Getting Started

The purpose of this page is provide you with an overview of worm composting. Be assured that I will also be providing many other articles and blog posts that explore the various aspects of vermicomposting in much greater detail.

Here is a video I made some time ago that discusses the “fundamentals” of worm composting. If you are looking for a quick and dirty overview of this topic you may want to check it out:

Below is a more detailed description of some of the more important components you’ll likely want to consider before starting up your first vermicomposting system (keep in mind that this section was actually written LONG before I made the fundamentals video).

When it comes to starting up your vermicomposting system there are four main components to consider: 1) Container (worm bin), 2) Bedding, 3) Waste material, and of course 4) Composting worms.

Once you have read through those sections you should be well on your way towards being able to set up your own worm composting system. I have also included a section on building & setting up a worm bin, where I’ve included some YouTube videos I made.


Container

Rubbermaid Roughneck

There are a wide variety of options when it comes to choosing the type of worm bin you want to set up. If you are the handy type you may want to build your own creation, OR if you don’t mind spending the money perhaps you will opt for purchasing a complete worm bin system (which may come with bin, bedding and worms).

For anyone interested in simply trying out vermicomposting (or if you want to save some money), I would recommend heading to your local hardware store and grabbing yourself a standard Rubbermaid tub (with lid) or something similar.

Some things to keep in mind when you choose your vessel – 1) Light penetration, 2) Surface area vs depth. An ideal bin will be opaque (ie not allowing in light) and will be relatively shallow.

Red worms (and earth worms in general) are very sensitive to direct light – it can lead to considerable stress and even death if they unable to escape from it.

As far as depth goes, you don’t need to worry too much about exact dimensions but you definitely do want to put more emphasis on the surface area – this allows for greater oxygenation of the bin and also allows the worms to spread out more.
In other words, a Rubbermaid tub will be much better than a bucket.

Something I would recommend is either setting up multiple small bins OR one decent sized bin. The larger the system the more buffering capacity it will have. For example, I have a very large outdoor bin (5X3X3 feet). All worm composting experience aside, the sheer size of this system makes it very worry free. Even if there are unfavorable conditions in one section of the bin, the worms can easily move into many other favorable zones.
Similarly, I tend to keep 2 or 3 small indoor bins at one time, plus an “overflow” bucket (for excess food waste), thus making it much easier to ensure that balanced conditions prevail.

All that being said, there is nothing wrong with a single worm bin in the size range of a typical ‘blue box’ recycling container. This size of bin should be large enough to provide both buffering capacity and waste-processing potential for a typical household (especially if you use an overflow bucket and/or an outdoor composting heap as well).

Another important thing to mention is aeration. If you are using a typical Rubbermaid type of bin its not a bad idea to drill some holes in the lid and along the sides prior to adding your bedding/worms etc. This allows for more air flow in and out of the bin. If you have your bin sitting on some sort of tray you may even desire to drill a few holes in the bottom of the bin – a great way to ensure bin contents don’t get too waterlogged.


Bedding

Cardboard & Paper Bedding Options

Composting worms not only need food, but also some sort of habitat to live in – bedding materials provide both. Ideal worm living conditions can be created initially by adding lots of bedding material with a decent amount of waste material (and likely some water to ensure adequate moisture conditions).

People often refer to the ideal composting moisture content as being similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. Higher moisture levels do tend to work better for worm composting, but this is definitely a good guideline to start with (especially when using a water-tight bin).

Some great materials for bedding include shredded cardboard (my favorite), shredded newspaper, aged straw, coconut coir, fall leaves and peat moss (although I prefer not to use this material since it is not harvested in a sustainable or environmentally-friendly manner). Worms seem to absolutely love rotting leaves, so definitely don’t be so quick to kick those bags to the curb in the fall. The downside of using leaves (aside from seasonality) is the fact that they don’t really absorb much water – this is why my ideal bedding will consist of a mix of leaves and brown cardboard (another material worms seem to have a real affinity for).

Bedding materials will typically need to be moistened before worms are added. In fact, a practice I highly recommend when starting a new bin is mixing bedding with a decent amount of moist food waste, then simply letting the mixture sit in a closed bin for a week or so before adding worms. This way you are creating a very friendly environment for your worms to live in. Aside from activating the important microbial community, this also allows for moisture to makes its way throughout the bin materials.


Waste Materials (ie Worm Food)

Ideal Worm Bin Fodder

Usually people set up their own worm bin at home so they can compost their food scraps and leftovers. Unfortunately not all waste materials are created equal from a worm’s standpoint (or a human health standpoint for that matter), so we should talk a little about what should and should not be added to an indoor worm bin.

YES

  • Vegetable & fruit waste (citrus fruit should be added in moderation when using smaller bins)
  • Starchy materials – bread, pasta, rice, potatoes – all in moderation (beginners may want to avoid these altogether initially)
  • Aged animal manures (careful with rabbit and poultry – need lots of bedding to balance)
  • Shredded newspaper, used paper towels (common sense applies here), cardboard (great idea to add these carbon rich materials at the same time you add any wet food waste)
  • Egg shells (best if ground up and in moderation)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags

NO

  • Human/pet waste
  • Non biodegradable materials
  • Dairy/meat
  • Oils/grease
  • Harsh chemicals

These are fairly basic guidelines and of course there are exceptions under certain circumstances. I will definitely be going into much more detail in later articles.

