Worming through the Garbage Crisis

Why Worms?

Worms play a very important role in nature and recycling of organic waste. Different worms play different roles in nature. Night crawlers are slow maturing, large worms that burrow up to six feet deep into the soil. There holes allow for rain to seep deep into the soil and provide aeration into lower soil depths. They actually drag nutrient from the soil surface to the root zones of plants.

Red Worms (Eisenia Fetida & Lumbruscus Rubellus) are surface feeders and are what we use in worm composting. They have evolved over millions of years to tolerate a wide range of temperature swings, reproduce rapidly and help convert organic material back into worm castings which helps seeds germinate and grow.

What Type of Worms are Necessary?

There are over 4,000 species of identified worms. The species of red worms named above are the most commonly used varieties for worm composting. Also, please remember, there is no such thing as a “hybrid” worm. You cannot use Night Crawlers or common earthworms in a worm bin. They will escape or die in a short period. Night Crawlers require several years to reach reproductive maturity. Red worms reach maturity in 3-4 months.

How Much Can Worms Eat?

Red worms will ingest up to half their body weight on a daily basis. The finer chopped material is, the faster it will breakdown. Worms do not eat the food waste directly but work in collaboration with bacteria and micro-organisms, breaking the food waste down.

Does it Smell?

A worm bin will never smell as long as it is not overloaded. Food waste needs to be systematically covered and managed in a way that is easy for the worms to migrate from zone to zone. This is explained in “Worm Care & Feeding”.

How many Worms do I need?

We recommend that an average couple start with no less than 2# of worms. Depending on worm age, this represents between 500-1000 worms/lb. Add an additional pound of worms for each household member. You also may find it easier to get a second worm bin going for medium to large households so you don’t overload one single bin.

Will Worms Try to Escape?

Worms will only try to escape if bedding turns sour, meaning the pH is out of whack. Worms being the peaceful souls they are like a pH neutral bedding material. Sphagnum Peat Moss can be acidic and should be thoroughly washed and squeezed out before using. An ideal worm bedding material is “Coir” , a sustainable organic material (that looks like peat moss) made from coconut husk fiber. Many “green” garden product catalogs carry it and it can be purchased from pet stores. It is used as retile and amphibian bedding.

Worms are programmed to crawl upwards when they feel vibration. Worms drown and come out of the ground when they feel the vibration of rain drops on the ground. Place your worm bin in a location where there is minimum vibration. Away from refrigerators, speakers and vibrating appliances.

What Type of Bin is Better? Wood or Plastic?

Wood breathes for awhile, but ultimately wood becomes punky and rots. If you decide to make or use a wooden worn bin , make sure it is off the ground and that there is air flow to carry away excess moisture from the base. This will increase its’ ability to wick off the excess moisture. Remember food waste is typically over 70% moisture.

Plastic bins work great. And though, yes, it is plastic, it is a good use of the material, especially if it is made from recycled plastic. If you go the plastic route, our InsertKits™ were developed to insure optimal airflow and drainage. InsertKits™ were designed to give you the best worm bin at the best price possible. They are easy to install. Thousands of these kits were put into use by Washington State University, Master Composter Program. They are the most cost effective system available for individuals, schools or entire communities. Let us know your needs. InsertKits™ can be custom made for your specific plastic totes.

I have an outdoor composter. Why should I consider a worm bin?

If you live in an apartment, condo or even a boat, a worm bin is an option. With the increase in rooftop gardening in major cities, roof top composting makes great sense too. Worm bins are a great way to deal with food scraps when its’ too cold to venture outdoors. Unless your outdoor compost system is insulated, or large enough that it is generating heat, it will become frozen and inactive during the winter months.

A great way to manage indoor worm bins and outdoor composting is too shift between the two units seasonally. When Spring arrives, separate the worms from the castings and put the worms into your outdoor composter. Just make sure it is not too dry, the ground is thawed and that there is a feed source for the worms. They will go to work on the outdoor material increasing the outdoor unit efficiency. Come fall round up the worms and put them back into the worm bin for the winter months.

Will red worms survive outdoors on their own?

Yes. As long as worms have access to open soil beneath them they will go down to seek protection from extreme cold and heat.
Some worms will mate and make cocoons if they sense they may freeze. This is their species survival mechanism. When conditions become favorable again the cocoons hatch and the baby worms begin to repopulate.

Worm bins can be left outside during warmer months as long as they are sheltered from direct sun and rain. A garage corner, garden shed or screened porch are ideal.

How often do I clean out my worm bin?

This will depend on your eating and food preparation habits related to volumes generated. But as mentioned earlier, food waste is high in moisture and as long as this moisture can be drained or wicked off, the worms and smaller creatures (that you can’t see) do an excellent job of reducing volume and particle size. Typical worm bin cleaning might be once every few months.

Is it difficult to clean out the worm bin?

No. Sorting worms from castings is a very simple process. They can be sorted via making or using a screen (1/4” mesh) or use the “light separation” method. These are detailed in the “Worm Care and Feeding” section.

What’s so great about worm castings?

Nothing, unless you are a plant! Worm castings (worm poop) are rich in microbial organisms and loaded with water soluble enzymes that plants love. Castings promote seed germination and healthy, rapid root development.

How long do red worms live?

Long enough! Under normal conditions your worms will reproduce regularly and make little yellow cocoons which contain 3-5 baby worms. They hatch out in about 21 days and then require about 2 months to reach maturity. With proper care your worm population will double every 90-120 days.

What temperatures do worms like? Ideally, 55-75F is the ideal range. But worms like heat as well as long as there is good air flow through the bedding. When placed in aerobically active piles, they will stay to the outside edges and regulate themselves. Worms will seek the comfort zone and move as needed.

Worms cannot take a direct freeze, never leave your bin where it will get rained into, frozen or suffer from heat stress.