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The Tiny Tub Two Worm Challenge

Yet another brand new year has arrived, and what better way to get things going again here on the blog than with a fun RWC experiment?! Unlike my typical follow-alongs, however, this time I want to get as many of YOU involved as possible.


The Backstory

For quite some time I’ve wanted to start a new version of my original “Four Worm Reproduction Experiment“. But, I wanted to improve on the experimental design AND make it even easier to keep up with (if you’ve followed for any length of time, you’ll know that some of my experiments can end up falling by the wayside – especially when I make them too time-consuming).

Putting together my “Will a Red Worm Population Double in 3 Months?” blog post served to motivate me even more. I’ve been dying to see just how close I can come to those “ideal” population growth stats provided by my good friend George Mingin.

Speaking of George…

He and I are preparing to release a rather unique worm-growing guide quite soon (as of the date I am typing this), so I’ve decided to have a bit of a vermiculture* extravaganza here on the blog over the course of the next 2 to 3 weeks (yet another reason the timing of this experiment works so nicely).

* Although many people use the terms “vermicomposting” and “vermiculture” interchangeably, vermiculture has much more of a focus on worm growth/reproduction and far less focus on waste processing and vermicompost production.


So What Exactly Is The “Tiny Tub Two Worm Challenge” (TTTWC)?

In a nutshell, it’s a community-based experiment whereby AS MANY people as possible set up “tiny tub” vermiculture systems, starting with only TWO worms. Red Worms are the main focus, but I welcome results from those growing other types of worms as well (in fact, this would make things a LOT more interesting). I myself will likely set up some small Euro bins in addition to my Red Worm bins.

As you might guess, this is not meant to be a scientifically-rigorous project. It’s tough enough to set up a highly-controlled/consistent experiment myself, let alone expect the same from a (hopefully) large group of participants.

The Super Simple “Rules”/Guidelines

1) You must start with two immature (small and lacking a clitellum) worms. The problem with adult worms is that they can already be fertilized and ready to start dropping cocoons right away, which will skew the results needlessly.

2) Ideally, you should use a container that is similar in size to the 500 ml (16.9 oz / ~ 0.5 quart) cottage cheese / sour cream tubs I am using. That being said, I think it would actually be really interesting to see how much of an impact the size of the container has on population growth.

Really, other than starting with two small worms, the ONLY other critical “rule” is that you…

3) Record AS MUCH information about your trials as you can. Ambient temperature, materials (food/bedding) added etc – and of course, all data relating to population growth (as it relates to time). Regardless of experimental variations among participants, I’m hopeful that we’ll at least be able to see some fairly consistent patterns emerge (eg faster population growth within certain temperature ranges, with certain types of bedding/food etc).

Don’t stress too much about this (eg. I realize not everyone will have a thermometer) – but do the best you can. I would much rather have people participate and produce some data, than to scare people off from participating altogether, or to have many folks giving up part way through.

The key here is to have fun!

4) My other (idealistic) goal, apart from gathering lots of interesting worm-growth data, involves “spreading the worm”. I think it would be really cool if all participants eventually donated (or perhaps sold for a low price, if you’re entrepreneurial) all the worms grown in the experimental bins. It would be fun to see how many worms we can give away! Since we’re keeping a close eye on the number of worms in our bins, it should be pretty easy to maintain an accurate running total.


There is no specific timeline for this project. I could see it lasting anywhere from a few months up to a year or more. It could even evolve into an ongoing part of RWC! Hard to say for sure.

I got started with my own first set of (3) tiny tubs last Friday (Jan 2nd). I had some frozen-then-thawed food wastes ready to go – in fact I was a little worried, since the material was starting to stink (you can see my cautions about this in a recent blog post). But all things considered, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a chance on it (I’ll provide an update on the situation a little further along in this post).

My bedding of choice for these bins is primarily shredded newsprint, but there is also a small amount of shredded cardboard and shredded brown paper. The first thing I did was to add a thin layer of bedding in the bottom of my tubs.

Next, I sprinkled in some dry(ish) living material (basically, well-aged horse manure) from some open systems I happened to have close by. This will help to get the compost ecosystem going in the new systems – but I will definitely need to watch very closely to make sure I didn’t accidentally introduce more worms/cocoons. (More on that in a minute)

Then, I added a small amount of the food waste. While I’m not worried about adding the EXACT same quantity and type of food to each bin, I DO at least want to attempt to establish some consistency. So, I created a somewhat-homogeneous mix of food before adding a similar amount to each bin. My main goal for this particular trial (I’m sure I’ll try different approaches with future tiny tub sets) is to provide a constant source of nutrition for the worms – i.e. ideally, that won’t be a limiting factor at any time.

