Mini VermiPonics System

It may not be pretty – but let’s see what this system can do!

Earlier in the week I wrote a post about “vermiponics“, and mentioned that I would be setting up my own little system. Well, I’m happy to report that said system is officially up and running. It doesn’t have any worms in it yet – I want to let the water flow through it for at least a few days before adding them (kinda like aging a worm bin before stocking it with worms).

It probably didn’t hurt that I used to be a hydroponics hobbyist, and had also acquired some additional equipment with the intentions of setting up a small aquaponics system. As a result, I didn’t end up having to buy anything for this particular system (not that it’s particularly complex).

Here is a basic run-down of the equipment/material I used for my mini vermiponics system:

  • Small submersible fountain pump (adjustable flow with max output of 125 GPH) + tubing
  • Grow bed gravel (purchased years ago from a hydroponics supply store)
  • Smaller Plastic tray (for grow bed) – one of the trays I wrote about >>HERE<<
  • Larger plastic tray (for reservoir) – same type used for my “vermicomposting trays
  • 2 small plastic louver vents – same vents used for my “Mini” Worm Composting Bin
  • dryer lint (NOTE: I don’t user disposable dryer sheets)
  • shredded egg carton cardboard
  • poultry feed
  • 4 glass mason jars (supports)

I should mention that I am basically flying by the seat of my pants here, so please don’t assume that there is any expertise behind this set up! I wanted the bed to have both organic and inorganic materials (hence the addition of the shredded cardboard and dryer lint) – in all honesty, I actually think this will end up being a great use for the lint! Aside from not liking the idea of leaving the worms to crawl around in a bed of jagged rocks, I think the absorbent materials will definitely assist with moisture distribution and retention (the former being more important given the fact that the water will be circulating constantly).

Some of the supplies used to create my vermiponics system

I had originally planned to simply drill quite a few (regular 1/8″ or 1/4″) holes in the bottom of the tray, but I think the vents are a nice alternative. Not only does it take less time to drill two vent holes (assuming you have a hole-cutting bit), but since the vents have a wall that extends a distance up into bed this should help to trap some materials down in the bottom (for further processing) that might have otherwise simply drained out of the holes.

Drilling holes for my two louver vents

Vents pointing inwards for water retention in bottom of the system

I decided to go with gravel for my bottom layer in the bed. I thought that it might be better for trapping materials that make their way to the bottom (smaller gravel bits, food etc). I basically added enough to bring the level up to the top of the vent walls.

Started with a layer of grow bed gravel at bottom

The next layer consisted of a lot of dryer lint. I made sure to pull it apart as much as possible so that the worms will have any easier time navigating through it (and just to generally improve surface area).

Next – added some dryer lint (which contains lots of cat hair in our household)

Before I went any further with my layering, I decided to clear an area in the middle for my “feed tube”. This will (hopefully) make it easier to feed the worms, since I won’t need to try and bury it in among the plants. In a sense this will be like a mini “worm tower“. I created the tube simply by drilling some holes (again, using the 1” hole-cutting bit) into the sides and bottom of a yogurt container. I am going to experiment with using a removable burlap sac as the actual food holder though. This way the tube can always remain in the bed, but I can still remove the feeding zone to clean it out or just generally see what’s going on inside (maybe do worm counts etc).

Holey yogurt containers, Batman! This will serve as my feeding tube.

I also decided to see what would happen to shredded cardboard in a bed like this. Obviously it will break down over time (and more quickly that the lint), but I think it might provide some good additional food/habitat value for the worms as well.

Some shredded cardboard, just for the fun of it!

I then topped everything off with a final layer of gravel. This should help to secure all the light materials down below, and will give it more of a grow-bed look! (haha)

Topped everything with another layer of gravel

As mentioned earlier, I used four mason jars (water-filled) as support legs for the bed. Again – no real rationale here other than the fact that I happened to have four of them available, and no other prospects for solid supports!

Filled some mason jars with water and used as supports

I should mention that before I actually put the bed up on the supports, I made sure to run some tap water through it for a few minutes. I wanted to make sure everything was nice and wet, but also wanted to ensure that any worm-unfriendly chemicals – if present (in lint, on gravel etc) – would get flushed out as well.

Once everything was up and running (with pump on etc), I decided to add some compost ecosystem material on top. This should help to inoculate the system with beneficial microbes. I also sprinkled some poultry feed over the top as well (making sure to wet it down) so there would be some food for the worms when they are added.

Added some compost ecosystem material to liven things up a bit

I’m still not sure what plants to grow. I was thinking that lettuce would be a good choice, given the fact that it’s fairly cool in the basement (I’d love to grow basil, but it might take too long to germinate). I was also toying with the idea of trying something super-easy like chia seeds, just for the sake of being able to see how the system performs fairly quickly.

One other thing to mention – I also placed a piece of mosquito dunk in my reservoir. I seem to have some fungus gnats these days, and am hopeful this will keep them from getting out of hand in the grow bed!

Anyway – I am certainly looking forward to getting things rolling with this system soon (seeding, adding worms etc), and will of course keep everyone posted!