Something I alluded to in the previous section was the fact that letting your waste material sit for a period of time is better than adding it right away. Often people assume that the worms feed directly on the waste materials themselves. In a sense they do, but more specifically they are slurping up the microbial soup that forms on rotting materials. If you throw in a bunch of fresh carrot peelings the worms won’t be able to start processing the material until sufficient microbial colonization has occured.

As I mentioned above, a fantastic way to ensure that your new bin takes off successfully is to mix a decent quantity of waste material in with your fresh bedding, then simply letting the bin sit for a week or so before adding the worms. I know this can be a challenge for those people anxious to get started, but it will go a long way in terms of ensuring your success.

Should you choose not to wait (obviously if you get your worms at the same time you get your bin it doesn’t make sense to wait) I would highly recommend that you at least try to add some partially rotting materials so that the worms have something to feed on.

I like to keep food waste in an old milk carton that sits under my sink. Aside from the convenience of not needing to take it down to the basement (where my indoor bins are located) or outside (to my outdoor bin) multiple times per day, this also allows time for microbial colonization of the materials – and don’t worry, you won’t have a stinky mess in your container if you do it properly (I’ll definitely write more about that in another article).


Composting Worms

Red Worms | Eisenia fetida

One of the common misconceptions amongst vermicomposting beginners is that any earthworm can be used for worm composting, or kept in an indoor bin in general.

I can still remember the disappointment of discovering (during my teenage years) that I could not keep a population of soil dwelling worms in a bucket. Before becoming interested in worm composting I was an avid aquarium hobbyist, always looking for ways to raise live food for my fish. Having heard that people were able to keep thriving “worm bins” in their house I naturally assumed they were raising the same kind I found in my garden.

Eventually I learned that most of my yard worms were of the “anecic” type – that is to say they were soil dwelling worms that create burrows and tend to lead a somewhat solitary existence (they need their space). The worms ideally suited for composting on the other hand are referred to as “epigeic”. This group tends to live in rich organic material (not soil), and are adapted to crowding and warmer temperatures. So its not difficult to see why epigeic worms would do much better in an indoor composting bin than their soil dwelling cousins.

By far, the most common variety of composting worm is Eisenia fetida – also known as the red worm or red wiggler (see the “Quick Facts” section for other names). If you are looking to start up your own worm composting bin this is definitely the worm for you. There are other species of composting worm, but we can deal with them in future articles.

So where does on get ahold of some of these worms??

Well there are various options. The easiest (but most expensive) is to simply buy them. There are a wide variety of online merchants who will sell them to you, OR you may be able to track down a local supplier (I will be eventually setting up a comprehensive supplier directory to help people find merchants in their area). If you need some recommendations simply drop me an email.

In general worms are pretty expensive (typically running somewhere between $25 and $40/lb USD, although decent discounts tend to be given on larger orders), but it’s amazing how fast you can build a large thriving population starting with only a pound of worms.

Another option is to track down someone else with a worm bin in your area and ask them to share. Over the years I’ve been given worms on multiple occasions and now happily ‘pay it forward’ on occasion myself. Getting in touch with your local gardening clubs or municiple waste management division should prove helpful.

Composting worms (E. fetida) don’t typically occur in “nature”, but there IS a decent chance of finding some on a local farm if they keep aged manure piles. I can still remember the very first time I saw a population of red wiggler worms. I was working at a horse farm and happened to dig into a pile of manure sitting behind the barn. It was absolutely LOADED with red worms! I had never seen so many worms in one place ever (nor have I since then). If I had been into worm composting at the time this would have been like hitting the jackpot.

When it comes to adding worms to a new system, I like to err on the side of caution. I prefer to build my population up to the ideal level, rather than using standard guidelines. A widely accepted recommendation is to add 1lb of worms for each sq ft of bin surface area you have. So if your bin is 1.5 X 2 ft (width x length) it should be able to handle 3 lbs of worms. I would personally rather add 1lb of worms to a bin this size and let the population reach an population equilibrium on it’s own. Red worms reproduce very rapidly under favorable conditions so it shouldn’t take too long.


Building & Setting up a Worm Composting Bin

Here are three Youtube videos I made, demonstrating how to build and set up several types of worm composting bins (the third video only shows the building process, but you can certainly apply the same methods shown in the first two videos).

Setting up a Basic Worm Composting Bin

This is a basic as it comes – the simple Rubbermaid tub worm bin. For anyone just getting started, and looking for a very easy-to-build and inexpensive worm composting system, this is a great option. Just remember – you should always use a tub that is opaque, especially if you are going to keep the bin in a brightly lit location! Light can stress out or even harm the worms.

Setting up a “Deluxe” Worm Bin

This is a slightly more advanced system than the “basic” shown above. One of the limitations of enclosed plastic bins is that they can become “swampy” over time due to water accumulation in the bottom. By creating a system with a drainage reservoir you can help to eliminate this issue, and create some better quality worm compost in the process. I don’t actually use this type of system myself anymore, simply due to the fact that I used mostly open systems (which takes care of the excess moisture concern) and I just generally like to keep things as simple as possible. But don’t let that stop you from using this type of bin (lots of people seem happy with this approach!

