
  1. I successfully “over-wintered” some worms in an outdoor garbage can: Over-Wintering Worms
  2. I ran a reproduction experiment: The Reproduction Games
  3. I started a cool 3-way composter developed for children to watch worms at work: 3 Chambered Composting
  4. I started some Carbon Only Experiments
  5. I ran a Neglect Experiment (leaving worms for 103 days with no food or bedding)
  6. I started ANOTHER Urban Worm Bag and a VermiBag Max
  7. I still have the Sand vs. Eggshell Experiment
  8. I started ANOTHER Forbidden Foods experiment
  9. I started a Coffee Only Bin
  10. I started a brand new education series on Worm Bin Basics

So many different experiments, mini-experiments, live streams and work behind the scenes have been fantastically fun for me. I continue to learn all the time and I love to be able to share all of these with you guys!

The Reproduction Games hit some major hurdles and needed to be ended early, but the Neglect Experiment, Over Wintering Worms Experiment and Carbon Only bins have been so much fun and quite insightful.

Over-Wintered Worms Bin

Exhausted yet? I am! It has been so much fun to grow as a channel all the way up to 2,500 YouTube subscribers currently as I write this blog post. I have grown from about 500 subscribers to 2,500 in about a year and that poses its own challenges and pressures. I am trying to juggle it all to keep the excitement going!

The New Business:

Breeding Trays

Oh how dare I leave this to the end? I have started a huge undertaking in breeding worms and selling cocoons through the website (check out the store) which has been some of the hardest work I could have ever imagined. Props to all the professional worm breeders out there, no one can truly understand the amount of hours and work that it takes. I know I didn’t! It has been so much fun learning about the different types of worms, the rate in which they breed and how to get the best cocoon laying possible based on slight changes in how I run the trays.

I am raising red wigglers, European Night Crawlers, and African Night Crawlers for cocoon sales currently and if you add those bins to all of the other systems I have running I am well over 60 “systems” going INSIDE my house right at this very moment! Worms probably outnumber dust spores at this point, hah!

In Conclusion:

It has been such an amazing year (since I last posted) and I have put tons of hard work in but it has been equally rewarding. I am so proud of where this community is going. I think we are definitely converting people who never thought they could possibly stomach having worms into full-blown worm nerds! What more could I ask for?

My goal from day one was to educate, invite people along for my journey and to make worm composting fun and more accessible. I think we are making progress for sure. There is no right or wrong way to go about composting and I hope through some of my experiments I have been able to show that! What are you waiting for? Grab yourself a tote and get started!

** Although never required, I certainly appreciate any support I can get in my ventures. I put in 15+ hours every single week on worms, worm videos, editing, collaborating and working on sales. If you feel so inclined, I am linking my PayPal which is way outside of my comfort zone but we all start somewhere and every little bit helps to keep me afloat. I am working hard to get my business up and running, bring the best content possible, entertainment and education. I thank you for your support. http://Paypal.me/EmilyLeuba**

Mating Red Wigglers
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7 Things That “Prove” You Have Worm Fever

 

The Crazy Worm Lady and Family

Okay a little light-hearted post today… I was having a conversation with my family tonight over dinner (sorry Mom!) about my worms.  My Dad admitted that he totally doesn’t “get it”, but in his defense, he saves newspapers, corn cobs and various other scraps for me.  I had made dinner tonight for my mom as it is her birthday and I said, “you’ll never guess the secret ingredient”… I was met with “NO NO DON’T TELL ME” and my father chimed in, “worms, worms are the secret”.  That’s how I know I have it bad.  I have invaded my families thoughts with worms and they don’t even vermicompost.

For the record, the secret ingredient was Dr. Pepper.  No worms were harmed in the writing of this post.  As I get more and more engrossed in my worm adventures, I am more aware of some of the oddities that have invaded my everyday.  I no longer chat about the weather or recent political events (although they are abundant these days).  I find a way to weave my worms into almost ANY conversation I have.  I enjoy the hobby, maybe a little too much, but is there really such a thing?

I thought I would share with you the top 7 reasons that prove you have worm fever BIG TIME.

1. You Are Always Thinking Bigger and Planning the Next Worm or Bin

Now, just for some cocktails and worms…

Okay, so I remember vividly about a month after I started my Worm Factory… I was already hooked and I couldn’t wait for the bin to take off.  I had a stockpile of food that could feed a family of four through an apocalypse.  I was so eager for my little babies to increase in numbers and start eating more.  I couldn’t bear it.  I was already dreaming big, of running a huge worm empire and raising thousands and thousands of worms in a warehouse for distribution.  I was dreaming of quitting my job to drink cocktails and play with worms all day.  You think I am playing, you are sorely mistaken.  I had it THAT bad, I still do.

I decided to start a Rubbermaid tote and found some local worms to get started with.  Another two thousand worms added to my thousand (and growing) population.  I was insatiable.  It was only about six months in that I decided to order some European Night Crawlers in addition to my red wiggler/blue worm mix.  The rest is history…

2. You Dream About Your Worms– No Really

Okay, so in the early days I didn’t dream about the worms so much, but the potential bugs.  I was a little bit squeamish and completely paranoid, but regardless I was dreaming about my worms from day one.  A few weeks into my worming adventures, I made the huge mistake of adding frozen food to my bin (without thawing first) and we ran out shortly after this for some errands.  It hit me like a freight train about 30 minutes after we left that perhaps I was stressing my worms out.

In a sheer panic I begged my boyfriend to turn around and take me home.  He was humoring me only mildly at this point and insisted we finish what we needed to do first.  I needed a paper bag to get through that trip as I was hyperventilating just thinking of the carnage I may discover when I got home.  I could feel the mass exodus in my veins.  When we pulled into the driveway I hopped out of the car and quite possibly ran faster than I ever have in my life to the door.  I fumbled with the stupid lock and opened the door and ran to my Worm Factory.  I lifted the lid and sure as shit (pun not intended) my worms were all gathered around the rim of the feeding tray about to make their great escape.

Since that awful night, I have frequently dreamed about my worms in various different scenarios… not limited to them climbing through my bed, dying off, and attracting roaches into my house.  It’s traumatic at times but super fun other times.  The thing I have learned is that the more my waking brain thinks of worms my sleeping brain thinks about them about a hundred times over.  How far into the lunacy are you?

3. You Play With Your Worms More Than You Focus on House Chores

My African Night Crawlers

Hear me out before you start judging away… I work weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and I have off Monday-Thursday.  That’s a decent amount of time at home.  Plenty of time to take care of household chores, right?  WRONG.  If you have worm fever, choosing between worms and dishes is a no-brainer.  Worms or grocery shopping, no competition.  Thursdays are my normal “filming days” for my YouTube channel.  Guess what?  A good six hours are spent doing my weekly updates.  As amateur as my channel is, I spend so much time messing around with the worms, turning the bins, preparing the food, responding to messages and brainstorming new ideas.  I easily waste a full day a week devoting my time and attention to the worms, blogs and forums.  It’s a passion and I find satisfaction in being able to provide education, fun and valuable resources to new worm farmers.  My boyfriend can attest to the fact that worms always trump anything else that needs to be done!

We have had more than one disagreement regarding the amount of time I spend with the worms in comparison to “us” time.  Oops! I love the worms and unfortunately they can’t curl up with me at night so I have to give them my waking time.  In all honesty though, Thursday’s might as well be called Thrilling, Therapeutic Worm Day!  I have been known to spend sun up to sun down on my worms on Thursdays and as funny as it may seem, I love every minute of it.  I have been known to meal prep for my weekend of work at 3am because I just couldn’t step away from my worm bins.

