Great question from Katie:
So my worms are coming TOMORROW and I have not set up my bin. It’s been a year since we have done this last and we were not given a heads up but I remember the bin needed set up like two weeks ago. What should I do?
The timing of your email is great, since I just published my “Living Materials” guide (which, as you’ll see in a minute, may help with your situation.
As you likely know, the key here will be to get the system set up, and as close to “optimized” as you possibly can…as soon as possible. Don’t get me wrong, you CAN set up a worm bin the the very same day the worms arrive, do little in the way of optimization…and still do just fine.
It’s just that if the environment seems too “foreign” to the worms, they will likely be a LOT more restless. They may even try to escape from the system en masse.
Aging a system with food wastes ahead of time at least allows for the development of a decent microbial community, and also (thanks to that microbial community) helps to make the food more “worm-friendly”. But if we don’t have the option of waiting for the microbes to reach an ideal level, the next best option (or in some cases, an even better option) is to add beneficial microbes to the system.
This brings us back to the topic of “Living Materials”. This is a blanket term I use to refer to (typically) earthy-smelling, nearly stabilized, beneficial-microbe-colonized materials, such as well-aged manures, leaf mold, rotten straw, and various forms of “compost” (be sure to refer to the guide I linked to above for more information on the topic). Mixing in some of these materials when starting up a new system can make a world of difference, both in terms of kickstarting the microbial community (and decomposition processes) and, just generally, making the environment feel more like “home” for the worms.
Now, I do realize that offering this advice in the dead of (a very cold) winter – for yourself, and for many other readers – may seem a bit unfair – especially when you are just getting started (those with existing worm bins should have a great source of “living materials” right at their fingertips). But please remember that this is just one (albeit very effective) strategy.
If you can’t get your hands on any earthy, living material (this does NOT include bagged potting soil, in case you are wondering – please avoid using that), my advice would be to simply optimize the food (you will be adding) as much as you can. Chop it up really well, then freeze-thaw it before adding it. Make sure have lots of moistened bedding in your bin (ideally something like shredded corrugated cardboard). Your bedding:food ratio (by volume) should be at least 3:1.
For a microbial element you might try sprinkling in a very small amount of baker’s yeast (maybe a small spoonful). While yeasts aren’t the typical sort of decomposer microbes we’re after, my hunch is that the worms would actively feed on them and/or that they could end of as food for other microbes. Those of you with bokashi buckets might also try mixing in a bit of the inoculated bran mix. Again, make sure you only add a very small amount – since this is definitely more of a live food material, than a “living material” – and to be very clear here, I am NOT referring to the contents of a bokashi bucket (that’s a completely different kettle of fish altogether – not something I’d recommend for a brand new worm bin).
If at all possible, keep the lid off your system, with a bright light shining over top, once the worms have been added. There are various benefits to this approach – but one of the key benefits in this case is that it forces the worms to stay down, thus accelerating the development of a more worm-friendly environment. Obviously, it greatly lessens the chances of worms trying to escape as well (especially if you add a really thick layer of dry bedding over top as well).
Bottom-line, don’t worry too much! If you follow at least some of the advice I’ve offered, I think you should do just fine.
Hope this helps!