The “Mini” Vented Worm Bin

This was originally a system I created to sell as part of a worm bin kit for those who didn’t feel like making their own bin. I later decided to stop offering the systems (didn’t really enjoy mass producing them), and instead have put more focus on providing DIY guidance.


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Comments

    • Janine
    • July 2, 2009

    Mmm – I like being described as passionate.

    Mmm – I like being described as passionate. Just surprised it was noticed.
    As this wouldn’t be the sort of subject many would ascribe “passion” to. Worms
    seem to be the ultimate metaphor for the cycle of life and death – being in balance. But then how could it not ?
    Our medical system, I guess – preserving life at all costs ?
    Jerry – I must say, I envy a family farm. I have no family, alone as an orphan. Grand aspirations but not much help on hand. I have been like a dog on a bone thinking up ways to collaborate with other people to make my dreams come true. A created family is what I need. One collected by similar interests, eh ?
    Dreaming on,
    Janine

  1. Janine,

    I seem to relate to how you think, although I came from a family of five. Even with the squabbles I admit that it is very nice to know there is always someone there. However, I too am eager to work with more people than just family. Family farming really isn’t sustainable unless kids are kept to 1 or 2, since its that old “limits of constant growth” thing. Created family is an excellent way of describing what is necessary, I think.

    Good to meet you and interestingly, I am straight north of you in Alberta.

    Peace.

  2. Jerry,

    I am have been experimenting with different techniques now for the last month keeping a close eye on all my worms. I ordered 10,000 worms and split into 4 bins. I feed each bin a different mix to some degree to see which is best. I am finding the cardboard and shredded paper is good mix BUT if you have rotten fruit around add that too. This even out does the goat manure for active worms and how much and fast they are eating.

    I am now working on trying to test the leachtate on my garden as I have been adding this daily to my garden since I planted them 5 weeks ago. I have already been harvesting cucumbers and zucchini and have a tonne of tomatoes but not ripe yet. To say the least it is FAR out doing the ones without the leachtate. You shall see soon as I am putting up a website very shortly with pictures.

    I have not harvested yet and do not plan on doing so anytime soon. I am building my worms and when it looks like time to harvest I will just be placing in a bigger wooden bin and also the half 55 gallon drums.
    I am hoping to try to mix the worms in it and grow from there and have the bedding they have now just in the new bin.

    Now Bentley,

    I am curious if you keep a rain bin outside and have the shredded cardboard and paper mixed with the ground coffee in it then pour in the Leachtate and have this soak should it increase the bacteria count for a good feed????

    Also, Is there a way to increase the N count and what is ideal count on the organic fertilizers when measuring on the castings?? I am trying to figure out how to test and which is best to have the good numbers for a GREAT fertilizer not just an average fertilizer. Been seeing a wide range of answers from 1-1-1 to 20-20-20 and even a .2-.2-.2 being ok??? I dont want to be in the decimals LOL as I am looking at putting this to large scale when I have this down pat and more reliable of sustaining the same numbers

    Thanks
    Mike

  3. no worries Bentley…LOL

    My site will not be as informative nor will it be anything fancy as I am a poor dirt (castings) farmer….:o)

  4. Bentley,

    When you do the trenches or outside worm ranches, how do you harvest any of the castings? I would assume the Leachtate would be enough with small amounts of the castings being plenty for the soil. The extra castings from such a huge area is a lot of castings to fill in and well alot of castings that could be spread around for a bigger garden…LOL

    you fanatic you

    Good stuff glad you got hooked into the gardening so well again as now i have a walking dictionary available to me. Thanks again if I have not said it enough to you for having this area to type and ask from not only you but others as I for one appreciate this help and know it takes your time away from your love…your family. That iswayyy cool!!! God Blessed you well.

  5. Hey Mike,
    Your idea re: mixing up the cardboard, coffee grounds etc and using it as food is good. Corrugated cardboard would likely work best, and it will be important to make sure the mix stays nice and moist. You’ll likely produce a nice diverse microbial community, not just bacteria.

    I personally don’t think of vermicompost/castings as “fertilizer” (despite the fact that I refer to my trenches as “all natural fertilizer factories” – haha) – this is not to say that they don’t have value as such, but you wouldn’t know it if you looked at some of the N:P:K numbers. If you ARE looking for the most bang for your buck, I’ve read that manures are the best starting material – specifically pig manure solids (according to Dr. Clive Edwards).

    My trenches are set up specifically so I DON’T have to harvest castings – they are ‘in situ’ composting systems and the plants basically withdraw nutrients as they need them. They provide all the fertilizer I need, that’s for sure. I am using bedded livestock manure and some food scraps.

    • mike
    • August 11, 2009

    well been a while but have a question for you…

    what is the reason of the growth of the meal worms in my bins??? I am seeing an alarming increase in them and actually multiplying faster than red worms especially when the cantaloupe and melons go into the mix. I do not want to eliminate the melons and such since it would mess up my mixture and carbon to nitrogen ration to have such a high rate of cardboard and paper and would take time to actually recalculate and since the worms like the melons so much it is hard to throw it away. Do you have any ideas how to get rid of meal worms??? Or if they are harmful to the red worms and are they useful at all in the bins since the information out there on meal worms is so limited I am having hard time here to fix this even after harvesting the little guys moved in again!!! ARGH Please help me with knowing if this is harmful and hindering my process and progress. Thanks

    • Bentley
    • August 12, 2009

    Hi Mike – I definitely find it very surprising that you would be seeing meal worms in your bins. Are you sure they are not soldier fly larvae (which can be very common in worm composting systems in areas where these flies live)? Any chance you could send in some pics?
    Meal worm beetles tend to prefer a drier environment for laying their eggs (eg stored grains) than would be provided by a worm bin.