4. You Start Searching Out Like-Minded People Who Won’t be Grossed Out by “Worm Conversation”

So this might not be true for everyone, but in my case, I never stop searching for new forums, Facebook groups, local events and people that I may be able to talk about my worms with.  If you are reading this, my guess is that you too enjoy the “worm community”.  Finding the Facebook and YouTube worm “world” was a game-changer for me.  I have met so many amazing people that totally “get me”, they are just as excited as I am to talk about worms 24/7.  I have made friends near and far.  I have had lunch with local worm nerds (I say that with love), given worms away to local friends and even mailed worms across the country to help people get started in their worm journey. The beauty of social media is that you can get hooked up with people around the world, perhaps never meet in person but still have lots of engaging conversations with.  How cool is that?

I have made some amazing friends.  I got hooked up with my mentor in all things “worm biz”, Larry The Blue Worm Bin from Canada, a fellow female worm nut in Utah, Tori Anarchy Worm Bin YouTube, Lilia from California Lilia Kogan YouTube and one of the founding members of our Facebook group Experimental Worm Fun, Wayne.  The list goes on and on.  My YouTube channel really picked up after being shouted out on a YouTube channel London Worms & Garden and another channel out of Pennsylvania My Hillside Garden.  It has just grown from there.  I have collaborated with the developers of the Urban Worm Bag (Steve Churchill who has also shouted me out, thanks Steve!) Shop Urban Worm Bags Here and the VermiBag (Tom Perkins) View Products Here.  I have teamed up with a commercial worm farm courtesy of Tom in Texas and I continue to meet new people everyday.  I chat with fellow worm nerds, experiment with all things controversial with worms and do my best to add value to the community.

5. Enjoying Worm Videos and Worm Books More Than Netflix

When I started worm composting, I utilized YouTube as my primary educational resource.  I quickly discovered that there were very few worm channels that were active and still putting out fresh content.  I will admit right now, I watched hundreds of hours of worm videos.  I continually searched and watched just about every resource I could find.  Channels like London Worms and Gardens, World CompostingMumbai Balcony Gardener and Down to the Roots were some of my early favorites.

I quickly ran out of material and was frustrated that I couldn’t find answers to all of my questions in the videos available.  That led me to creating my own worm YouTube The Crazy Worm Lady in October of 2017.  Do I have all of the answers?  Absolutely not.  What I think I have to offer is an honest and experimental way of running my worm bins that allows my watchers to learn with me.  Many of my viewers have years and years more experience than I do, but that makes it even more fun.  I can learn from them and they may just learn a thing or two from me.  I attribute my success (in not killing my worms) to all of the wonderful videos I watched in those early days.  I hope my channel can do the same for others.

I continue to watch worm videos daily.  I go through what I like to call “worm porn withdrawal” if I can’t find a new video to watch each day.  That’s how I know I have it bad.  I beg my fellow worm friends to get their videos up STAT (nurse lingo for you).  It seems extreme, but gosh there is nothing more satisfying than watching a video with  “worm balls”, cocoons and gorgeous castings.  Forget reading the newspaper or watching Netflix, give me some worm videos, good books, like Worm Farming Revolution and I am set for life!

6. You Eat According to What Your Worms Like, Not What You Like

I swear to you, this isn’t even a slight exaggeration.  When I discovered how much my worms loved watermelon I started buying it weekly at the grocery store and even growing it in my own garden… more for them than me.  Don’t get me wrong, I love some watermelon, but my diet doesn’t typically allow for lots of fruit.  I resorted to cutting up watermelon and taking it to work to share so that I would have tons of rinds to give to my babies.  Similarly, I find myself eating a lot more green leafy veggies and making my own soup stock… simply because I know my worms will love the remnants.  My health probably benefits as well… we can all use more produce in our diets, right?

I heard that worms love pumpkin and last year, my boyfriend threw out our Jack-o-Lanterns before I snatched them up.  I was legitimately depressed that I missed out on that opportunity.  No worries– we have a local ALDI grocery store (if you have one locally and have never been, do yourself a favor and check it out, prices are insanely low) and I found canned pumpkin for $0.66.  I snatched up 10+ cans.  I mean, the worms deserve dessert too, right?  Forget saving my own waste, I want my worms to be spoiled!  I accept judgment!  I have absolutely bought foods just for my worms (sort of defeats the purpose, but hey I can’t help myself). Do you do anything similar?

7. You Have a Stockpile of Food for the Worms and Your Freezer Has More Worm Food Than People Food

This is funny because starting day one, I had this obsession with not throwing out food waste.  Previously to starting, I honestly didn’t compost much at all.  After reading, watching videos and talking to other vermicomposters, all of a sudden I couldn’t handle the thought of putting another ounce of food in my garbage can.  Before my worms arrived, I had already stockpiled roughly 8 freezer bags of food.  My worms eat much more these days, but I still never pass up the opportunity to collect scraps from friends, grab produce waste out of the trash at work or collect coffee from Starbucks when I go through the drive-thru near my house.

My freezer goes through phases depending on how much I feed my worms, but I always have at least 5 bags on reserve.  I know I have it bad because I have been stalking the Facebook Marketplace for used deep freezers so that I can have even more space to keep all of my scraps.  Forget using it to store our fish, deer, pheasant meat (hunting family) or bulk buys from Costco… worms win out every time.

Peas I grew in my indoor garden last year.

Silly little post for today however everything I mentioned is 100% true in my personal experience.  Of course we all know I am a special breed of worm nut, but I don’t even care!  Way too much fun, relaxing and absolutely the most environmentally friendly thing I have ever done in my life.  Did I miss any of the worm fever traits?  My guest bedroom is no longer usable due to worms…

I could go on and on.

 

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My Worm Composting Story To Date: The Somewhat Abbreviated Version

It All Began With a Simple Search Using Google and YouTube

When I started vermicomposting (composting using worms) I was uneducated on the topic and honestly completely clueless as to what I was doing.  I was researching indoor/outdoor gardening how-to’s when I came across some YouTube videos on worm composting as a supplement to organic gardening methods.  I was enthralled but left with lots of questions.  How had I never heard of this?  This sounds kind of gross.  What weirdos bring pounds and pounds of worms into their house?  How could this benefit me?  I ended up watching these videos for hours (I don’t even want to admit how many) and I figured if I wanted the healthiest plants, composting seemed like a good way to go.  Why start a garden and use chemical fertilizers to make the plants grow?  That can’t be healthy and quite honestly my health wasn’t the greatest.  I wanted to go organic, no excuses.

I purchased a commercial system, the Worm Factory 360 and 1,000 red wiggler composting worms the very same day.  Next thing you know, I had worms in a bin with some peat moss and watermelon.  I was squeamish to touch them but oddly enthralled.  I was poking in multiple times a day and I was so amazed at how these guys could smash through food quicker than a football player at a buffet.  I soon came to realize that I had way more scraps than my worms could handle.  It was summer, I was eating a diet very high in fruits and vegetables and I had a backlog of food piling up in my freezer that I just couldn’t justify throwing away anymore.