Next, I added another thin layer of living material, along with some additional bedding layers, before lightly watering everything.



I added a dry layer of shredded newsprint on top as well (more out of habit than anything).

Then I added my 2 worms! Again, my recommendation is to avoid overthinking this too much! As long as the worms are small, and don’t have any sign of a clitellum you should be fine. Ideally, they will be similar in age – but really, the population growth experiment only “officially” starts once they’ve both matured anyway, so if you have to wait a little longer for one of them it’s not the end of the world.

UPDATE: As touched on earlier, I was a little worried about exposing my worms to pretty foul-smelling waste materials on Friday, so I made sure to check up on them today. I’m happy to report that all worm pairs are alive and well, and everything is looking/smelling great! I found a small cocoon in one of the bins (removed it of course) – definitely a reminder that I’ll need to keep a very close eye on these bins while the worms mature.

Obviously, if any tiny hatchlings show up (or if I find any other cocoons), it will mean they were introduced via the living material. Needless to say, I won’t be adding any more of this material to these particular tubs.


I can’t wait to see how things progress over time!

If you think you might like to join in the fun, and/or if you have any questions, please leave a comment below.
:cool:

Written by Bentley on January 5th, 2015 with 53 comments.
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53 comments

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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John W.
#1. January 5th, 2015, at 3:44 PM.

I will give it a go. I can always have cottage cheese size bin in my office; which will remind me to check on them.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Paul from Winnipeg
#2. January 5th, 2015, at 8:24 PM.

I’ll give it a go too. Sounds fun.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com tom
#3. January 6th, 2015, at 12:56 AM.

I think it sounds good count me in. Tom

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Dave
#4. January 6th, 2015, at 4:26 AM.

I’m game, will take a couple days to secure the containers.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Rachel
#5. January 6th, 2015, at 1:13 PM.

Will give it a try

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com joe
#6. January 7th, 2015, at 5:40 AM.

I’ll try it. I got some well aged alpaca manure and straw mixed with paper pulp and peat moss left over from setting up my ENC bin.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Gina W.
#7. January 7th, 2015, at 5:47 PM.

I’ll join you guys. I’ll keep three 16oz. containers upstairs where it’ll be warmer since my regular bins are in cool basement temps.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com David
#8. January 8th, 2015, at 8:17 PM.

I’ll try with wigglers and euros

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com jean kruse
#9. January 9th, 2015, at 1:16 PM.

I’m in – used damp coir and egg carton for bedding and mostly “finished” compost for feed. Put one in 74 degree setting, one in 60, and one where it is warm during day, cold at nite (greenhouse).

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Janice Kelley
#10. January 9th, 2015, at 1:42 PM.

This is going to be fun and interesting.
Just set up my first container roughly following what you have done.
Lisedt container size, weight of leaf and egg carton bedding, quantity of water, size of each worm (small)and weight and makeup of food.
Do you think my two worms are too small? 1 inch and 3/4 inch?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Robin Buriak
#11. January 9th, 2015, at 2:02 PM.

I’m in…I’ll start putting my tiny tubs together now..I think I’ll go with 3 to start. I’ve been wanting to do this anyway, way more fun this way…

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Benji
#12. January 9th, 2015, at 2:07 PM.

I’ll give a go next week end. I am actually volunteering in a school and may try that experiment with the kids too.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#13. January 9th, 2015, at 2:15 PM.

Apologies to those who have subscribed to comments (and to those who have waiting for their comment to be approved)! Just approved a bunch all at once, so it may seem like you are being spammed! lol

Awesome to see so many people eager to participate already! This is going to be a lot of fun.
:cool:

P.S. Maybe once you HAVE set up some bins you can drop me an email with the details. I definitely want to have a log of all participants and what each person is doing (will send an email out to the list about this as well)

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Charles Addison
#14. January 9th, 2015, at 3:09 PM.

I will start next week about January 15. Looks interesting!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Shawn C
#15. January 9th, 2015, at 3:44 PM.

I will definitely give it a go. Have had a bin going for almost 3 years now, and would be interested in seeing this experiment and comparing results.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com martin
#16. January 9th, 2015, at 4:15 PM.

I’m in, I’ll have 1 container in my unheated green house, another container in my grow room which stays at a pretty constant temperature.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Sharon Howell
#17. January 9th, 2015, at 4:38 PM.