    • Melissa
    • August 12, 2009

    That’s what I have is the dang soldier fly larvae. There are more of them than worms these days. I know some people actually raise those things to do the same job as our worms do, but I don’t like them!

    • Janine
    • August 12, 2009

    I had a brief cycle of small black flies that has since disappeared in my big outdoor bin. I’m actually amazed ( knock wood) that there haven’t been more pesky bugs cohabiting with the worms.
    I had a bucket of fir needles soaking for “a while” and found this rather large population of bizarre tailed worms living in it. Everyone I told about it, thought I should kill them, in a variety of mean and nasty ways, but my conscience would never live with that. So I jumped online and after much much looking I found that they are called rat-tailed worms and they turn into a beneficial fly that looks like a bee, but I never could find a proper name. The tail is actually a retractable breathing tube, and upon close inspection you could see the beginning of eyes and they really became rather endearing and I was so glad I didn’t get all fearful and repulsed like everyone else seemed to. The story ends sadly however as something must have changed in the bucket and they suddenly died off. I have a big garden and beneficial bugs are always welcome. I have a wonderful population of garden spiders.
    All the benefits of organic gardening.
    I’m about to harvest the castings from the big bin and will be starting a raspberry patch with it. Such a rewarding process. I have been selling a few here and there, but mostly I’ve been giving some to friends. It’s funny how hard it seems to be for people to understand that these are different from the common worms people find in the garden dirt.

    • Cera
    • August 12, 2009

    oh my god you guys have no idea how much this info has blessed me you guys are amazing i will pray for you

    • mike
    • August 12, 2009

    after searching I think that is more than likely what they are is the larvae….I dont know for sure but the birds here sure do love them and with the birds I get an amazing amount of nice pictures in the woods and nestings.

    The worms do not seem to be bothered by them whatever they are as I checked again today and they are all one happy family mounting up on the canteloupe pieces and melons like this was the last supper and for some it was :o)

    • Janine
    • August 13, 2009

    Cera,
    You’ve got me all curious, did you have an epiphany or are you merely deeply relieved to find yourself in the company of fellow fans of the creeping crawling weird and wonderful ? Tell us, if you can.
    Janine

    • Janine
    • August 13, 2009

    Oh and I Could happily use some extra prayer.. I could use a miracle even, as I’ve lost both my child support ( she just turned 18 !) and my rental income this month. It’s quite a mystery as to how I’m going to make my mortgage now.
    Just me an’ few million other folks… pray for all of us.
    Janine

    I think I figured out why I had the die off with those larvae in the bucket. They thrive in very stagnant water and I had just added some fresh water with the hose because of evaporation, but I didn’t add it all that gently partly to stir it up and see how many were in there and partly out of thoughtlessness.. I’m guessing it activated things , kind of like when you stir the compost pile ( but not the one with worms in it 🙂 maybe the temperature changed or something had a flush of growth or something like that.

    • Patrick
    • August 16, 2009

    Bentley,

    IMHO you have one of the best all-around vermi sites I’ve come across. I’m still very new at this and your site has provided me with many pointers over the past few months.

    I have two 40some gallon outdoor totes. One with a couple pound of Euros and the other with a couple pound of red worms. I would say one of the most important lessons I have learned so far is the need to prep the containers and let them cook for a few weeks before introducing a worm population. On that note – I’m using some compost to innoculate some bins for microbial growth. The compost I’m using comes from a static pile so it is by no means ‘finished’ compost. Besides giving the microbial growth a boost will that type of compost also act as a food source for the worms?

    The second lesson learned is the need for weep holes at the bottom of the containers (I just don’t have the feel yet for the right moisture content for bedding). I’m pretty confident my euro container is too damp towards the bottom and has resulted in too many anaerobic pockets – it smells a little twangy at times. To rectify this I intend to get another bin of similar size, install some weep holes at the bottom and then transfer the Euros, lock, stock and barrel, into the new container. Will breaking the mass of bedding up while transferring it into the new container aerate it enough?

    Muchas gracias

    • Janine
    • August 17, 2009

    Hi Patrick,
    I saw your post and thought I’d comment and maybe help. I think your biggest problem is the 40 gallon containers. I’ve used the 10 gallon bins with good success, as they have relatively great surface area in relation to the depth of the container, which really helps aerate. They also are much more manageable weight wise. The drain holes are important,( check out Bentleys’ directions for making a bin here on the site) for moisture management as nothing can pool in the bottom, but the side holes are important for drawing air. You want to occasionally ( about every two weeks is what I do) give them a good shower to flush some the wastes they make out of the castings and save that “tea” for the garden.
    When you move the contents of the sourish bin you could take turns layering the old bin material with new carbon rich material like leaf mulch or squeezed out damp brown paper to get more air in there and help balance the PH.
    I have a big outdoor bin that was a shipping crate and is no more than a basic frame work which I lined with about five layers of overlapping cardboard. It has been a very happy bin – it measures 5′ square and is about 2′ deep. I use a big piece of cardboard to cover it, and have it under a carport so it never gets any sun on it. I think the bigger bins are a lot more stable and have so many different “microclimates” that the worms always have a place to escape to if there are some hot spots. I’ve been using the smaller bins too, but more to finish off the castings because of all the vermipods which I can’t help but want to save.
    Good Luck !