I went back down the rabbit-hole of YouTube and researched making a DIY worm bin using a Rubbermaid tote.  I swear it seemed like overnight, my small Worm Factory turned into an arsenal of systems.  Saying I was hooked would be an understatement.  I was diligent in my research although I was still convinced I was going to kill these worms and it would have all been for nothing.  I lacked confidence despite how well things were going.  That fateful day of quitting never came…

How My Goals Shifted to Even Bigger Things

October of 2017 I decided to start a YouTube channel of my own.  I was so obsessed with watching and learning from these “experienced pros” and I was running out of content. So I decided to make my own.  I had a huge learning curve, not only with YouTubing, but with my hobby that was just beginning to truly take off.  I ran into many roadblocks, made lots of mistakes, discovered that more than just worms live in compost and my eyes were opening to just how much I still had to learn.

To this day (over 2 years later) I still feel amateur.  I still feel like I am clueless at times.  I experiment on anything and everything I can think of.  Worms are cool and I like to share just how amazing these little workers can be.  To date I have only bought worms on 4 occasions.  When I started, when I expanded to European Night Crawlers, when I decided to add African Night Crawlers to the mix and when I realized my “red wiggler” purchase had actually been blue worms and I just had to get the “real deal” reds.  I think my total investment to date is roughly $400 but in retrospect, it could have been 100% free and a lot of that cost was for larger commercial systems that are totally unnecessary if they aren’t within your budget.  I don’t feel bad about that investment at all however because it was the most amazing investment I ever made.  That being said, I have also been able to help four local gardeners start their own worm bins by giving away worms when I can, so being able to reduce the startup cost for others is pretty cool payback as well.

The Amazing Community of Worm Nerds and Growing the Interest to Others

Even on vacation, I am always reading and researching new and cool worm stuff.

Since starting my YouTube Channel I have found a community unlike any other.  The people who do this “weird” hobby are some of the kindest, most generous and helpful people around.  I have never felt like any question I had is dumb.  I have always gotten amazing feedback from others, I have connected with people who make commercial systems, sell worms, write blogs and/or just do this for fun.  I have been humbled by the support I am getting and the kind words coming from even the biggest gurus in the worm world.  I am often told that my opinion gives a fresh face to a hobby that is somewhat obscure and misunderstood.  How cool is that?  Those comments, those people who thank me for helping them make it all the more rewarding.

All the fluffy fun aside, I can honestly say that many people don’t get it (I am working on them though).  I oftentimes hesitate to discuss my hobby for fear of judgment.  I am happy to report that no one to date has actually been critical in any way whatsoever.  When I get the courage to bring up my hobby in casual conversation I am always shocked at how receptive people are.  People are supportive and curious and that is more than I could ever hope for.

I was at an acupuncture appointment the other night and my acupuncturist is well abreast of my worm hobby but she has taken an apprentice under her wings.  My acupuncturist casually asked “how are the worms” and thus a long conversation ensued as her apprentice had never heard of vermicomposting.  I can proudly admit that I had diarrhea of the mouth.  I was spewing my excitement and knowledge about worms and super happy to answer all of her questions.  I felt a little silly because it sounded like I was talking about my pets (well they sort of are…) but the biggest reward for me was when we were leaving the office (I was the last appointment of the day) her apprentice said she totally wants to research worm composting further.  She was amazed when I said that I have fed as much as 16 pounds of food waste in a single week.

My biggest eaters: the African Night Crawlers.

I had a “worm nerd” moment, no shame.  This is the reason I keep doing what I do.  Even people who have not jumped on the bandwagon for whatever reason often contribute their waste to me or learn something from our interactions.  I have coworkers, family, friends and the local Starbucks to thank for that.  Even if I can’t sell the idea of worm bins to everyone I meet, for each person that I impact I have a strong sense of accomplishment.  My garden thanks me (although I still fail more than succeed with gardening) by giving me healthy plants.  I have pride in reducing my carbon footprint and turning “trash into treasure” and I have built some amazing friendships with people across the world (quite literally) that I would have never met if it hadn’t been for worms.

Start a worm bin and see how much your life changes, perspectives change and your appreciation for our planet flourishes.

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8 Items I Can’t Live Without in my Vermicomposting Venture

The thought process behind vermicomposting is such that we want to minimize waste and eliminate chemicals from our own personal gardens.  That being said, there are very few items that I regularly purchase for my worms and composting.  However, there are several items that I consider pretty darn important in helping me to work this hobby with ease.  Do I think you need to purchase all of these yourself?  No, not at all necessary but I wanted to share some of my “must-haves” with you so that you can consider what items are most useful to you.  Maybe you have some items you would like to add to the list as well.

Most of these items are a one-time purchase and thus a small upfront cost when getting started.  Invest a tiny bit early on and it is doubtful that you will have to put much if any other money towards the hobby again.  These items make life much easier for me, so I decided to share them with you.  Without further rambling, here are my top 10 “must-have” worm composting items… in no particular order.

A Sifter Basket

This is what I use. The handles are super convenient.

 There are several sifting devices you can make for yourself or purchase cheaply at a home improvement store.  I have experimented with several different sifters over the last two years and I think that this storage basket is perfect.  I got the idea from a fellow vermicomposter, Lilia Kogan who has her own YouTube Channel as well.  You can watch her sifting process HERE.

The basket method works so well because it is easy to grip, sifts from all angles and easily catches cocoons so that you can ensure the growth of your worm population.  Even with relatively moist castings, I think this is by far the easiest and most inexpensive method out there.  Similar baskets can be found in home good and storage stores that most of us have relatively local.  Oh, and did I mention they are a breeze to clean out?  Take it in the backyard and spray with a hose (over the garden to leech that good stuff right into the soil) and BOOM done.  Back to sitting in my composting room with some supplies stored in it.

Gloves

If you rinse these gloves off, you can get many uses out of a single pair.


For me, gloves are not only about comfort and avoiding the slimy/squirmy madness, but also a health measure that cannot be ignored.  The nurse in me is all about maintaining safe practices when it comes to cooking and handling items that can potentially be hazardous.

Are worm bins hazardous?  Not exactly.  In the decomposition process however, bacteria can be abundant until the worms consume those bacteria making them safe for our gardens.  Why risk making yourself ill or getting icky, sticky castings under your fingernails?  Disposable gloves may not be the best option sustainably speaking, but I reuse mine many times before recycling them.  I find that these gloves are easier to grip with as compared to gardening gloves, but either one would work just fine.

Mortar Trays

Mortar trays serve many purposes and can be multi-functional in composting and other home projects.

I use mortar trays in multiple capacities in my indoor composting.  For one, they are excellent catch tray for underneath my CFT (continuous flow through) and ensure that any liquid runoff does not get on my floor and warp the hardwood.  Also, they are very helpful in harvesting.  Whether you sift, use a light method, or even horizontally migrate your bins, the trays are excellent for sorting, holding worms in, or even migrating them.

The shallow but large trays have multiple uses and have become a staple for me in my sorting efforts.  I am currently using one as a breeder bin as well.  The large surface area allows my worms lots of space to grow and reproduce for the fisherman in the family.  Hey, I might not love fishing as much as he does, but I definitely win some brownie points for getting bait ready so that we can eat fish year-round.

Rubbermaid Bins

Remember to always buy dark colored totes. The transparent totes allow in too much light and your worms won’t flourish as well.

Most of us running homemade bins use storage boxes/bins of some sort.  I have found that 10 gallon totes are the best.  Larger totes work great as well, but for me, space is limited and I move my bins around regularly.  I consider myself a pretty strong person, but these bins can get much heavier than you would imagine.