I’m in. I will start mine tomorrow. I am going to use two kinds of worms, reds and some I found in a bag of Black Kow that had been sitting out by my potting bench. There were 14 very small, all the the same size. I sift the black kow before mixing with sifted peat before adding to my worm bins.
As i was sifting the black kow I found the tiny worms. I don’t know what kind they are but they sure did grow fast and bigger than reds.They are brownish some what translucent and fat and stubby.Their cocoons are larger and blueish. I don’t know if cocoons came in the bag of Black Kow or got in there from the bag sitting on the ground. The adults are huge compared to the reds.That was a month and a half ago.
Love my shirt.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Robert Reed
#18. January 9th, 2015, at 6:39 PM.

I’m in—– heading to kitchen to find some tubs

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Susan
#19. January 9th, 2015, at 7:46 PM.

I’ll start in March when I get back from holidays.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Teresa A.
#20. January 9th, 2015, at 9:24 PM.

I’m in. I’ve been wanting to know how much temperature slows the worm action as I have my bins in a very chilly basement, so I’ll put one down there and two upstairs in different places. I’ll see if I can get them going tomorrow.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Texgal
#21. January 9th, 2015, at 11:17 PM.

I’m in as soon as I find a container!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Ray
#22. January 10th, 2015, at 2:25 AM.

Right. Just getting settled back in after some travel. First time I’ve left my bin since getting it started and it was doing great. Since I don’t expect anymore extended travel until late spring this will be a super project so count me in. I’ll get set up today and kick off with 3 tubs of different size (diameter) and see how that affects things.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Duane Faber
#23. January 10th, 2015, at 7:12 AM.

Great idea Bentley. I am in as well.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com kayo
#24. January 10th, 2015, at 8:19 AM.

I’m in sounds interesting…

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com John v
#25. January 10th, 2015, at 10:56 AM.

Sounds super interesting. I bought some worms about 3-4 months ago and now it looks like I only have a handful left out of about a 5 gallon bucket so yes I’ll be very interested in trying this to see if I can get my worm population back up and running for my aquaponic system.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Joe Gardener
#26. January 11th, 2015, at 7:52 AM.

I’m in, I started my tub January 6 with three juvenile redworms. Just in case one doesn’t make it I want there to still be a couple worms left for breeding.

The bedding I’m using is dampened micro-cut paper. Dampened with water, molasses, lactobacillus, and vermicompost. Did three layers of bedding separated by two teaspoons of VC between each layer. I added 1 cube of frozen pumpkin thawed for food. Then I covered with a 1/2″ thick layer of bedding and small square of cardboard soaked in water to cover the paper. This was all put in a 32 oz yogurt container (about 1/2 full). I punched small holes in the lid for air and then added my worms.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Trina
#27. January 11th, 2015, at 8:29 AM.

Count me in. FYI… I’ll need a few days before I can clear time to commence yet another project.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Deborah
#28. January 12th, 2015, at 9:29 AM.

I’ll join in the fun too. Sounds great

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Wendy
#29. January 12th, 2015, at 4:41 PM.

I started 3 16 oz. tubs this morning, using newspaper, cardboard, very dry old commercial vermicompost, and thawed food/coffee grounds mixed. 2 tubs are in my laundry room, probably about 67 degrees ambient temp most of the time, and 1 is on the sheltered deck where my 2 worm bins reside. Here in central California, the temp there can vary from 85 down to 30, and has in the last several weeks. I won’t let them freeze. Looking forward to what transpires!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Maria L
#30. January 13th, 2015, at 8:52 AM.

Hey, great idea, I’m in too! Today I set up 3 tubs, and took photos along the way, but now I have no idea of what to do with the photos! lol.

It occurred to me as I was doing it that using the weight as a measure of size for the tubs is inaccurate as it all depends on what was in it before, so for the sake of simplicity perhaps the volume of water that the tub can contain would be a universal measure of the size – mine were 750 ml each (tubs said 600 g, but it contained cocoa powder before). That way the end worm-to-volume ratio can be calculated for everyone and therefore normalised….? Now I sound like a geek… once a scientist, always a scientist! Haha! The dimensions of my tubs are: diameter 8 cm by depth 14.5 cm. I added 10 air holes into each lid.

I lined the tubs with lined with cardboard, added some living material (the big bits from a previously sifted batch of worm castings which I keep moistened in a bucket), then some frozen food: one manky black olive, a bit of cucumber peel, and and some carrot peel each.