    • Patrick
    • August 18, 2009

    Thanks for the info Janine. I can’t say I’d ever thought about the worm bath but it makes good sense. I don’t know that I’m ready to catch any tea yet but it’d be draining onto an old compost pile so I’m sure it’ll all be good.

    • Bentley
    • August 19, 2009

    Hi Patrick – thanks for the kind words. It looks like Janine has provided you with a great response already so I’ll just add a couple of thoughts. Letting the compost materials cook for a period of time is definitely important when you are starting the system as a ”batch” (all at once) composter with those sorts of volumes. Overheating (and other associated issues) will definitely give you serious trouble otherwise.
    As for the microbes – those are actually the MAIN food source (well ok, the worms likely ingest a soupy slurry containing microbes plus some of the actual food material itself). Partially completed compost is often an excellent material to feed to worms since it is loaded with microbes.

    • Bernadette
    • August 25, 2009

    I seem to have a lack of mosture problem. It is because I do not let me food rot frist and just add it daily. I only have a small continer and so I do not want to over water. How do I know that there is too much water or to little?
    Please send email because I do not know if I can find this sight again.
    Thanks,
    Bernadette

    • Ashley
    • August 28, 2009

    how would you come to buy any of these red worms? my senoir high class is going to start red worm composting lab and we need to know where to buy them if you guys could give me info that would be great thank you

    bye!
    Ashley

    • Janine
    • August 28, 2009

    Hi Ashley,
    I just saw your letter post so here’s my thoughts… I know Bentley here sells them, if you look up above you’ll see the option to click on, but I think finding the shortest shipping trip to your location is worth considering. I googled and
    found my closest source on the west coast.
    Good luck !

    • Jonathan
    • September 21, 2009

    Hi Bentley

    Great site, one of a kind!! Thank you.

    My question is why do worms die if you overfeed them?

    Regards
    Jonathan

    • Bentley
    • September 25, 2009

    JONATHAN – In a nutshell, when you add too much food at once nasty conditions can develop. When you have a bunch of wet, rotting material concentrated in one area it is inevitably going to go at least partially anaerobic, which can lead to production of all sorts of potentially harmful compounds (alcohols etc). Also, if the c:n ratio drops too low you can end up with ammonia production, which is also very harmful for the worms.

    • James
    • September 28, 2009

    Hi,

    I got a bin all ready and put scraps there. I am novice on vermicomposting. I am expecting to receive 2 lbs worms tomorrow. I read that a half pound for each a pound worms per day so this means I have to calculate for 7 days for two pounds worms, I put 7 lbs of food in the bin each week? Is that overfeeding?

    • Bentley
    • September 29, 2009

    Hi James,
    As anyone who has spent a decent amount of time on this site can tell you, I HATE calculations and rules when it comes to vermicomposting!
    😆

    If I wanted to start up a bin for two pounds of worms I would mix lots of food waste with cardboard (somewhat more cardboard by volume) and fill the system to the top (it will settle – and when it does, just add bedding). This system would then be left to sit for a week or so (exact number of days is not critical, although I would recommend that it be 5 or more). Once the worms are added I then recommend simply observing them for a few days – see how they respond to the system and the food materials already in there. Let them be your guide – when it looks like they are making headway with the food, add some more.

    1/2 lb of food for 1 lb of worms per day probably isn’t a bad estimate, but there are SO MANY different variables to consider that it’s almost pointless to rely on these guidelines at all. If you look at 7 lb of whole carrots per week, vs 7 pounds of blended watermelon – you are suddenly comparing ‘apples and oranges’!
    😆

    Definitely not trying to reprimand or poke fun at you here James, but as you can probably tell, this is a particular topic that kinda gets me going!

    Anyway – hope this helps some.

    • Janine
    • September 29, 2009

    Bentley you do make me laugh. I was wondering how you were going to answer this question. I think it’s a common concern for beginners as they aren’t sure of what they are looking for and want concrete parameters. The variables are just too overwhelming, but I have come across a compost calculator which I have yet to really attempt, flying by the seat of my pants being the preferred method. But as I grow this business I imagine it could be very helpful.
    I recently set up a big bin and layered all the aged ingredients with bedding and worm rich castings and if I hadn’t hovered and fussed, would have absolutely baked the dear wormies. I think the main culprit was the comfrey clippings and not then waiting 5-7 days after assembly to add the worms. I managed to rescue most of them but felt like a mass murderer all the same.
    Live and learn.
    I haven’t spaced the corn… just harvested this years crop and have an astonishing array of colored kernals. I’ll be sending out seeds here in the next few weeks as I’m so busy with harvesting, preserving and preparing for garlic planting, that I haven’t managed to get to it quite yet.
    Enjoying and appreciating your recent writing – as always.
    Best regards,
    Janine

    • Janine
    • September 29, 2009

    http://www.milkwood.net/content/view/47/30/

    This is the compost calculator link I forgot to attach.

    • James
    • September 30, 2009

    Hi Again. Sorry about calculations, it is hard to set the standard without calculations if you are a scientist like myself. I work as a biological technician, focusing on natural resources for the federal govt.

