The Insurance Bin – One Year Later

I’ve known for a long time – largely thanks to all the bins I’ve neglected over the years (lol) – that a population of worms can be sustained on bedding alone for months on end. This by itself is pretty cool, since it means you really don’t need to try so hard to “take care of” the worms all the time (and in fact – too much of that “caring” can actually get you in trouble). But I saw even more potential in the form of what I’ve referred to as “Insurance Bins”.

The basic idea – set up a pretty typical (but usually smaller-sized) plastic tub worm bin with lots of bedding, a modest amount of food, and of course some worms (you don’t need a lot). Maybe feed it once or twice more before leaving it completely alone (other than maybe adding a bit more bedding here and there, maintaining moisture etc).

This type of completely-low-maintenance system – that should be kept indoors – ensures you will always have a back-up culture of composting worms, in case anything happens to your main system(s). I also see it as a great opportunity, especially for new vermicomposters, to see just how hassle-free indoor vermicomposting can be!


With all this in mind, I decided to establish an “official” proof-of-concept by getting one of these bins set up for myself just over one year ago (as I type this), and then just letting it chug along for months on end, with very little help from me.

Originally, I thought that 6 months would be more than enough time for testing the concept, since most people would only really need these backup systems during more challenging times of year (which generally won’t last more than 4 or 5 months at a time). But once I reached that milestone – and saw that the system was doing just fine – I decided to leave it running for even longer.

A few months later, it was a somewhat different story

The worms had processed most of the cardboard bedding, and finally seemed like they were suffering from malnutrition.

But rather than toss in the towel, I figured I would instead “cheat” a little (not even really cheating as far as the intended concept goes) by adding more bedding and a wood chip mix that likely had some microbes for the worms to feed on. I really wanted to take the experiment all the way to the 1 year mark!

And as you can likely guess by now (lol), we made it!

The additional bedding and semi-food helped to perk the worms up a fair bit in the weeks following my last update. They certainly didn’t get fat by any means, but many of them seemed to get their “healthy color” back.

Unlike the cardboard, the wood chip mix doesn’t really get processed (other than the tiny fragments of leaves etc), so there wasn’t quite so much settling.

As expected, most of the worms were quite small (even by Red Worm standards) – but the good news is that there were loads of them in the bin! Interestingly, I wasn’t able to locate even a single cocoon. I’m sure this just comes down to lack of nutrition (and we’ll come back to this in a minute when I offer a more “realistic” suggestion for how to keep one of these bins thriving for extended periods).

I dumped the contents of the bin into a mortar tray to loosen everything up and let it dry out a little bit. My original intention was to perform a “light harvesting” to concentrate the worms. Realizing it would likely end up taking a long time (days in fact, given how moist the material was), I opted instead to remove some of older vermicompost (if you can call it that) and then split the rest between two new bins.

Each of these new systems received a large helping of a new “homemade manure” mix I recently made, along with some sliced frozen-then-thawed carrots, a little chick starter feed, and some cover bedding.

I’ll be very interested to see how quickly the worms bounce back in these new bins – and will aim to provide an update later in the month.

For those of you who might be thinking of testing out your own Insurance Bin, my only suggestion would be add a light feeding every now and again. Even one or two morsels of fruit/veggie waste every month or so (again, I DO suggest some reasonable feeding early on to get the system going) would likely make a huge difference.

With very light periodic feeding you will enjoy increased productivity and better worm health – but without giving up the “hassle-free” perks of this type of system!

Previous Posts in Series
The Insurance Bin
The Insurance Bin – 6 Months Later
The Insurance Bin – 10 Months Later

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    • John W.
    • February 6, 2019

    I created an insurance bin based on your blog…that and I have killed off all my worms twice in the past 2 years because life is life. I have never had a small Rubbermaid bin before and my question is simple but could mean the difference between killing off all my worms for the third time…
    How do you know how many air holes to drill? I know you have to have enough for air movement, but you also don’t want enough air moving that the bin dries out when you don’t look at it for 3-4 months at a time.

    • BioMike
    • February 7, 2019

    I doubt any real research has been done on the amount of oxygen worms require. There are also some factors involved, like the temperature where your worms house and how many worms will grow inside the box. You also need to talke the microbial environment into account (which will change over time). As worms don’t have lungs you also have diffusion constants that water films have to exchange oxygen from the surrounding air (and how oxygen gets absorbed by the worms from that film of water).

    Having said that. As a small scale experiment (a bit inspired by the insurance bin described here) I set up some time ago: I took a glas jar (about 1 liter) with a screw cap (which I closed air tight). I drilled 2 holes of 2mm (same size as the holes in my worm bin) in the cap and added some bedding and a bit of food scraps. I added 1 (one) worm to it (juvenile, so it has been unable to reproduce). The main goal was to observe how it would survive and how it would consume all the food. The place I put the jar has been relative cold, so not much has happend since I started it (in September), but the worm is still alive and has matured into an adult.