I added two juvenile red wigglers measuring approx 3 cm each into each tub followed by a very small amount of material from another bin, a squirt of home made LB liquid, more shredded cardboard and a little bit of water.

I have one sat on my router (I often use this spot to germinate seeds) reasoning that it would be warm, I guess about 22°C, another is in my office which is usually around 17°C, and the third one is outside my office window sitting in a plant pot! Outside (here in Valencia, Spain) at this time of year temperatures range between 4°C and 20°C, and obviously change during the night/day cycle, but tend towards the lower end (currently 8°C).

I will try to repeat this experiment every three months (lets see how organised I really am, as I always have too many projects on the go!), as I’m sure the dramatic temperature changes here really affect how the worms behave, even pushing the mighty reds to their limit in the hottest months of July-August-September I think. I had a thriving population the whole year, then all of a sudden I could only find a few when I returned from a stint in the UK towards then end of September. Now they seem to be repopulating, and I’m sure its the temperature. My system is improvised from re-purposed vegetable crates and shipping pallets, and I don’t know the effect that would have had either.

I’d love to try to make vermicompost with Euros, or African night-crawlers as I suspect they *may* handle the heat better (and get through the food quicker), but since I’m the only one I know in Spain that is a worm geek, I don’t have the slightest clue of how to get hold of some.

Great idea, thanks for the post Bentley.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Torri Martin
#31. January 14th, 2015, at 3:03 PM.

Im joining the fun!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Debbie
#32. January 16th, 2015, at 10:36 AM.

I’d like to try this, I’ll have to start saving containers from the recycling bin. I don’t have access to aged horse manure, but could get some chicken manure. How long does it have to sit to be ‘well aged’?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Toni
#33. January 16th, 2015, at 3:44 PM.

I started my tiny tub last night, in a 500ml margarine tub.

I started with a layer of damp, torn cereal box cardboard and covered it with some bunny poo that had been sitting around waiting to be fed to my worms for a couple of months. I then added another layer of cardboard and 2 juvenile worms. I tried to measure the worms with a ruler, but they kept changing length as they stretched and contracted. At their smallest they were about 2 cm, but they stretched out to over 3 cm.

I’ve left the tiny tub on the top of my plastic worm bin that sits by our back door on the southern (cooler) side of the house. It’s summer down here in New Zealand, in my area the daytime temperature tends to be around 26 c dropping down to around 17 c over night.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Toni
#34. January 16th, 2015, at 3:47 PM.

Sorry forgot to include my question in my first post – what should I be tracking when I check on the worms? Do you completely tip out your tubs to count how many worms can be produced from the 2 juveniles?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Barb
#35. January 17th, 2015, at 12:15 AM.

I’m in; I will start tomorrow, Jan 17.

I will use a yogurt container, cut up brown cardboard box, brown package paper. They will live inside the house (in the same shower as my worm-inn) so the temperature is fairly constant.

For initial food, I will give them lettuce from the garden.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Karuna
#36. January 17th, 2015, at 6:13 AM.

I’m in. I have some of the small clear deli containers. Is it okay if I start with those and then move them to bigger containers once I get some?

How often do you want us to look for and count worms?

I will let vermicoposting friends know about this too!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Linda
#37. January 17th, 2015, at 5:36 PM.

I’m in. I don’t have any manure, but I’m going to put in shredded coconut shell and some worm compost that I am sure there are no cocoons in, hope that will work. Thanks for the great idea.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com sam dockman
#38. January 19th, 2015, at 5:02 PM.

well, i guess my wormidoo is not black enough for your club. i have sent you two emails regarding my not being able to login. hmph, says i. signing off. sam dockman

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#39. January 20th, 2015, at 10:31 AM.

Sam – don’t EVER take my lack of reply as a lack of interest. Just take a look at this comment thread (above). I am swamped at the moment. It’s definitely nothing personal.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Benji
#40. January 22nd, 2015, at 1:12 AM.

Just set up a mini bin with 2 immature worms. You can see the details there .
http://chfermetteaquaponicsanewyork.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-2-worm-challenge.html

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Wendy
#41. January 23rd, 2015, at 5:39 PM.

My tubs seem to be problematic already. I started the tubs on 1/12/15. The two indoors have only one worm apiece today, and the tub outside has two lively adult worms (the original pair) and at least 6 hatchlings. Something got in there! It is too soon for real reproduction. Question: should I add new worms to the two indoor tubs? Should I remove the hatchlings?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com sam dockman
#42. January 23rd, 2015, at 6:34 PM.

bentley, thanks so much for clarifying and more importantly simplifying the 2 worm challenge i.e. to keep our own records, etc. i am sure that will lift a load from your head. i do believe your initial intructions were clear enough and should help us all to set our goals, learn by doing and observing. thanks so much for the encouragement to study and learn. sam

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Ray
#43. January 23rd, 2015, at 8:24 PM.

