Outdoor Compost Bin Worms in Indoor System?

Questions from Tim:

Hi Bentley, I am blown away by your knowledge and the way you share it online, thanks so much for this.

I just bought my first worm bin and was given worms from a regular outdoor compost bin. It was just semi-mature compost containing worms.

I am not sure if this is the best source of worms and if they are the right type. The bin has some coconut coir and then the compost. I haven’t added waste yet (it has only been 3 days).

There seems to be little obvious activity and worms in there, but there a few there right at the bottom. Also, some have fallen through to the bottom tray (where the water drains). So my questions are:

Do I need more worms – i.e. is there too much compost for the number of worms?

Do I need a different type of worm? Have I received an earth worm instead of one suited to composting? Is that expected when sourcing worms from an outdoor compost pile?

Hi Tim,

Thanks for the kind words (almost wrote “worms”)!
When you use worms from outdoor sources, there is a decent chance you’ll end up with some that aren’t well suited for indoor vermicomposting. But, that’s not always the case. If these worms were taken from an active outdoor bin (one receiving rich wastes such as kitchen scraps), if they are small, reddish, and there was a lot of them in the material, there is a reasonable chance you’ve got some Red Wigglers.

One of my recommendations for those setting up a stacking bin is to line the starter tray with multiple layers of newsprint (making sure it folds up the sides). Once moistened, this will act as a pretty reliable barrier for preventing worms from moving down into the reservoir. So you might want to dump out the contents of your first tray and add this before continuing on.

I thought it was odd that you had not yet added any sort of food waste yet – but perhaps this “semi-mature compost” actually contains some partially decomposed scraps? If it is mostly darker compost-like stuff, this will be a great “living material” for inoculating the indoor bin, but it won’t likely offer much in the way of nutritional value. So I’d suggest adding a small amount of (ideally, chopped/frozen/thawed) food waste to the system as well.

Getting back to the worms. I’d suggest just leaving them alone (once you have made the recommended adjustments) for a little while and seeing what they do. If you have Red Worms they should settle in and start processing the food wastes. If not, the worms likely won’t thrive (or accomplish much) in the system.

I didn’t get a handle on how many worms you were given, but since we’re still unsure about what kind they are you’ll definitely want to err on the side of caution anyway. Again, just leave them with the small amount of starter food – and see how they do.

If it doesn’t look like much is happening after a week or two, you are probably best to release the worms back into the outdoor system and to then buy some composting worms from a reputable source.

Hope this helps to get you pointed in the right direction!

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    • Tim
    • February 11, 2015

    Hi Bentley, thanks so much for your advice! Just a brief follow up to your comments.

    One reason I haven’t added my kitchen waste yet is that I have seen some advice in a few places to “let them settle in” before adding food. However, I am not sure whether that is really necessary and given your suggestion will definitely add some food now. I will let you know what happens!

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