Super Simple Passive Worm Farm

Several observations from my years of vermicomposting:

1) Plastic tub systems, when set up properly with plenty of bedding – and when a few key requirements (see below) are met – can handle a LOT of neglect! Far more than a “fancy schmancy” Worm Inn or VermBin, in fact!

2) “Living material” tends to help create a far more “forgiving” system.

3) Aged horse manure (prime example of a “living material”) left-over after harvesting worms – i.e. material containing plenty of cocoons and baby worms – seems to spring “back to life” quite quickly.

With these three tidbits of “wisdom” in mind, I decided to try a new experiment. In essence I am testing out “batch” vermicomposting instead of my typical “continuous” approach. I want to see what happens when I set up bins with lots of bedding, lots of food waste, and lots of inoculated (with baby worms and cocoons) aged manure – and then just leave it alone for at least 6-8 weeks.

The “Few Key Requirements”

1) Right Temperature Range – if the temps in the bin stay between 32 and 90 F (60-80 F for best results) there shouldn’t be any temperature-induced worm death (assuming Red Worms or Euros here).

2) Adequate Moisture – as long as the system isn’t one that will completely dry out when neglected for extended periods (such as the aforementioned “fancy schmancy” ones), and it starts out quite moist it should meet the needs of the worms.

3) Adequate Oxygen – “moist yet well oxygenated” is what you should always be aiming for. As long as the system has some ventilation (but not so much that everything dries out) you should be fine. Something that will also help with this is…

4) Plenty of Bedding – This was included as part of the “properly set up” assumption, but it’s worth repeating. It’s tough to go wrong with a moist, oxygenated system containing loads of bedding, that stays in an ideal temperature range.

NOTE: While adding some “food” early on is very helpful (and thus highly recommended) – contrary to popular belief, the worms will not “starve” if the bin is then left alone for weeks on end (again, the key is to make sure there is plenty of bedding – ideally some form of paper product like shredded cardboard or newsprint).

Earlier this week I set up two experimental “passive” bins.

The first thing I did was add a really thick layer of shredded cardboard/paper/newsprint at the bottom.

I then added a thin layer of (inoculated) aged horse manure.

Next, I dumped in a large quantity of frozen-then-thawed kitchen scraps (a fair amount more in one of the two bins, so I could see how they compared).

Then another thin layer of bedding.

The final layer was a very thick layer of the aged manure. I made an effort to include some fresher manure near the top as well (probably would have added a full layer had I had access to more of it, since it should serve as an important food source later on).

In one of the bins (the one with more food added) I also added some layers of newsprint over top before putting on the lid.

Lastly, I stuck a piece of duct tape, with the date written on it, on the lid (see first image).

Referring back to my “Will a Red Worm Population Double in 3 Months?” post, I feel pretty optimistic that these bins will be crawling with worms by the time we hit the 8 week mark.

In case you are wondering, “why bother?!”…

An approach like this is great for anyone looking for a time-saving “set it and forget it” vermicomposting method. It would be ideal if one had the space to set up many of these bins (maybe on some shelving units) – and did so in a staggered manner (maybe a few bins each week). Great for those who might want to sell worms – especially in the form of a “composting worm mix”. It might even prove to be a decent way to create and ongoing supply of vermicompost (assuming the staggering approach).

We shall see!

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    • John W.
    • November 20, 2014

    Maybe I missed it, but how many worms did you add to each bin?

    • Bentley
    • November 20, 2014

    You didn’t miss anything.

    In the spirit of “super simple”, I didn’t use up time figuring out how many worms were in each bin. The aged manure had most of the adult worms removed (for orders), so whatever worms were left were mostly tiny babies and cocoons.

    The “ideal” scenario, of course, would be to add aged manure that has NO worms/cocoons in it and then to add a specific number of “breeders”. I’d like to try that at some point, but “unfortunately” my horse manure source happens to be a heap with a resident Red Worm population in it.

    • John W.
    • November 21, 2014

    Okay, so that’s what you meant by inoculated manure.

    • Mark from Kansas
    • November 22, 2014

    That is exactly how my first bin looked.

  1. Hi Bentley,

    that’s the approach I use with my polystyrene boxes – I have about 60 of them going ATM.

    I cant invest the time to do weekly feeds on all of mine, so I use a set and forget approach.

    I can already tell, your farms will do well, and the better fed one probably is the best of the 2.

    In my experience, this approach works as long as its not too hot where you are. Heat is the biggest killer of worms IMO.

    Anyway good luck with your experiment!


    • Cindy Dilorenzo
    • November 24, 2014

    Did you put holes in the bottom of this bin?

    • Bentley
    • November 24, 2014

    MARK – great to see ya! Hope all is well in Kansas these days.

    BRIAN – Fantastic – thanks for sharing! Going to send you an email! I agree re: temperature. I highly recommend that people keep these bins in an environmentally controlled location (eg in a basement on shelving)

    CINDY – No holes in the bottom. It’s been years since I’ve had a plastic worm bin with holes. I just find it way more hassle than benefit. The holes invariably get clogged anyway.

    • John Wood
    • December 23, 2014

    Hi Bentley;
    What size plastic bin did you use for this experiment? Mine is a 30 gallon and is doing much better than the wf 360.
    Love reading your blogs.

    • Bentley
    • January 9, 2015

    Thanks John! My bins are probably in the 15 gal range.

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