I drill holes in the sides and the lids of my Rubbermaids but the beauty is that if I am doing things right and maintain an appropriate moisture content, the holes in the lids aren’t completely necessary and I can stack the bins getting many more systems in a small space.  Using only 1/2 of a spare bedroom can be challenging, especially with 12+ systems running.  Being able to stack bins has made growth possible for me despite the tiny area.

Spray Bottles

Avoid using old spray bottles that had any sort of chemicals in them.

I use spray bottles to mist the surfaces of my bins.  In a few of my systems, I regularly leave the lids off for convenience and aeration.  This is all good and fine, but keeping the surface of these bins from drying out can be a little tricky.  Unless you have time to turn the bedding frequently or keep a cover of some sort over the top of the bin remaining moist, the top will dry out and feel like hard cement pieces.

For this reason, I keep a spray bottle next to my bins.  I fill it with tap water and allow the chlorine to evaporate off (jury is out on whether I think the chlorine actually will do any harm, but better safe than sorry) before using it to mist the surfaces of the bins that I keep uncovered.  This makes the process of wetting these bins down on a regular basis virtually fool-proof.  When using other methods to water down a bin, it can be easy to overdo it.  This is a simple 10-20 sprays across the surface of the bin and I can go about my business.

A Good Quality Micro-Shredder

This is the exact shredder I use. It isn’t the cheapest nor the most expensive but it does the trick!

This is an item that I would definitely say is entirely optional and will not by any means make or break your experience.  That being said, most of us keep shredders in the house regardless.  What else are we going to do with old bank statements and credit cards?  I sure as hell am not putting them into the regular recycling bin.  Too much identity fraud these days.

When I was just getting started worm composting (maybe 6 months in) my home shredder died on me.  I took advantage of the situation and invested in a 12 sheet micro-shredder.  This shredder can handle even double-thick (although I wouldn’t test this theory TOO much) cardboard with ease.  I easily use it three times a week or more to shred Amazon boxes.  The fine shredded goodness that comes out of this thing makes for super fluffy castings that retain moisture well and break down faster than hand-shredded pieces.

Diatomacious Earth

This bag will last you years! I still have mine from two years ago. Still more than halfway full.

This stuff is amazing.  Food Grade DE can be used in multiple organic uses.  It is even contained in certain toothpastes.  It has some trace minerals that are also great for the garden.  I like it for bug control.  If I haven’t mentioned it enough, I get completely wigged out by pests in the worm bin.  I sprinkle DE around the feet of my Worm Factory, by my backdoor where ants seem to love to come into the house and I even use it in my bins.

The beauty of DE is that it does not harm the worms in any way whatsoever.  It is said that it loses its ability to control pests when wet, but if sprinkled on the surface of your bin or on top of a piece of cardboard or newspaper on the top of the bin, it is very helpful in controlling the numbers of springtails, beetles, mites, and other creepy crawlers.

Rock Dust

A small sprinkling with each feeding, rock dust/azomite will last you forever!

 I use rock dust or garden lime in my bins every single week.  Your bin can run completely fine without rock dust, but it does serve several purposes in the bin.  As the name suggests, rock dust is simply pulverized rock and thus carries many minerals.  We can never have enough minerals in our bins or garden, right?  We want the healthiest, biggest and most nutrient-dense veggies on the block right?

In addition to the mineral content that the rock dust supplies, it is also a form of grit for the worm gizzard to help pulverize the bacteria and food that they ingest.  The rock dust helps neutralize the pH and is in my mind an all-around benefit to the bin.

The Takeaway

If you can get away with less, that is the ideal situation, right?  I continue to play guinea pig as I enjoy being able to bring you guys the products that I feel are worthwhile but I started out with nothing but a Worm Factory 360 and some worms.  The rest of the items were accumulated over time.  I did just fine without them when starting out and that should be noted.  As my worm population and my bin numbers continue to grow, some products that simplify the process and save me time are well worth the small investment for me because they save me lots of time!

I am a night-shift nurse and honestly I feel guilty saying that three days a week is full-time for me and yet I still feel short of time frequently.  I can only imagine how many of you nine to fivers with families get it all done!  Let me know what your essentials are.  Do you think my list was missing anything that is a glaring DUH to you?  I would love to hear your feedback.  Keep at the worm composting and see what a huge difference it will play in your life.  Happy Worming!

** This post contains ‘affiliate links’ to products that I use and love.  If you click on the link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission from your purchase.  Please do research on your own before purchasing anything online. **

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I Have to Crap and So Do My Worms: How to Optimize Your Feeding Habits for the Best Vermi-“Poop”

I am willing to bet that anyone who has a worm bin has had (at least) one time where they said, crap that was a bad choice.  Am I wrong here?  I have made many of these mistakes if I am being completely honest with you.  My whole theory and methodology is to experiment and learn through personal experience and this has had me on the wrong side of fate on more than one occasion.  Live and learn, right?

I have overfed my bins, put frozen food into the bin without thawing (yikes) it first and I have added food that was too water rich without adding adequate bedding. That is just naming a few!  These mistakes created quite a few “nightmarish” situations for me.  Think mass exodus, smelly bin, bugs, and flooding out of the bottom of my Worm Factory (stackable tray system).  It is okay though!  With a few principle practices you can nearly eliminate the guess-work on how to feed the worm bin.

Why is This Important?

When feeding your worms, you want to ensure that they will be healthy and able to compost in the most efficient manner.  This will give you the best worm crap that the world has ever seen! That “black gold” is what we all look forward to when we start composting.  That flaky, dark, and nutrient-dense goodness for our gardens.  To get the perfect compost, you need to know how to feed and manage the bin so that you don’t end up with a stinky bin, wet bin or even a sour bin which kill off your worms.  Happy worms make the best vermicompost, mine told me so.  So, let’s break the process down into some key practices that will make life easy and hassle-free!

The 5 Most Important Feeding “Rules” to Get the Most out of Your Worms

I am sure that there are more than 5 methods and practices to make feeding the worm bin as fool-proof as possible but I chose the practices that I personally have tried, experimented with and implemented in my own indoor systems.  I hope that through sharing these with you, perhaps you will see an improvement in your own composting experience and maybe even learn something new along the way.

1. Try the Pocket Feeding Method

Think of your bin as a grid.

I learned early on from a very successful and well-known vermicomposting “guru” (Brian Donaldson) that feeding your bin in sections can be the best way to ensure that you do not overfeed, it allows for areas of the bin to be an “escape route” or “safe haven” if the bin gets too hot, sour or unfavorable to the worms.  This is my interpretation of the process, but be sure to check out Brian’s (The Worm Man) YouTube channel HERE for his explanation of how it all works.

The concept of pocket feeding makes life super easy.  It takes the guesswork out of how much or how often to feed your bins.  The idea is to break your bin or system into sections.  I usually break mine into four, but for larger systems, six might be even better.  Do what works for you!

Take for example a square bin.  Split that into four sections.  You feed one section at a time in a clockwise fashion with a relatively small amount of food (always better to err on the side of underfeeding).  You start in one corner and rotate each week.  The idea is that when you get back to square one (see what I did there?)  no existing food from that first feeding will be left, therefore you know it is okay to start the cycle over again.

By splitting your bins into pockets or sections, you always rotate feeding areas and can easily learn how long it takes your worms to consume a given amount of food.  This allows you to adjust feedings appropriately without the risk of putting too much food waste into the bin at any given time.  I don’t follow this method precisely to Brian’s description but I do feed in sections and monitor my feedings accordingly.

