Vermi-Fertilization System – 05-06-14

Well, spring has finally, consistently “sprung”. It’s still unseasonably cool…but I’ll take what I can get!

Joking aside, it’s actually fantastic weather for composting worms. My outdoor systems are loaded with them! One such system is the “Vermi-Fertilization” bin I left in my raised bed garden over the winter.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect this spring given how cold and long the winter was this year – and how little I did to protect the worms in this system (absolutely nothing). Checking on the bin early in the spring and finding the material rock-hard-frozen did nothing to instill more confidence in me.

Once it finally had thawed, I decided to do a pretty serious excavation – digging out most of the material and putting in another bin – to see if I could find any worms. Amazingly, the system was loaded with them. And these were definitely not just new hatchlings (although there were plenty of them) – there were loads of big adults as well.

I was amazed how quickly/easily I was able to clean out the bin. One of the “disadvantages” of this sort of approach (vs simply adding worm castings to your garden) is that you will need to clean out the bin each season for best results. I figured it would be a really laborious process – especially lifting the bin out of the hole – but it ended up being a piece of cake. The fact that the container can be removed certainly offers some advantages over a typical pit or trench.

Since cleaning the system out I have simply been using it as a Red Worm holding bin (filling it with worm-rich material and then removing as needed for harvesting). It seems to work very well in this capacity as well – keeps moisture in, warms up more quickly than other beds, and keeps the worms semi-contained. I think it even drew in more Red Worms that had moved out into the raised bed.

When I get the garden going, I’ll be sure to once again get it up and running as a vermi-fertilization system, though!
Stay tuned

Previous Posts in Series
Vermi-Fertilization & Watering System
Vermi-Fertilization System – 07-23-13
Vermi-Fertilization System – 08-28-13
Vermi-Fertilization System-01-29-14

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    • Pete Steffens
    • May 6, 2014

    Was that a full sized trash can you used, and did you drill holes throughout or just ground level and above? How about food for the worms during the winter, how did you stock the bin?

    • Bentley
    • May 6, 2014

    Hi Peter,
    Be sure to check out the first of the “previous posts” in the series:

    It is a full-sized trash can (a big one in fact) and I drilled holes in bottom and sides (not just up near top). There was no additional food added probably from early fall on. With winter temps as low as they are, everything would have slowed almost to a stand-still, though – so no need for food for months.

    • John Duffy
    • May 6, 2014

    Bentley, you just have that ‘Midas touch’… I am amazed that even though the contents were frozen solid, the worms thrived.
    Makes me want to try an outdoor bin next year

    • GA
    • May 7, 2014

    This comes up frequently, and I really think is worth repeating – I have two large regular composting bins (above ground), and although this winter was relatively mild, the bins were still frozen solid for two months. One was almost full, the other 2/3. Both mostly had excess apples, random garden waste, chopped leaves, and some kitchen waste. Oh, plus sawdust of various types. But the bulk was leaves and apples.

    As soon as they thawed enough to turn them, they dropped in volume tremendously (now basically one full bin and the second perhaps 1/8th full – this is after shifting materials to the more full one to free up space). A week or two later, they are both teeming with worms, including lots of adults.

    Short form, if they are native worms to the climate, they’ll survive the winter and come back strong.

    There are various chunks and areas in each of the bins that have had less decomposition, but the worms will get to them eventually. It’s not the fastest and most efficient, and not for those who want to raise worms instead of composting, but it’s easy and it works.

    • Mary
    • May 13, 2014

    Hi Bentley, it’s spring in Williams Lake, BC too! I just scraped the top off a manure pile in the garden and found a bunch of juvenile worms that I think MUST be red wigglers…but they don’t have stripes. I want to put them inside with my other worms but am hesitating because they might be ordinary garden worms. Would juvenile garden worms be that close to the surface, or am I safe in assuming they are EFs?
    I like your bin in the middle of a raised bed for the winter. Great idea and fantastic results! I’m thinking of trying it this Fall.
    My flow-through tablecloth bag population seems to be doing well, and I also made an inverting bucket bin which has only a small population at present.

    • Mary
    • May 14, 2014

    I set up a tiny isolation unit for the juvies from the garden – a small inverting bin made from a plastic coffee can turned upside down, so I am feeding thru a flap in the top (former bottom of the container) and the lid (now the bottom) is perforated for drainage.

    • Bentley
    • May 14, 2014

    Mary – it’s never safe to assume anything! lol
    If you can snap some pics of the worms I might be able to help you ID them (or at least rule out the main composting species). Do the worms have a orange or cream tail tip by chance?

    • Lisa
    • May 24, 2014

    I love this idea and the towers!! This is such a great site! I’m planting a large (4,000 sf) garden and thought about incorporating one of these options. I’m wondering though, how far apart you’d put either the towers or this one, and what’s the ‘coverage’ or reach of fertilization with these? Do the plant roots actually have to penetrate into the towers to benefit? Are there any plans I should avoid putting these near?

    Thank you for all this great information! !

    • Janice Kelley
    • June 25, 2014

    Lisa, the plants do not have to root in the container to get nourishment: the worms will travel out into the bed and in their travels deposit their castings. They will go back to the tub through the drilled holes if nothing to eat, but as plants grow then the microbes etc. on the plants will help feed the worms. When the bin is cleared then the contents can be added to the bed and then you start all over again.

    • Mary Trott
    • June 30, 2014

    Hi Bentley,
    I don’t think you got my juvenile worm pics. In any case I thought it best to play safe and put them back in the garden. I don’t know how many worms I have in my 2 bins now. I started out with about 1 lb in the bag and 1/2 lb in the inverting bucket, between January and March. Every now and then I find a few dead ones when I harvest VC, but I guess this is normal as long as the others are still active and the bins smell OK. I have started a bin for my daughter and 8 year old grandson, and worms will be his week-long science project while he is visiting with me – what worms eat, how to keep them comfortable, and what they should not be fed.
    Thanks for being such a great source of info!

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