Bentley, or anyone else, since I’m new to vermicomposting I don’t know what a cocoon looks like. Can you post a picture of one, maybe one in in a bin? Thanks ver much, appreciate all the help you’ve provided for newbies like me. Ray

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Lonnie
#44. January 25th, 2015, at 3:25 PM.

Please count me in on this also.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com sam dockman
#45. January 26th, 2015, at 4:16 PM.

question: today i went to check on my tubs and the only way i could find those two little buggers was to shake out the contents on a plate and count and then replace the contents. needless to say, not 100% of the contents got transferred back. well, hopefully in a couple of weeks, there will be cacoons and babies – and any leftovers that don’t get transferred back on the catch plate will lower my number. just wondering — sam

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Wendy
#46. January 26th, 2015, at 5:03 PM.

It turns out that my tubs are fine – had to dump everything out to find the worms, but they are both there in all tubs. Will not do that too often!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Texgal
#47. January 26th, 2015, at 10:12 PM.

Hi Ray,

Did you get an answer on the cocoon?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Ray
#48. January 26th, 2015, at 10:30 PM.

Textual, no. But thanks for checking, Bentley will get around to it, maybe on the blog.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Bentley
#49. January 26th, 2015, at 11:13 PM.

Hi Everyone – apologies for the drop-off in communication about all this (especially evident if you don’t happen to be on the RWC email list). I will be providing an important TTTWC update very soon – will have a guide and special email list for participants.

Ray – Red Worm Cocoons kinda look like small straw-colored lemons (although they darken as they mature. Here is an image from another blog post:
https://www.redwormcomposting.com/general-questions/what-makes-worm-cocoons-hatch/

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Ray
#50. January 27th, 2015, at 6:59 AM.

Bentley, thanks for the link. Now I’ll know what to look for and thanks to blizzard Colbie I can spend some time today on this experiment.

Bentley, I also have found vermicomposting very easy thanks to your blog, the EZV Course, and the abundance of links and comments. Followed the course guidelines and got set up last fall without any problems. Your tips about feeding and bedding, extra fresh bedding does remarkable things, especially when “roaming” starts to pick up.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Deb
#51. February 5th, 2015, at 1:37 PM.

This is a perfect experiment for someone like me who has had a lot of trouble in the past keeping worms alive. A friend kindly gave me a starter squirm which I am using as a reserve.

I set up 5 tubs of different sizes and opacities. I wasn’t able to set up exactly as you proposed because I don’t have any living matter or horse manure. The squirm was used to coffee grounds so I used that instead. I have them placed in a darkish room a couple feet above a warm register, but have a towel over the top in addition to the lids because it’s also under a bright window.

At first most were found up at the lid trying to escape – maybe due to not enough oxygen, so I enlarged the holes. 3 tubs are still doing okay although I’ve had to add worms from the original reserve when I only found one. Hope that’s not cheating! :)

Anyway, can you please answer some questions?
I’ve seen some tiny white worms, like filament. Are those baby red worms?
Do I need to be concerned with the lime green stuff that shows up on the grounds and food? I just stir it in.
Why does my food get moldy – spider web-like – and do I need to worry about that? This has happened whether or not it’s been frozen. I’ve been removing food that does that.
I don’t have a lot of coffee grounds per each container that I started out with – I used what was in K-cups. First, is that too strong to start off and should it be weakened somehow? Second, I suspect I don’t have enough and the tubs seem to dry out quickly so I have to spritz a little water every couple days.

Sorry so long! Thanks for any pointers!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Karuna
#52. February 5th, 2015, at 3:22 PM.

I have never seen the answer to the one worm issue. Two of my three tubs have only one worm. I haven’t done anything different with them. Bentley, should we just be assessing them as they are knowing there is only one worm in it.

Today I checked my tubs for the third time. The worms in all tubs are bigger. The ones that were sickly before look much healthier. The wetness in each of the tubs is much better. I couldn’t find any cocoons in the tub I found two last week. Will be interesting to see if I find them next week. More of the worms look like they might be mature this week.

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Karuna
#53. February 5th, 2015, at 3:23 PM.

Also, I’m finding comments on different pages on your site. Where should we be commenting?

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