2.  Increase the Surface Area of Your Food Waste Before Feeding the Bin

This sounds fancy and confusing at first, but I assure you it is quite easy.  Microbes begin the breakdown process of food waste well before the worms move in and the more surface area available to them, the faster they can get to work.  Imagine placing a whole banana in the bin.  This will take longer to break down because the microbes have to break through the skin and get to the flesh beneath before the worms can do much of anything with the banana itself.

Imagine the same banana cut into small pieces.  By cutting the banana up, not only is the sweet and fleshy goodness available to the microbes right away, but the amount of surface area they can get to work on is vastly greater because the banana has been processed into smaller pieces.

I have been running experiments on and off testing blended food versus whole food in a worm bin.  Let me tell you, it is immediately apparent that the blended food gets eaten much more quickly.  You can check out my most recent experiment on this topic on my “to blend or not to blend” experiment.  Video one of this playlist can be watched HERE.

3. Use “Grit” to Help the Worms Process Food More Efficiently

Okay, so this isn’t tried and true as far as I know however it is important to have grit regardless.  Worms have a gizzard, much like a chicken.  Even humans need “grit” for proper digestion.  For us humans, grit=fiber.  For worms, grit can be sand, crushed eggshell, or even oyster shell.  This grit allows the food/microbes consumed by the worms to pass through their digestive tract.  The grit helps grind up the food in a sense.  This helps to avoid a potential disaster known as protein poisoning or string-of-pearls disease that kills the worms.

Protein poisoning is usually the result of overfeeding but it is suggested that grit plays a role as well.  If the worms are happily eating away but have no grit to break down the food they struggle to digest it.  This results in the fermentation process in the worms gut which creates a massive amount of gas that the worms can’t excrete.  The result is a worm that looks like it has been cinched off in pieces, much like a pearl necklace.  This can kill a whole bin very quickly, so adding grit makes sense.  Due to this malady, you will hear most vermicomposters are adamant that you should never overfeed (err on the side of caution) and add plenty of bedding and some grit with every feeding.

4. Freeze Your Scraps Before Adding Them to the Bin

This is a practice that isn’t entirely necessary, but serves a few purposes and I have found it to be quite helpful in my own venture.  As I collect my scraps, I put them in large freezer bags and when they are full, I let them freeze for a good day or two before adding them to the bin.

Why the added step?  Let me explain.  When you freeze vegetable and fruit scraps, it breaks open the cell wall of the food and once thawed, it is much more readily available to the worms and microbes within your bin.  Root vegetables are a prime example.  Try putting a potato in the worm bin and see how long it takes to begin decomposing.  It is more likely to sprout and try to grow than it is to decompose.  When you freeze it first, it softens and allows the microbes to get at it more quickly and it won’t go sprouting on you.

I have found that cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are also nearly impossible to break down (it takes AGES) unless frozen first.  Not in a rush?  No problem, throw it in without freezing.  If you want to speed up the process, pop your scraps in the freezer first so that you don’t go grey waiting for the food to break down.

Another benefit of freezing is the reduction of bugs in the worm bin.  I recently added a pineapple slice to an experimental bin I am running on “forbidden worm bin foods”.  I didn’t freeze the pineapple first because I wanted to get the full effect it would have on my bin.  Checking in on it over the last two weeks I have tons of beetles (itty-bitty ones, but icky nonetheless) and fruit fly larvae.

No one wants to deal with flies or bugs, at least not in large numbers.  Once fruit flies move in, it can be a real pain in the backside to remedy.  Freezing food helps to kill off any fruit fly eggs that may be in the skin of our food waste, thus limiting the chance of an annoying outbreak!

5. Mix Up Your Food Options For the Worms to “Sweeten the Deal”

Okay, so this isn’t 100% necessary either, but it certainly helps.  If you want truly super-charged poop, don’t you want it to be as balanced as possible with multiple available nutrients for the garden?  I find that my worms prefer sweet and water-rich foods more than anything else.  I like to add fruit with almost every feeding because the microbes (and thus the worms as well) go nuts for sweet stuff.  Favorites of my worms include watermelon, cucumber, berries, bananas and oranges… yes, I recognize that citrus is considered a bad food that could acidify your bin or kill the worms, but I have found that in moderation there is absolutely nothing wrong with adding it to the worm diet and they actually enjoy it a lot.  More to come on the “Forbidden Foods” experiment.  Once it is complete, I will share the verdict on some highly controversial worm bin foods.

When feeding my worm bins I always take a look at what foods I have available and try to add a little something to satisfy their sweet-tooth and entice the ecosystem to get to work very quickly.  Keep in mind, if you don’t have anything sweet, that is totally fine however with a well-balanced diet, the castings will be richer and more potent in a wide array of nutrients.

The Takeaway

Implementing all of these methods may not be realistic for everyone.  You may be short on freezer space, you may be limited to certain foods based on your own diet or you may find that chopping the food up fine to create a larger surface area is a bit too time-consuming.  I get it!  This is simply a list of methods that I have tried that have helped my systems work quicker, better and with less problems than some other “standard” feeding methods.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of not overfeeding.  Keep in mind if you try the chopping/blended method that it is easier to overfeed, so err on the side of caution and add lots of bedding and plenty of grit with every feeding for a good carbon/nitrogen (bedding to food) ratio.  If you try just one or two of these methods, I would love to hear what your experience is.  Happy composting and be sure to optimize that poop!  You will have your worms flying through the waste in no time.

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Another Way To Look at Trash and Waste: Vermicompost That Crap!

Have you ever looked at the United States food waste statistics?  It’s sickening.

When reviewing the *USDA statistics, you will find that 30-40% of our food supply ends up as garbage.  Without widespread recycling or composting programs, a lot of that food ends up in our landfills.  This is a problem that all of us should care about.  I am happy that more and more people are becoming aware of this problem and playing their part in trying to combat it.

The average American wastes over 600 pounds of food per year.  Before you say, “no, not me!” consider all the food you leave on your plate at a restaurant, the amount of chips and salsa, bread, or crackers you leave on the table at restaurant establishments.  Think about that produce that rots on your counter, the leftover food that doesn’t get eaten or that whole bag of spinach that somehow gets lost behind the condiments in the refrigerator.

I have found since starting vermcomposting that my home itself (a household of 2) easily generates 2 pounds of scraps a week and that isn’t even including waste we generate when we eat out OR the the non-compostable items (at least indoors) such as meat or dairy.

It has been eye-opening.  I realize how JUST a small home composting system can in fact make a huge impact.  I am collecting food waste from three friends in addition to my own waste at a rate of 4-8 pounds per week.  That’s up to 416 pounds of waste a year that I am personally keeping out of the landfill.

Did you know that the United States ships a lot of our garbage waste overseas because of the limited space our landfills have left?  This is completely unacceptable.

Let’s look at this from another perspective.  Have you ever been to a Farmer’s Market?  A ballgame?  A buffet?  What do you think happens to all that uneaten or unpurchased food?  It spoils and in many cases is thrown away.

Walking out of a baseball game earlier this week, my friends and I were commenting on how all of the homeless people begging for money outside of the ballpark could benefit greatly from some of the food that will be thrown out after the game.  We can naively think that all of these establishments donate to food kitchens, but lets be real… most of that food will hit a dumpster tonight and those homeless individuals will go to their park benches or tents hungry.

Another conversation I had not that long ago was with a friend who works in a grocery store.  I inquired as to whether or not I could take some produce that was past its prime off of their hands to compost.  Do you know what he said?  Policy doesn’t permit it.  Liability issues demand that they throw it all away.