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VermiPonics System – 02-09-10

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    • Judoman
    • February 5, 2010

    Looks good and it should work! Where are the fish?

  1. Very sweet B-Dazzle

    • Eve
    • February 6, 2010

    I always used to get Canadian night crawlers in my pond filters, they didn’t mind the rocks. So your worms should be right at home.

    May is propose a salad garden. Leaf lettuce, radishes, green onion (from bulbs), snap peas…. The cool weather stuff.

    • Bentley
    • February 6, 2010

    Judoman – be sure to check out this post I wrote earlier in the week:
    The idea here is that you don’t really need to use fish since the worms will fertilize the plants.
    Mark – thanks!
    Eve – it is a pretty tiny bed that sits underneath a fluorescent grow light in my basement, so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to fit in there – but I definitely like your idea of mixing this up a bit. Maybe some different lettuce, radishes and arugula?

    I definitely do want to do a larger outdoor system this year as well, and that will certainly provide me with a bit more opportunity to create a nice bed of crops!

  2. Hi Bentley- great looking system- will you have the pump on a timer to flood and drain your grow bed, or have it on all the time?

    • Don
    • February 8, 2010

    I wonder if the worms would tend to wander because the system seems it would be a lot more volatile. The temperature and Ph will change dramatically several times a day with each water change. I’m very interested in trying this myself. keep posting about this.

    • Bentley
    • February 9, 2010

    Hi Catherine – sorry for the delay responding! This system will pump water constantly (at a low flow rate)

    • Bentley
    • February 9, 2010

    Hi Don – I think the flood and drain approach could work just fine (I’m not sure that pH would change all that much) as long as the “flood” periods weren’t too extreme (ie shooting jets of water at the bed etc – haha). As mentioned, I have actually opted for a continual, low-flow system. Like yourself, I do like the idea of keeping everything fairly balanced, and want to make sure there is always plenty of O2 available.

    Will definitely keep posting! Thanks for your interest.

  3. Bentley,,, Will there be any way to harvest castings or worms from this system? or are you just going to let the population adjust to the volume and maintain the plants growing there.

    How many worms are you thinking? 1# to start?

    I’m going to clone what you did and try it soon.

    Have a great week!

    Jeff. (snowed in in PA)

    • Bentley
    • February 10, 2010

    Hi Jeff,
    While there probably wouldn’t be much point in harvesting the castings from this system (since getting soaked, and a lot of value being removed by plants), removing worms has been something I’ve given some thought to. Part of my motivation for creating the feed tube (with removable insert) was to see if I could also remove concentrations of worms. Once the plants start to grow up it will be next to impossible to remove worms in
    any other manner (without seriously disturbing the bed). Initially, the main goal will simply be to see how well plants grow in the system.

    I’m not stocking a specific quantity of worms. All I did was add a bunch of material that contained worms. I prefer to let the population grow from there.

    Let me know how your own experiment works out for you!

    • John
    • March 11, 2010

    Great project! Be careful with the dryer lint tho. If you use some type of non-toxic laundry soap it won’t be as toxic tot eh worms or the food you grow. I also wonder about the synthetic textiles used to make clothing these days. I wonder if it would be beneficial to add an aerator pump to the water to help reduce pathogens and provide oxygen for the worms?

    • Bentley
    • March 12, 2010

    Yeah – I guess it never hurts to err on the side of caution! Although, there seems to be toxins in pretty well EVERYTHING these days! lol
    Good idea re: the aeration. I do have a small air stone in the reservoir, but something a bit more substantial would certainly help.

    • Colin
    • October 3, 2010

    Hello Bentley lad’s ‘n lasses.I have been thinking about setting up a Vermiponics system.. but was was wondering if it would be any better than the Wicking beds* I’m already using other than river sand in the reservoir and a great deal more organic growing medium in the bed.. I guess I should give it a go! Col L

    * wicking beds a C Austin concept powered my worms

    • scott
    • October 9, 2011

    Great!…. I no sooner than think I have a cool setup…. someone comes along and tempts me with another cool, low tech, yet fun sounding way to consume my time….LOL… ya’ll rock!

  4. If improper aeration is a problem, consider installing a venturi valve on the exhaust tube. The plants/worms would love the extra oxygen. Make the tube long enough to give plenty of room for air/water contact. I included a video of how to set this up. If you’re like me, you have all the parts lying around. If not, the entire setup is probably around $10.

    On another note, I’m thinking of incorporating this into a aqua/aeroponics system. The bacteria from the worm castings are supposed to dissolve unwanted ammonium from the fish poop.

    • MamaBaker
    • July 24, 2013

    Would river rocks work? They would be a little less harsh on the worms.

    • Interested
    • February 17, 2017

    Could you show me/ explain how to set up the submersible pump inside the vermiponics garden, if it needs to be connected to a running water source, etc?

    • Bentley
    • February 27, 2017

    This is very simple. The fountain pump just sits in the reservoir, sucks up water from the reservoir, and pumps it through the hose into the grow bed. It then percolates down and drains back into the reservoir. Definitely no need for connection to running water source.

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