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Harvest Time

Depending on your bin size, conditions and worm

Good neighbor or pesty interloper?
Kitchen Composting With Red Worms
population, it can several months to have usable The worm bin is a mini-ecosystem. Lots of creatures,
compost. Do not leave your worms in compost that visible and not to your naked eye, will happily coexist
has no bedding—the castings are toxic to them.
You have two basic options to separate worms from
with your worms. Why Worms?
compost: • Reduce household garbage.
Except in the case of specific allergy, these community
• Create a compost rich in beneficial nutrients, bacteria
members are generally harmless to you, your worms,
Single Bin Manual Separation Method and enzymes—improves plant germination, growth,
and plants: Fungi, spiders, mites, mold, gnats, and
Spread out a plastic tarp and empty the entire yield, root growth and structure; increases water
flies. White worms (a.k.a. pot worms) are also gener-
contents of the bin onto the tarp. Form several small holding capacity of soil and attracts deep-burrowing
ally harmless but may indicate an acidic bin or appear
piles of compost, removing any organic material earthworms if present in soil.
when starchy food ferments. Adding citrus and starch
that hasn’t been consumed. Light-sensitive worms • Requires less space and maintenance than traditional
waste slowly and in small amounts will curb their
will naturally move to the bottom of the piles. Skim backyard composting. A good method for people
compost from the top of each pile. Add new bedding without significant yard waste, and apartment dwell-
to the bin, return the worms with handfuls of rough- ers.
Common problems
age to the bin. Foul odor: Anaerobic bacteria creates bin funk. Too

Stacking Tray Method

much moisture or overfeeding create anaerobic bac-
teria. Stop feeding, aerate bedding, check ventilation The Right Worm for
Create a second worm
bin, identical to the
and moisture level. Give the worms a week or two to
stabilize their system before you begin feeding again.
the Job
first—drill aeration and The best composting worms are known as redworms,
drainage holes, add bed- Ants: Bedding is too dry. Mist surface lightly or add a red wigglers, manure worms, red hybrids, striped
ding, and a few cups of layer of moistened newspaper. worms, or fish worms.
clean soil or sand. Set the
new bin flush on the sur- Worms dying, escaping: Worms may climb bin walls, They have big appetites and are comfortable in
face of the compost (the especially when first moved into a new environment. contained, shallow environments. The redworm
bottom of the new bin Worms should never be found outside the bin unless naturally exists in the litter layer of soil—the very top,
must make contact with conditions inside are highly unfavorable. Check tem- beneath leaves or in manure piles. A deep-burrow-
the compost—worms perature, aeration, moisture and food levels. ing night crawler would not adapt to a shallow worm
can’t climb through air). An an example of a bin—they’re better off outside to help aerate your
Begin feeding the new bin. stacking wooden worm Remember the keys to make your worms T.H.R.I.V.E.: garden soil.
The worms will migrate to bin with several working Temperature (ideal 68–77oF, overfeeding can cause
the new bin through the overheating), H2O (moist but not dripping wet), Recy-
drainage holes in the bottom. In 1–2 months, most cle (organic materials only), Invertibrates & microbes
of the worms will be living in the second bin. Any (good neighbors present in a healthy system), Venti-
remaining worms will be at the surface closest to the lation (living creatures need air), and Environment
food source and can be gently moved. (bedding, pH 5.5, dark).

Worm Tea
Nutrient-rich liquid will drain directly from the bot- More resources
tom of your worm bin. It’s an excellent fertilizer when
diluted, one part liquid to 3 parts water. Never pour •
water directly into your worm bin—your worms can •
drown. To make more liquid fertilizer, steep a few •
cups of worm castings in a gallon of water overnight. • Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof Eisenia Foetida is built for kitchen composting.
Redworms will

HOW MANY, Good feed on a wide

variety of organic
material. To keep


.................... your bin from at-
tracting pests or
producing strong
odors, it’s best to
To determine the size of your bin and initial worm consider the redworm a somewhat picky vegan.
population, you need to know how much kitchen
waste your household produces in an average week. Worms love to eat:
•Fruits and vegetables (citrus in moderation)
The best and most accurate method is to spend a A standard 14-gallon plastic storage container •Crushed egg shells
week collecting kitchen waste and weigh it at the will house 1-2 pounds of worms and compost •Coffee grounds & filters, tea leaves & bags
end of the week. The collected food will start to kitchen scraps for a household of 2-4 people. •Paper or cardboard--shredded and moist
break down, kickstarting the cycle of decomposition

The Bin
that makes people-food into worm-food. When you Feed in moderation:
set-up the bin and add worms, you’ll already have •Cereal, pasta, bread
a week’s worth of worm-ready scraps. You can also •Citrus, onions, garlic, spicy peppers
estimate about one pound of kitchen scraps per
person per week. You can use a plastic bin with a lid (thoroughly Thoroughly rinse anything sprayed with pesti-
washed and rinsed), build your bin from scrap wood cides. Any new food introduced should be intro-
Worms can eat up to three times their weight in a (avoid chemically treated or aromatic varieties), or duced in a small amount to see how the worms
week. If your household produces 2-5 pounds of buy a commercially produced worm bin. A wooden respond.
kitchen waste, you’ll need a pound of worms. If bin will help regulate the internal temperature if you
you find your worms can’t keep up with your waste, plan to keep your bin outside. Worms are ready for more food when you see
get more worms or wait for their breeding cycle to them actively engaged with what you’ve already
catch-up, steadily increasing the amount you feed Make sure your bin can be kept dark and temperate fed. You should not feed in layers thicker than
them to support a growing population. (ideal 68–77oF, under 40oF and over 85oF not recom- one inch to avoid putrification or overheating.
mended). Drill 1/2 inch holes in the bottom of your Food can be buried in dampened paper, card-
A pound of worms needs a surface area of about bin for drainage, and 1/4 inch holes along the top board or clean soil to avoid odors and pests.
two square feet. The more surface area, the more of each side and in the lid for aeration. Place a tray
worms you’ll end up with and the more waste they under the bin to collect “worm tea”. What to Avoid
will compost. Remember, redworms are litter dwell- Dairy, Fish and Meat: Worms will eat these, but
ers–your bin just needs a depth of 8–12 inches to Next choose a non-toxic bedding material that holds they are the most likely to attract pests and
keep your worms happy. moisture and allows air to circulate. Good choices smell rotten.
include shredded paper (black-and-white newspa-
Redworms are quick to mature and reproduce. Ma- pers, paper bags, computer paper, or cardboard); DO NOT EVER SERVE: Oily or salty foods. Pet
ture worms can lay two or three cocoons per week. shredded, decaying leaves; peat moss (which in- waste or litter. Non-biodegradable items such
A cocoon hatches in 21 days, producing 2–3 worms creases moisture retention); coir (dried, shredded as rubber bands, aluminum foil, bottle caps or
that will be ready to reproduce in 60–90 days. With coconut husks), or any combination of these. Do not glass.
the right care and abundant resources, your popula- use glossy paper or magazines. Add a few handfuls
tion of worms could double every three months. of clean soil or sand per pound of worms to supply
roughage. Crushed eggshells provide roughage and
The worm population will stabilize based on avail- calcium, and lower acidity in the bin. Add enough to
able food and space. You do not have to expand bedding to fill your bin 8–10 inches. Worms will eat
your worm bin if you do not wish to support more the bedding, so you will need to add more as it disap-
worms. pears, until your compost is ready to collect.