    See this webpage: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/backyard/compost.html

    As you see there is almost no information on vermicomposting other than set up a bin. Also it mentioned wrong kind of worms for composting. I emailed the context person about this and explained the difference of earthworms and asked if we can expand that section. She replied that she will accept any input from me. I do not know much about vermicomposting, just basics like this posting. They are planning to update that soon (probably months later).

    Ok, here is my question, I saw a picture on this posting about bedding, I noticed that the newspaper shredding contains blue ink. I read many articles about newspaper bedding on internet. They said only black/white newspaper, no color because black ink is made from soy beans, color is made from toxic chemicals. How do you decide if this is ok, that is not ok (Sorry, rules here :lol:) I am not talking about glossy finish papers. I am talking about newspapers, all of newspapers from four different companies are printing color now and I have trouble finding black/white newspapers, probably 10 percent of my newspapers that are suitable for worms, the rest goes to recycling bin.

    • Bentley
    • October 2, 2009

    Hi James (sorry for the delay),
    Trust me – I feel your pain! I come from a strong scientific background myself, and am a huge fan of the real science that has been conducted in this field. I didn’t mean to imply that it was totally impossible to be exact about this stuff – I’m thinking more from the perspective of the ‘average Joe (Joanne)’ vermicomposter here.
    Anyway – thanks for telling be a little more about where you are coming from here – it is nice to hear that you are trying to improve upon the information provided on that site. There are enough misunderstandings about vermicomposting as it is, so it certainly doesn’t help when government websites are posting faulty/incomplete info about it!

    Good question about the ink – this is an area that STILL have yet to get any good answers about. I too have heard that there can be nasty stuff in the color inks – although it was more in reference to the glossy color stuff I think. I tend to be a bit more mellow about flat colors like that blue ink, but I definitely do recommend black and white over the colors for sure (probably need to update this page to mention that if I don’t currently have it there – in my latest blog post about bedding I did point out that the blue ink isn’t as trustworthy as b&w).
    To be totally honest, I hardly ever even use newsprint myself – I prefer corrugated cardboard, egg carton carboard, and brown paper (if I can get it). Straw, fall leaves, aged manure, and coco coir are other great options (although the first two should be mixed with something more absorbent).

    Anyway – thanks for the questions, and for keeping at me with this. Despite my ‘mellow’ nature when it comes to vermicomposting, I don’t want to give people the impression that you can just be lazy and not worry about anything. There are still SOME ‘rules’ that should be kept in mind!
    8)

  6. Well I am back :o)

    I hardly ever use any newsprint. I use the cardboard more than any newsprint and keep it moistened with rain water and coffee grounds…Thats enough browns in the mix to help offset the greens for my mixing. I try to not get too anal retentive about the calculations since the end product will be reflective of what you do and the playing with the feeds and the temps pH and mixture of bedding temperatures…this is plenty of a challenge to find the perfect mix anyways. The difference is only a different final product of the NPK ratings and these tend to vary for flowers and vegetables anyways from master gardener to gardener. Thats my take on it anyways.

    I also thought I would like to see if anyone is using a digital NPK reader and if so costs and best available units for the money. I am using the strips and the simple rapitests but these are like old glucose readers for color matching and not definitive enough for me when I like to vary the situations per bin.

    My worms have tripled in 4 months so now from 10,000 I have 50,000+.
    The troubles I had were very easily fixed after coming here and for that I thank you. I went to my first trade show with my castings and got my first bulk order of 200 pounds from the garden center here for their garden club in the store. Way cool.

    Thanks and soon will be announcing my website launch as it will be complete with the non profit status filed and ready. It launches Monday. Thanks again and shall be back as the wealth of info is priceless here.

  7. Well after thinking about this and when I would get a chance to get back on here I had laugh………….

    “my worms TRIPLED from 10,000 to 50,000 in 4 months”

    and you all wonder why I dont use a calculator???

    with math like this who needs any stinkin calculator LOL

    • Janine
    • October 7, 2009

    I’m thinking of using old bath tubs for bins, I can get them at our recycled building center for 5- 10 bucks for the scratched undesirables they want out of their way. I know it sounds ugly as hell but I have my worms in an out of the way – and out of sight – spot in the yard. Do you think with all that surface area and a drain hole I would place down hill that I would have to do any drill holes in the sides ? Have you seen anyone use these ? I’ve been having a hard time finding crates that are the right size.
    Curious what your thoughts may be. Thanks Bentley !

  8. can my addy be put up so others can give me some feedback???

    farmingwithworms.net

    • Janine
    • October 9, 2009

    Hi – so I couldn’t wait with a bunch of homeless worms and I did get a tub and ended up drilling holes in the sides without too much trouble. The bottom was too thick to drill though, so the drain will have to do and has me wondering at setting up a system to actually catch the tea in future set ups, but not this time. Between garlic planting and apple harvest I can’t find the time to even think about it. I know you are busy too but wondered if you or anyone reading has any knowledge of using mash from brewing beer. We have several small breweries in our town and I just heard they are “desperate” for some way to move it. hmmm. I believe I’ll get my hands on some and see how it goes. I know leftover cereal goes over well in the bins since the mash is basically barley. I’ll post my findings. This could possibly help me – and others, go larger scale. Free food !
    Oh – and congratulations on your new website Mike. I hope your aspirations all come true- and much more ! I thought perhaps you were merely a retired investment broker…worm farming Would be a great cover. hopefully your GF is going to handle the books ? haha. Best of luck.