    My worm bin contains 32 holes of 2mm, which is said to be able to house about 5000 worms. However, there is a lot of air exchange from the side of the trays. If your insurance bin doesn’t close of the lid tightly (as in air tight) there will also be exchange of air through that. I would start with 20 – 30 holes and see how that develops. It should be sufficient to house a dozen worms. The population will also adjust to the amount it can hold.

    • Bentley
    • February 7, 2019

    JOHN – you raise an important point I should have emphasized a little more. Every situation is going to be different. I’m actually surprised your bin would dry out (since I know your general location and that you have decent air moisture levels there) – but someone in say Arizona etc would definitely need to be a lot more vigilante. The point I didn’t make strongly enough was basically the idea of the bin requiring super low-maintenance AS LONG AS basic environmental needs are met (eg. not going to work if someone puts the bin somewhere that gets very warm or very cold). I also didn’t mean to imply that it should be left for 3-4 months at a time without any check-ups. Even with my own very-neglected system, I’m sure I must have peeked in at least once a month. I totally get the “life” part – and I’m sure I’ve left bins that long as well (can get away with it in my cool basement) – but maybe you could schedule reminders on your phone for every 3-4 weeks, just to take a quick look in. I think you would also benefit from my suggestion at the end. Instead of total lack of food – maybe try one water-rich food item per month (like an apple core or something like that). Provides some slow release moisture and a little more food value.
    I think 4 times will be the charm in your case! haha
    BioMike – thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • John W.
    • February 7, 2019

    Oh make no mistake…this “insurance bin” is not drying out or being neglected. I have checked on it every few days. It is under my bed. I am not really worried about it drying out. I just think about it everytime that I pull the thing out. I feel like I made to many holes, but I also don’t plan on not looking at it for months at a time.
    I have never had great success with my Worm Inn Mega. It always runs on the dry side for me. I want to get another system, but it’s so hard to come off the money for a nice system, and I really don’t like the plastic bins.

    • Bentley
    • February 7, 2019

    Sorry John – seems I misinterpreted your orignal comment. So with the bin that killed worms off multiple times – are you saying there were no holes, and now you are wondering how many to add?
    If you did have air holes, and did check on it every few days, I’m amazed the worms would die off like that.
    As for the Mega – that is interesting. You did so well with the regular Worm Inn!

    • John W
    • February 7, 2019

    Sorry I have a 15 day old and not getting the sleep I NEED.
    The bin I have killed several batches of worms in was the Mega.

    • Bentley
    • February 8, 2019

    Hahaha – I’ve definitely been there, John! E-communication usually doesn’t help either.
    So the Insurance Bin HAS worked ok so far (or at you literally just getting going with it)?

    Do you still have your original Worm Inn somewhere? Or did it end up falling apart eventually?

    P.S. Congrats on the new arrival! 🙂

    • Ines
    • April 19, 2019

    I just read through all of the posts of the insurance bins.And I don’t know why I didn’t set up one many years ago. Specially like I constantly struggle ( my reds not me ?) with very adverse weather conditions.
    Another way of “insurance bin” is to give worms to many people. So in case your own population dies you can get back a handful.

    • Bentley
    • April 19, 2019

    Yeah for sure, Ines! I like your idea about giving the worms to others as well

    • Juliebell
    • September 1, 2019

    I lived in CT and had 4 worm bins that did very well. I learned from a great guy fom Maine and he had us use a sheet of white gardening cloth that you would use in early spring to protect young seedlings fom the cold. It fit over the sides attached with a piece of elastic band material, so nothing could get in and it got plenty of oxygen and was easy to put on and get off. I am know heading to Fla and hope to have a bin there.

    • jack
    • February 20, 2020

    i cant explain how important this bin is.
    i had a 220L barrel wom bin, and had to move from my (rent) garden house to the city. i took a batch of about 500 worm, which i later released in my parants garden, thinking theyll survive until i have time to pick some of them to a new bin.
    a day or two later, those worm parrished, didnt find even one (and i know how to search for them)…. probably a combination of very bad soil (sandy, tighet and too dry), heat wave and generaaly dry dessert.

    few months later i got some worms, and ever since i keep them in a small box at home, and from time to time i release batches of 50-100 worms + cocoons to my parents garden (since then i improved the soil, irrigation, plants etc plus buried spots of veggie scraps).

    • Bentley
    • March 3, 2020

    Hi Jack – composting worms aren’t really “designed” to thrive in soil and perform the same sort of beneficial work their soil cousins are well known for. There are great ways to integrate them into your gardens (by setting up specialized composting systems closely assocated with garden beds), but they really do need an environment with rich organic matter in order to perform at their best. I like that you are keeping a little back-up system going, though!

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