Make a Worm a Home!

By Barbara Fincher.

Kids across Hillsborough County have an amazing opportunity to kick up their recycling skills! You know those blue and green recycling bins everyone has laying around? They’re not going to be used anymore, but you can turn yours into recycling bins where worms eat your garbage – and then you can grow vegetables or flowers for butterflies and bees with their castings (which is nothing but a nice name for worm poop).

It’s easy and it’s fun – and you’ll learn how to make a difference in your part of the world!  Recycling is an important part of sustainability and it’s something we can all do to ensure that we keep the earth healthy and beautiful. Composting, whether it be using microbes or worms (vermicomposting), is a way we can reduce our dependency on chemicals and recycle organic products that will help grow fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers and trees. When we get involved in recycling and composting, we become a part of the symbiotic system of healthy life.

We’ll start with a list of things you’ll need. Most importantly, since you will be using tools, you’ll need adult supervision. You’ll also need to order about a pound of worms – but not until you know you’re going to have the bin completed soon. They’re living creatures and don’t do well unless they have a happy home designed just for them. You want the “Red Wrigglers” variety available from several companies online or locally by emailing barbara@wormmagic.com.

For the Bin

  • Recycle bin (or any plastic bin roughly the same size if you don’t live in Hillsborough County)
  • Lids and bottoms (see directions below)
  • Drill with ¼ inch drill bit
  • Lawn weed cloth or nylon window screening
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape

For the Worm Bedding (you can use any or all of these):

  • Newspaper strips
  • A couple handfuls of clean garden soil without chemicals, fertilizers or pesticides
  • Peat moss (make sure there are no chemicals, fertilizers or wetting agents)
  • Coir (compressed coconut husk)
  • Water bottle sprayer / mister
  • Bucket

Making the Bin

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Drill about 25 holes in the bottom of the bin, making sure that you put about 20 of them in the channel around the bottom edge. These bottom holes are used for air flow and for draining, in case the bedding accidentally gets too wet. Put another 10 holes on each side, as shown in the photo

NOTE: The water coming out of the bottom of your bin IS NOT WORM TEA! It is a sign that you are keeping the bedding too wet for the worms to survive. Worm tea is made by dissolving your separated worm castings in water.

Measure and cut your lawn weed cloth or nylon screen to fit the inner dimensions of your bin. Tape it in place leaving about a three-inch rim.

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Bedding

The bedding should be six to eight inches deep in the bin.

If using coir or peat moss for bedding, place dry bedding in a bucket and soak in water 24 hours until it’s completely wet, making sure there are no dry clumps. Before placing the bedding in the bin, squeeze out excess moisture until it no longer drips. Sprinkle the garden soil over the bedding, then lightly mist the soil with water.

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If using newspaper rather than peat moss or coir, tear the newspaper into strips or run it through a paper shredder.  Using the sprayer, moisten the paper being careful to not compact it. It needs to be moist but loose enough for the worms to be able to crawl through. Place it in the bin. Take the garden soil and sprinkle it over the bedding, lightly misting the soil.

Adding your Worms

Place the worms on top of the bedding and watch them disappear!

Care and Feeding

The types of bedding we use act as both bedding and food for the worms. But we want them to recycle, too. Start feeding them by adding a handful of vegetable peels, extra leaves, coffee grounds, or stale bread. Sprinkle it on top of the bedding, and spread it out so that it all touches the bedding.

Check your bin daily to see how much of the food has been eaten and you will know how much to feed on a daily basis. You only want to feed as much as your worms will eat. As the worms become accustomed to their home and start to have baby worms, they will eat more. One pound of worms – about  800 to 1,000 – can eat about a half a pound of kitchen scraps a day.

Be sure to keep the bedding moist by misting it daily. Remember, too wet is as dangerous as too dry.

Growing Worms Indoors

To keep the worm bin indoors you will need to find a cool spot for the bin. Garages without air conditioning get too hot during our summers. They need to be kept in a location that is comfortable for you. You also need to keep them in their bin. You can do this by keeping the lid on the bin and by keeping a 20 to 40 watt light on over the bin at all times. Be sure to place the bin on an extra lid or tray to catch any drips.

Growing Worms Outdoors

The bin will have to be in a cool, shady place. Keeping them under a dusk-to-dawn security light and placing a heavy weight on the cover helps keep the worms inside and other wildlife from thinking you put the worms out to feed them. Making an outdoor cover frame is easy and really works well.

You will also need to place the bin in a moat to keep out ants and other insects. Place a lid or tray on the ground and fill it with at least one inch of water. Put four blocks or bricks in the water, not touching the sides of the tray. Set the bin on the blocks. Check the level of the water daily.

Indoor/Outdoor Frame Top

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If you cannot find a bin lid that fits, you can tape lawn cloth on the top and open it daily to feed and check your worms.

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You can also make the indoor/outdoor frame top that you see in the pictures. Measure to fit snuggly over the top of your bin. This will require using 1 x 2-inch  non-treated wood, 3/8-inch non-treated wood molding, 1/4-inch hardware cloth, vinyl screen or lawn weed cloth, small nails, hardware staples, four eye hooks and four small bungee cords. Be sure to layer the hardware cloth over the screen or lawn weed cloth. Screw the eye hooks into the sides of the frame and attach the frame to the bin by placing one bungee cord hook through the eye hook and the other into an air hole in the side of the bin. This will protect your worms both indoors and outdoors.

Harvesting the Castings

You can start harvesting your castings in six to twelve weeks. When looking at the bedding, you will notice rich, dark castings. Worms don’t like living in too many castings.

To harvest your castings you will need:

  • A table in the shade
  • Newspaper
  • A bucket with new, moist worm bedding
  • A clean, empty bucket for castings and composted bedding
  • Your full worm bin
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Cover the table in newspaper. Place a couple of handfuls of bedding, including worms, from your full worm bin onto the center of the newspaper, creating a mountain. Worms recede from the light and will crawl down to the bottom of the pile. Wait a few minutes and remove the top third of the pile. Put it in the clean bucket and check for worms. If there are no worms, you can continue. If you find worms, wait a little longer to remove the next third section of bedding. Place the remaining bedding and worms into the bucket with the new, moist bedding. Continue until you have worked through the entire worm bin.

Starting Over

Remove your liner from the worm bin. Wash and thoroughly rinse your worm bin and nylon screen. If you are using lawn weed cloth, replace it or rinse it thoroughly, but do not use anything other than water. Let it dry and re-tape the liner to the bin. Transfer the worms and bedding from the bucket back to the clean bin, adding moist bedding, if necessary.

Your bin is ready to go!

Eventually you will have more worms than can comfortably fit in your worm bin. You can start a second worm bin, help a friend start a worm bin or release some back to nature by putting them in the shade around your plants.

Barbara Fincher, owner of Worm Magic in St. Petersburg, has been growing healthy worms – and landscapes – for many years. She’ll be attending the gift and plant sale at the Florida Botanical Gardens on Dec. 8 and is a regular exhibitor at the St. Petersburg Green Thumb Festival held the last weekend in April. For more information, contact her at barbara@wormmagic.com.

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