How can we fix any of this?  I wish I had the power to sway company policies all on my own but I know that isn’t realistic.  So, to all the companies who donate to food kitchens or have waste programs: I commend you!  To those that don’t… I encourage as many people as possible to write to their local grocers and encourage them to reconsider their policies.

After learning all of these things, I have found a side of myself that I didn’t realize I had.  I never considered myself a tree-hugger or environmentalist but I assure you I am reformed in my mindset and priorities.  I no longer have any guilt about produce that turns… I know that it is going to good use.  I now have organically grown vegetables indoors AND out.  I am helping to reduce my carbon footprint.  I am helping HEAL the environment by rebuilding the soil structure on my modest property.  Composting is the coolest thing that I have ever started.  Hands down.

Did you know that a portion of carbon emissions are actually produced by the process of treating our garbage waste?  How?  Well, it takes trucks to haul, it takes water to process, it takes space to store.  Methane gasses are released in this process further harming the environment.

Consider this… if each one of us could get five people to start composting, even a pound a week, that would be 1,825 pounds of waste WE personally helped to save from hitting the garbage.  If I can convince five of you to do that, over 9,000 pounds of waste will stay out of the landfill.  Consider that when you think that small composting projects don’t make an impact.

What’s the benefit of vermicomposting in this equation?

Vermicomposting speeds up the composting process exponentially.  Let’s be honest, how many of us keep up with the lawn-waste compost pile?  To work ideally, you have to keep a very calculated carbon: nitrogen (bedding to food) ratio in order for it to work the way we hope.  The beauty of indoor (or outdoor) vermicomposting is that the worms help the process work much faster.  I create several gallons of compost each month with ease and NO downtime during the winter months.  No measuring my carbon:nitrogen ratios, just listening to my worms based on the health of their bins and it’s pretty darn easy at that.

If I fed my 10 gallon bins aggressively, I could easily handle a pound of food per week.  Due to the multitude of systems that I run, I tend to run fairly conservative on how much I feed, but I know my systems could handle more in most cases.

I challenge each of you to run even a single 10 gallon tote and see how much waste you can keep from hitting the garbage.  I bet once you get started you will be just as addicted as me and be searching out additional food sources to compost before long!  Let’s be a part of the solution.  Let’s lead the revolution… let’s be the change that our environment needs so much!  I hope that my children one day will be able to enjoy a healthy planet, so I will continue to do my part as long as possible!

Some small changes make a huge impact:

1. Save all of your scraps and compost them in whatever method you have available.  Worm composting (vermicomposting), the outdoor compost pile, bokashi, etc.

2. Drink tap water- use a Brita filter or something similar, but avoid buying plastic water bottles on a regular basis.

3. Recycle whatever items possible.  Be it newspapers, plastic bottles, metal cans, or food… do what you can!  No amount is too small.  Reuse glass containers.  Be creative!

4. Buy worms!  My worms are the greatest investment I ever made.  Better yet, find someone local who will sell you sone worms or even give you some to start out… this eliminates the need to utilize the mail system.

5. Bypass the straws, plastic silverware, paper plates and styrofoam. Try buying bamboo silverware to take to work instead of the plastics, use reusable metal or glass tumblers.  Use your own plates, glasses and reusable straws.

6. Grow your own food.  Part of the methane and greenhouse gas emissions are created by the trucks, planes, trains, boats, etc. that transport our food.  Have some space on the side of the house?  A balcony that gets sun?  Try your hand at gardening and bypass the middle-man and know where your food is coming from!

With just a few small changes and creative ways to utilize your waste, you too can be a part of reducing the stress on the environment while repairing the soil and creating the best organic fertilizer on the planet!

 

*Statistics from the USDA that are discussed in this post can be found at: https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm

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How to Solve ALMOST All Your Worm Bin Woes With Bedding

We have all been there.  Some of us more than others.  We are shaking our heads and feeling defeated, deflated and utterly ticked off at our worm bins and their problems.  Starting out vermicomposting before finding many of the resources I use today, I was completely lost.  I had one book on the topic and had found one forum which had minimal interaction and slow feedback time.  I would be sitting up, waiting to get the “expert opinions” on how to fix my problems.

Fast forward a year or so and I have found that there is one ultimate (not so secret) fix for all the troubles that effect our worm bin efforts.  Bedding.  Yep, that’s right.  Bedding can make or break you.  Sounds kind of extreme, but I beg to differ… bedding can be the solution for most of the problems you run into when raising composting worms.

Many issues that afflict the worm bin ecosystem are related to poor feeding habits (a story for another day), and not utilizing bedding to it’s highest potential.  Read on to see some major problems that can be remedied with simple adjustments to your worm bedding.

What is Worm Bedding

As most of us know, in a worm bin we try to balance carbon sources (bedding) and nitrogen sources (foods).  The complex nature of those ratios is far less important to understand unless you are looking to sell your castings with a perfect makeup of nutrients and bio-availability to soil.  Sounds complicated and it is, which is fine because I am not in that business.

Bedding can be any number of readily available resources.  Leaves, grass, garden waste, newspaper, paper towels, cardboard, egg crates, peat moss, coconut coir, and many others.  For sake of this post I am going to focus on the resources I typically use in my bins: cardboard, newspaper, egg crates and coconut coir since these are what I have the most experience with.

Solving Moisture Problems in the Worm Bin

I remember the fateful day that as a new vermicomposter I added a healthy amount of watermelon to my stackable tray system along with my usual handful of shredded newspaper.  I went about my day and woke up the next morning to an all out flood that had come out of my spigot, filling the catch tray and had overflowed onto the floor.

On the other end of the spectrum, more recently I purchased my first continuous flow through (bag style) system.  I was a little overzealous adding tons of coconut coir and ended up with the Sahara Desert in my system.  Worm were no where to be found and the food was a matted mess up top with the coir.  The worms were fine, but they had burrowed deep into the bag where it was still moist and they could survive.

What was my underlying mistake in these scenarios?  Bedding.

In an overly wet bin, adding a good amount of dry bedding and mixing it into the muddy sludge is the best way to absorb the excess and to help restore a balance that will result in nice flaky, damp castings.

On the flip side, not understanding your bedding can result in a dry bin.  As I was trying to fix what I thought was a slightly wet system resulted in me drying it out too much!

How do you figure this equation out?  Understand your bedding and the proper moisture level that you should have in your bins and you will rarely run into moisture problems.  An appropriate bedding should be damp but not dripping.  Most people describe it as a wrung-out sponge.  When you pick some up and squeeze it you should only get a few drops of water out.

So when you find yourself with a wet bin, add small amounts of dry bedding and monitor until the bedding is lightly moist and the castings restore to a nice damp consistency.  When the bedding is too dry, soak some cardboard, newspaper or egg crates in water and add it to the bin over the course of a few days until the dry bedding has absorbed some of the extra moisture and again, the balance is restored.

How Bedding Can Fix Bug Problems 

I may be the worst person to ask about bugs in the worm bin.  I am phobic of most bugs which in retrospect is hysterical because I was somehow under the impression that my worm bin would be bug-free and flourish.  Jokes on me, the worm bin is a complex ecosystem which houses way more bugs and micro-organisms than worms!

I have found myself in quite a number of pickles related to bugs over the course of my vermicomposting journey.  I am admittedly not very good at sufficiently burying my scraps which can lead to bug nightmares for those of us with phobias of the creepy-crawlers.  The main solution to minimizing the population of mites, springtails and flies is bedding.