    • James
    • October 16, 2009

    Hi All,

    Seems to me that my bin design is not working for me. The worms escaping via drainage holes. When those worms escaping, they die 90 percent of times in another bin. I was following Oregon State Extension design plan (now I couldn’t find it on internet, it is there somewhere) and the plan says about 50 drainage holes (I think I have more than 50) so the air can come in at the bottom and leave via the lid but I see worms kept escaping down the drainage holes. The plan is three bins: one for catching tea, two for composting. I have two bins right now, the third is for fresh start, attracting worms upward into a new bin when you put it on top of the second bin.

    I figured that I lost 150 out of 2,000 worms within 2 weeks, they all didn’t drown, just dying with white mites all over. Few seems drown in the tea, they could escape but they didn’t. I checked inside the bin, worms seems happy, mingling with kitchen scraps, a lot of them. I do not know what the problem is. Too many drainage holes and those worms don’t have brains? I have a second bin that I haven’t drill yet.

    I see several insects (white mite, fruit flies) but I never saw this one before… it looks like black narrow rices that walk on the surface of the bin. What’s that?

    Are there some tools that can help me to measure the moisture inside the bin and test pH levels?

    • James
    • October 17, 2009

    I went to Home Depot and got me fiberglass screen. I took all of stuff out of bin, I notice that the bottom environment looks very healthy, well balance moisture so I realize that the top part is a bit too dry. I put the screen on the bottom and put the stuff back in. I saw two baby worms, really tiny… I added more cardboard and spray it wet. No liquid in the catch bin, saved three worms and lost four worms. About the black rice bugs that walk… it doesn’t have wings. No idea what it is. If no one knows, I will try to take a photo and blow it up for ya 😆

    • Bentley
    • October 19, 2009

    Sorry folks – been neglecting this thread! Haven’t had much time for blog comments as of late.
    (feel free to email me directly if you ever have a pressing question – it can still take some time to respond, but I definitely place a higher priority on email responses).

    JANINE – I’ve often suggested old bathtubs as a cool worm bed, but have never tried one myself. As for brewery waste, I recently wrote a post about that:
    https://www.redwormcomposting.com/reader-questions/worm-composting-and-brewery-waste/
    Please let me know how you make out with it though – I’ve had limited success myself, but it is supposed to be great stuff.

    —————-

    JAMES – In all honesty, despite the stacked bin video I made (and its bizarre resultant popularity in YouTube, at least by vermicomposting standards) I am NOT a big fan of these types of bins. I found it way too annoying to rescue worms that had gone down, and it was just generally an annoying mess. I prefer to keep things simple, and all of my indoor systems (apart from my Worm Inn Pro) do not have drainage of any sort.

    As for moisture content, I’m sure you could use one of those simple soil moisture meters – I don’t bother with anything like that (including pH testing) myself. Since I don’t have drainage my basic rule is ‘if water is pooling in the bottom there is too much’.

    Your black creature may be a Rove Beetle – these can be quite common in worm composting systems, and are typically elongated and black. Does the tail region bend upwards at all?
    Please do send me a photo.

  9. I have to agree….I do not like the staking systems other than a tiny one home made for under the sink I use. It is only 6 inches and I only put pods in it to start them out and have handy.

    The stacking systems I have seen and tried seem messy to say it politely IF YOU are anything like me and want to keep every worm and every pod possible. These still require the sorting and even though it is a migrating system there is plenty of food that can feed the little guys for a week easy with the little stuff they leave behind. Thus contaminating your castings to not clean and having to be sifted later anyways. The other problem I have with them is the cost. These are not cheap and can have better results with homemade systems or plain old bathtubs or bins :o) I presently work with rubbermaid bins for mine and some wood structure ones from a tractor supply company just throwing them away. I am now working with the local college where I go to school that has now opened a environmental science department and they are building flow through systems. I get to have some of these IF I stay on board to help them set up and work out the details on the disposal of their castings. I was elected onto their board for the environmental sector but I am still learning myself.

    I would suggest if you want to go with a stacking system than have the bottom trays able to be removed and replaced with another so the one removed can sit 5 weeks so you can harvest the worms that will hatch from it and remove them once you start seeing them appear so they dont reproduce in there. This will increase your worm population and remove the waste left in there from the worms going up in the bin for more favorable food. An example would be….IF you had worms in the bottom one and they were eating browns such as paper and then you add canteloupe to the top for migrating and encouraging them to the melons and such…they will go there for the melon BUT leave the paper behind to some degree. This is contamination I speak of to be sorted and screened later

    • Joel
    • November 7, 2009

    Why NOT dog poop?
    Seems like a perfect waste to break down further–
    does it need to age?
    or be diluted?

    What is your experience?

    • Bentley
    • November 9, 2009

    JOEL – Dog (and people) poop can certainly be composted with worms, but I would highly recommend doing so in a completely separate system dedicated to the task. Not only are they not all that much fun to work with, but they can also potentially contain harmful pathogens, so no point taking any chances. I currently vermicompost my cat litter (it is COMPOSTABLE cat litter – definitely don’t try this with the clay stuff), but I do it in one particular system and the end material gets used on non-food-crop beds.