Without adequate bedding to cover your feedings, fruit flies can find their way in to the worm bins.  These critters in particular are a royal pain in the backside to get rid of.  The flies lay eggs in the yummy produce in the bins and before long you have a true nuisance on your hands.  I have found that when a bug problem reaches epic proportions (see my videos on springtails and mites for reference) adding a thick layer of DRY bedding on top of your bin severely inhibits the capability of the flies getting down to the feeding to lay eggs and it smothers out the hatchlings from being able to make it out.  BOOM: problem (mostly) solved.

How Bedding Can Solve the Problem of a Food Shortage

When your worms are eating you out of house and home it can become a difficult road to walk.  Take it from me.  A household of two, we do not create nearly enough food waste to keep all 14 of my bins fed.  I am lucky to have a number of friends and relatives who save scraps for me, but nonetheless I still run into the occasional food shortage.

Fret not, bedding is also food for your worms.  Why do you think you end up with lovely black compost that is devoid of all signs of paper and cardboard?  The worms eat that too!  Whenever I find myself low on food, I err on too much bedding.  I personally feel it is NEARLY impossible to over-bed the worms.  Overfeeding is a problem, adding too much bedding is usually pretty harmless and provides your worms with something to munch on until your next banana peel is ready to be thrown into the bin.

I am Travelling and Worried My Worms Will Starve      

This is almost impossible.  Short of a 6 month trip, its pretty hard to starve your bin and thus kill it off.  I have seen some videos on people who have neglected to even open a bin in nearly a year and there were still worms flourishing in the bin.  People tend to worry and over-feed their bins prior to a trip.  This is a common mistake.  Over-feeding can create a hot, anaerobic and acidic environment which CAN kill the worms.

If you are travelling, resist the urge to feed your worms a bucket of scraps.  Add a normal feeding and double-up on your usual bedding amount.  I can assure you, your worms will be alive and thriving on your return.

The Takeaway

There are plenty of problems that can be solved using various methods however the most simple and basic in my mind is too consider your bedding.  Do you have enough of it?  Are you using it to its greatest potential?  Consider your bedding type, absorbancy factor, and how much you can use to try and trouble-shoot your worm bin problems.  Happy Worming!  Load up that cardboard!

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Worm Composting

 Using worms for composting can be an amazing way to reduce your waste!  Worm composting not only puts your scraps to use but creates an amazing and organic fertilizer for your soil and gardens as well.

The thought of bringing “worms” into your home (or even outdoors) makes some people a bit squeamish.  I get it.  I was that person too.  I was petrified of worms invading my house, bringing in pests, smelling, or otherwise being a royal waste of time.

I researched the idea/concept of indoor worm composting for hours on end and I decided to take the leap.  I haven’t looked back since, I continue to grow my “collection” of worms and my passion is only amplified the longer I do this.

All of this being said, my perception of what this hobby would be like and the actual reality were quite different.  Let us look at some of the things I wish I knew before I started putting my worms to work.

  1. Starting Small and Cheap is the way to go

I had this big dream of producing buckets and buckets of castings every month.  I felt like due to my “research”, the only way to do this was to buy an expensive system.  Don’t get me wrong, I love all of my systems in their own ways, but the “simplicity” aspects of commercial systems aren’t always as advertised.

Later, I learned that some super cheap and DIY systems using Rubbermaid totes work just as well as the larger systems and would have probably been a good place to start.  If it hadn’t worked out for me I wouldn’t have been out quite so much money.  For $10-$15 dollars I could make my own bin.

2. You Don’t Always Have to Buy Your Worms

I bought my worms from a commercial company I found on Amazon.  For a pound of worms I paid roughly $40.  Not terrible, but I know now that it can often be easier to get worms from a friend, local garden club, or smaller companies that have better customer service and better prices.

I learned from my experiences on Facebook forums that many big commercial worm farmers don’t have “pure” breeds of worms and they short your order.  Who’s going to actually count 1,000 worms (1 pound) or think about throwing them on a scale when all they can think about it putting their new babies into the bins?

Worms I have bought since my initial investment have all been much healthier and purer breeds and when I weigh them, they are often even more generous than advertised.  As much as 1.5 pounds or 1,500 worms in an order.

I have given worms to many local friends I have met and I think this can be a great way to save money and meet friends that have similar interests to you.

3. Patience is Probably the Most Important Tip When Getting Started

Let’s face it, big dreams and your desire to try and reduce your waste overnight is super appealing.  I know when I started, I was stock-piling fruit and veggie scraps and loading my freezer down with a backlog.  I would break down when the freezer was busting at the seams and end up overfeeding.

Overfeeding is probably the biggest worm composting mistake.  So many problems stemmed from my inability to control my excitement.  I had systems flood out from all the water waste my scraps would release.  The bin would heat up and my worms would go running for the exits.  It caused me stress.

Starting worm composting brand new, you have to take into account the fact that microbial activity and breeding don’t happen overnight.  I could only realistically feed my 1,000 worms a cup a week when I began.  Keep in mind that once the worms start doing their thing, population booms and the system takes off.

Around the three month mark I noticed that my worms were managing my waste much quicker and the number of worms I had was going up noticeably.

All things worthwhile take time, right?  We have all heard it.  I wish I would have reminded myself of that early on.  I would have been much more successful in taking off had I not pushed the system and stressed the worms out.

4. The Worm Bin is an Ecosystem

Okay, I am the first to admit that I am a major nut when it comes to bugs.  Even the beneficial guys get wars waged against them in my house.  We had some ants one summer and I had the house bombed and invested in $60 monthly pest services the same day I spotted that one rogue ant.

That being said, I was quickly in for a rude awakening when it came to the “bug free” systems I imagined in my dreams.  Do not panic!  I was literally at the point where I was ready to dump the worms and quit the day that I spotted that first mite.  It’s normal to be caught off guard when you start seeing helpful additions to your worm bin.  Mites, pot worms, fruit flies, small beetles, and springtails have all made appearances in my bins.  Sometimes in large numbers.

These bugs have ZERO interest in leaving the buffet in front of them.  I have never seen a single mite or any other bug anywhere but in the bins.  As you learn more about the ecosystem of a worm bin you start to appreciate the whole process behind it.

Nearly all pests in a worm bin are simply helping the process along.  These small bugs help in the breakdown process of the food waste in the bin.  A worm bin is teeming with beneficial micro-organisms (most of which aren’t visible with the naked eye) and they are not in fact a nuisance, but a crucial player in a well-running system.

I won’t lie, I still get the creepy-crawlies on occasion when I have a boom of certain worm bin bugs but I am learning to appreciate each and every one of them.  You can manage the numbers of these pests with good worm bin maintenance, but I would never suggest freaking out or throwing in the towel because the ecosystem is working in your favor!

5. Worms Are Very Forgiving

If you are anything like me, you get your new babies into their home and the desire to check on them every 15 minutes is real deal.  I was obsessed.  I poked around multiple times a day, dug up food and re-buried it a hundred times over to see the progress.  I definitely inhibited the process for quite some time before I was able to resist the urge to make sure they were still alive 500 times a day.

I was reading everywhere that checking on them could do more harm than good.  I was told that digging around could damage the worms or trigger an exodus.  I was legitimately worrying constantly.  I even had frequent dreams about the worms (I know, I am quite the loony anomaly) you get my point.

I realize now, the longer that I do this, that worms are ultra-forgiving.  Worms are not the delicate creatures that some articles, blogs, or forums may make us think.  Through digging, overfeeding, a frightful day where I shoved frozen food in the bin… all of it, my worms flourished anyway.

I continue to dig through my bins at least once a week (per bin or system).  I turn the bedding up, handle the worms and continue to make mistakes… it happens.  I have yet to kill a single worm (to my knowledge) and my worm population keeps going up.  I raise 4 different types of worms and all of them are surviving the learning curve just fine.

The Takeaway:

There are lots of misconceptions and bad information out there.  There are many acceptable ways of handling your worm bins and I personally don’t consider any one way to be “best”.

The process of worm composting isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds when you just start researching it.

  • You don’t need expensive systems!  Starting out with a DIY is a great way to test the waters before going all-in.
  • You don’t need to pay an arm and a leg for worms if it isn’t in your budget.  Ask around, order from small companies or just buy a few hundred worms to keep it all within a financially sound purchase.
  • With patience and time you will be processing loads of compost for the garden, so don’t rush it!  It CAN be frustrating, but when your worms start mating like crazy, you will be shocked what even a small system can do for you!
  • The Worm Bin is an ecosystem.  Learn to embrace it!  Don’t let the bugs freak you out.  There are very few bugs that should be considered a problem.  Observe the bin and you will soon realize that the worms play well with others.
  • Don’t worry about your worms too much, they can handle quite a bit!  I don’t suggest testing torture treatments on them, but even through trial and error, there isn’t much you can do that will truly hurt them.

Happy Worming!

 

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How to Make Your Own Worm Bin

There are many commercial worm bin/systems to buy, however many of these systems are pricey and often you may not want to spend that type of money.  If you are new to worm composting, making your own DIY bin can be a great option and is relatively cheap to do.  In this post I will share the steps to creating your very own tote-style worm bin on a budget, step by step.

  • Choosing the Type and Size of Tote
  • Preparing the Tote
  • Choosing a Bedding
  • Preparing the Bedding
  • Prepping the Bin for the Worms
  • Adding the Worms

Let’s get started.

1. Considering the Type and Size Bin to Use:

When it comes to DIY worm bins, you can use a variety of things that you may already have laying around the house.  Many people use Rubbermaid (or similar tote-style bins) to make their worm bin.  You can also use things such as mortar trays, plastic barrels, crates, or even something as simple as a grow bag.  For sake of this particular post, I am going to talk about Rubbermaid totes.

When purchasing or using a Rubbermaid tote, size definitely matters!  You want to take into account how many worms you will have in the bin and what your end-goal is.  Do you want the most possible castings, do you want to grow the biggest and fattest worms, or do you want to start small to experiment with the hobby on your own?

I made a tote for my African Night Crawlers.  African Night Crawlers reproduce quickly and are voracious eaters.  Because of this, I chose a larger 18 gallon tote.  I also plan to use these worms for bait as well, so a large bin will give the worms plenty of space to grow large and reproduce.  Keep in mind that a tote of this size will get very heavy as it fills with compost.  If you think you will be moving your tote around frequently or have limitations to how much you want to carry, you may decide that a smaller tote is more suited to your needs.

Your tote should be opaque as the worms like a dark environment.  Worms shy away from light and thus clear bins (although cool for kids to see through the bin) are not best suited for worm composting.  Keep in mind that roughly a pound of worms need at least 1 square foot of surface area living environment.  If you want them to reproduce, they will need even more.

2. Preparing the Tote:

Regardless of the type of bin you decide to make, you need to keep in mind that worms need an environment with plenty of aeration.  Some people choose to leave the lid off of their tote completely but others (as myself) chose to drill many holes in the sides and lid to provide the air-flow needed.

To drill the holes, I recommend using nothing smaller that 1/4 inch.  I used a drill bit and drilled approximately 18 holes on each side of my bin (in 2 rows along the upper portion of the bin below the lip.  I also drilled holes on either end in the same fashion.

I drilled holes covering the entire lid of my system as well.  This will ensure that the bin doesn’t get overly wet and that the worms have an environment suitable to their needs.  As worms breathe through their skin, they need moisture but also lots of air!

If you create a bin and find that your worms are crawling up the sides, oftentimes this is a sign that they need more oxygen.  There are other possible reasons as well, but start with adding more holes if this problem arises.

3. Bedding:

The next thing to consider after drilling holes in your tote is to decide what type of bedding (carbon material) you want to use in your bin.  If you want to use things you already have, this is a great way to recycle and turn your trash into beautiful worm castings for your plants and garden.

Bedding can consist of shredded newspaper or junk mail (avoid the glossy ads), egg crates, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, and cardboard.  These are all 100% free options that I use frequently in my own bins.

Other options for bedding include leaf litter, manure (aged), peat moss, dried grass clippings, garden waste or coconut coir.  Keep in mind that things such as manure, leaves and grass clippings have the potential to introduce bugs to your bin.  This may not be a problem if you are composting outdoors, but for indoor bins these may not be ideal.

4. Preparing the Bedding:


Once you have made your bin, providing adequate aeration and once you have decided on your bedding, you are ready to prepare the bedding and place it in the bin.

An ideal worm bedding should be moist like a wrung-out sponge.  I used egg crates, shredded cardboard, and coconut coir for my bin.  I soaked the bedding in water for about 20 minutes.  I then picked up a handful of bedding and squeezed it.  I added water until when I squeezed the bedding mixture I got 3-5 drops of water from it but no more.  If you over-moisten your bedding you can wring it out before adding it to your bin or you can add additional dry bedding to soak up the excess moisture.

Once you have the bedding moistened, add several inches to the bottom of your bin.  I try to fill my bin approximately halfway to provide lots of living space before adding my worms.

5. Prepping the Bin for the Worms:

Ideally, you will set up your worm bin prior to the arrival of your worms.  Allow the bedding to sit in the bin for several days with a small amount of food mixed in.  This will allow the bacteria and microbes to get to work before the worms arrive.  This creates an environment that allows the worms to get to work right away after being introduced to the bin.  If you order a pound of worms, simply start with a small amount of food (no more than 1/4 cup).  Make sure that all food in your bin is adequately covered with bedding material so that fruit flies or other pests don’t enter the bin.

If you didn’t prepare your bin in advance, don’t worry.  Simply introduce your worms and wait a few days before adding any food.

6. Adding the Worms:

Once you have finished preparing your bedding and allowed the bin to rest for a few days, it is time to add your worms.  If you ordered worms, keep in mind that the travel through the mail can have them quite stressed.  As mentioned earlier, worms shy away from light.  Simply dump your worms (gently) onto the surface of the bedding and allow them burrow down on their own.  Keeping the lid off and light on for a few days above the bin should minimize the risk of any adventurous worms trying to leave the bin.  After a few days if the worms seem to be doing well, you can place the lid on the bin if you desire.

Get Started:

You can easily set up a worm bin in an hour or less.  A simple Rubbermaid or Sterlite bin should run you no more than $15 to $20, often even cheaper.  Use a free source of bedding around the house and the only further expense may be the purchase of your worms.  An even better option is to reach out to local gardening clubs or farmers markets to see if you can get worms locally.  Many worm farmers are more than happy to share worms with newcomers, as mentioned before, worms multiply quickly!

Enjoy the fruits of your labor and feed your worms weekly.  Make sure that all of the previous feeding is (mostly) gone before adding more food.  Adjust to the worms needs according to how much they are eating.  Remember that bedding is also a food source for your worms.  Under-feeding is much better than overfeeding.  Worms are pretty forgiving and before long you will be cranking out compost like an old pro!