    Generally, it will help if these n-rich waste materials are mixed with something absorbent and c-rich then allowed to sit for a period of time. What’s funny is that in the case of my cat litter composting, I didn’t even add composting worms since I wanted to let the system age for awhile. As it turns out, they found the system on their own and a population of worms developed in the material.

    • James
    • November 9, 2009

    I start to dislike the stacking system I am using because I notice that my catching bin is the favorite place for flies to multiply and hang around. I do not see them inside the composting bin. I suspect flies are using the holes on the side and bottom to enter and exit. I am going to change the bin so it will be only holes on sides. Gnat flies are not attract to the vineager as much as fruit flies. I have no problem with fruit flies because they are easy to manage but not gnat flies. They are attracted to the light, I have them on windows, patio doors and ceiling lights. I did a bit research how to manage gnat flies, they attract to the yellow surface. I recalled that my dad made scrap woods painted with yellow with the poles nailed in and posted it around the plants outside. He applied vaseline on it. It caught thousands of gnat flies. He scrapped it off and put on fresh vaseline on it. I am thinking about that but my problem is that my bin is in the staircase, it is dark. Can flies see the yellow in dark? Maybe I need to look around and see if I can find yellow objects I already have and apply vaseline to it, place them in kitchen or some rooms to catch those flies. Any advice how to manage gnat flies?

    • James
    • November 9, 2009
    • James
    • November 9, 2009
    • Christian
    • November 12, 2009

    Hi Bentley,

    I’m just floored by the amount of generous information you’ve been providing on this thread alone over the last two years. You’re a real champion for the cause and a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge for the community.

    I attended a vermicomposting workshop through the city of Vancouver (http://www.cityfarmer.org) two weekends ago where we set up our own bins to take home and received information on how to maintain a healthy colony. At $25 (the remaining costs are subsidized by the city), it is a true bargain for anyone in the area and I really recommend the experience. My worm bin is sitting under a table in my apartment kitchen area and everything seems to be moving along smoothly.

    I was wondering about something that was mentioned at the workstop. Our facilitator mentioned that instead of feeding the worms daily (or whenever we produce food waste) we should sequester our scraps and let them accumulate for close to a week before adding them to the bin. She explained that the worms were quite private creatures and didn’t like to be disturbed more often than necessary. Being eager, I fed the worms two days after setting up the bin, and added more food two or three days after that. I’ve scaled back a little bit lately because I don’t want to overfeed them, but I’m more concerned with disturbing them too often even when I’m not adding very much food. Have you known any colonies to have trouble coping with regular (or frequent) human disturbance? I’d like for my worms to just be happy.

    Thanks for everything!

    • Bentley
    • November 12, 2009

    CHRISTIAN – I appreciate the kind words. I am just doing what I love to do, and it’s really cool that I’m able to help people with their vermicomposting efforts in the process! Definitely some bigger plans in the works as well, so stay tuned!
    8)

    Stockpiling waste materials for a little bit before feeding is an excellent suggestion, although I do it for reasons other than not wanting to disturb the worms. Fresh waste materials are not all that helpful as a ‘worm food’ since they haven’t been broken down at all by microbes. If you let the materials sit in a scrap holder for a number of days it can help get the microbial community established. The worms actually derive much of their nutrition from the microbes themselves, so they will tend to dive in a lot more quickly once materials are starting to rot. This is not to say that I ALWAYS do this – I very often add fresh materials, especially to larger outdoor systems, but the materials are often ground up (such as pulp from our juicer) or have been frozen then thawed first – both of these help the microbes to become established much more quickly. One other thing to mention – if you want to provide more of a ‘long-term’ food value – adding bulky fresh materials can be a good approach.
    8)

    • Grant
    • November 25, 2009

    Hey Bentley,
    Im 14 and a gardener. I want to start a bin, but don’t want to pay for the worms,and there is no one around here with a bin how should i obtain some? Do you sell any at a cheaper price?

    • norah
    • November 27, 2009

    Hi Grant,
    I think it’s great that you are getting started so young!
    I have been vermicomposting for several years and would love to help you get started.
    If you give me your address I’ll mail you some worms.
    A pleasure to share with you!

    • Diana Young
    • November 29, 2009

    I live in the Maritime Northwest of the U.S. What is the ideal temperature for redworms? If I have an outside bin, would freezing temps kill off my worms?

    • Bentley
    • November 30, 2009

    Hi Grant,
    Apologies for the delay responding here. I am really glad to see that Norah has responded already (thanks Norah!) in an attempt to help you out. Unfortunately, I’m not in a great position to help you myself since I don’t actually ship my own worms to U.S. customers (they are sent via drop shipping) – if you were in Canada it would be a lot easier to send you a smaller amount from my own ‘herd’
    🙂
    Anyway, hopefully you have been watching this comment thread, and you’ve been able to get connected with Norah!

    • Bentley
    • November 30, 2009

    Diana,
    Red worms do fine basically from freezing mark up to 95 or 100 F or so (all depends on the system they are in). If your outdoor bin freezes solid they will likely be killed, although I have found Red Worms literally wiggling in semi frozen compost before. I would definitely recommend insulating your outdoor system – and ideally you should keep them in a much larger system during the winter. Check out my “winter worm composting” articles linked to on my “Hot Topics” page. I have written a lot about winter worm composting.
    8)

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