Creating a vermicomposting container for your home (and giving the gift of worms)!

Gabel surveying the 55 gallon drum he just cut in half to use for a vermicomposting bin.

Gabel surveying the 55 gallon drum he just cut in half to use for a vermicomposting bin.

My cousin Polly just celebrated her 30th birthday this week and, in sincere celebration, her sweet husband Gabel bought her enough worms to fill a 55 gallon drum. Or at least enough worms to fill two halves of the 55 gallon drum with the accompanying ingredients – sawdust for bedding, a little dirt for grit, a little horse poo, and, of course, compost. What does this all add up to? Vermicomposting! Gabel assembled this large vermicomposting container for about $50, and this is probably bigger than most residential composters would need (unless you have an acre of land and a horse). You can create a vermicomposting bin from just about any sized container and for any sized home – perfect for folks in apartments who don’t have yards!

So what is it? Worm composting or vermicomposting is a relatively quick way to turn your household compost into a rich fertilizer for your yard, house plants, garden, etc. using a set of worms that eat through the organic matter and produce both liquid and solid waste (odorless worm castings). This is an efficient way of creating compost in smaller spaces and it doesn’t smell!! Vermicomposting brings into your home the same processes seen in nature every day, where a whole host of creatures works to biodegrade organic materials and return them to the soil.

Here is my cousin Polly’s story:

We bought a used 55 gallon drum ($20) from a guy near us, but they are on craigslist too.  You can also use (if you wanted to make a smaller one) rubbermaid bins from Home Depot / Walmart / Big Lots / etc. Once we had the drum, Gabel cut it in half and then drilled 30 holes in the bottom of each side (and up the sides) with a 1/4″ drill bit.  These holes were for air and to let the compost tea out. Regardless of whether you want the compost tea, (which is supposed to be awesome for your plants) you need to have your bin in a place where you don’t mind drainage or set up a way to catch the compost tea underneath your worm bin.

Here are the resulting worm castings from vermicomposting that you can use to fertilize your garden. This photo is from my cousin's trip with Heifer - more to come on that soon!

Here are the resulting worm castings from vermicomposting that you can use to fertilize your garden. This photo is from my cousin's trip with Heifer - more to come on that soon!

We used sawdust for the bedding cause we have an ungodly amount of the stuff, but I’ve also seen recommendations for shredded newspapers.  Once the bedding is in, you have to wet it until it is soaked, but with no standing water.  We threw some dirt on top of the bedding for grit which they need for digesting. On top of that, we spread the worms. We only bought a pound of worms, which is less than the recommended amount for the square footage of our drum, but they were $30 a pound.  We bought our worms from Dakota Worm Farms because they were relatively local. There are lots of different sites out there–and even some on craigslist.  There’s a neat site from wonderworman, but she’s out in the northeast, and we wanted closer wormies.

On top of the worms, we spread a little black gold (Stella horse poo) on top. The bin is about 2/3 full now with 1/3 bedding and 1/3 poo.  We covered it with a piece of tin, because worms work better in the dark and to keep the chickens, ants and birds from getting into them.  I’ve attached some pics here of vermiculture bins from my heifer trip.  If we had a full contingent of worms, we could turn poo into castings (the rockingest fertilizer ever) in about 20 days.  Heifer recommends adding manure in sections and letting the worms work left to right or front to back.  As they finish eating the poo, they’ll move toward the newer stuff.  We didn’t do it that way cause we’re just experimenting, but that’s what they recommend.

Worms will eat about anything, it doesn’t have to be herbivore poo.  However, the guy who sold me the worms recommended when blending household compost to make it as small or as liquid as possible for more efficient casting-making.  The worms shouldn’t eat meat or human/dog/cat feces.

For the more adventurous folks on Our Green Atlanta, Heifer recommends putting a rabbit or bird cage above the worm bin to let the droppings go straight down in there.

Here are a few additional tips and details about vermicomposting:

  • You can use any size container, but some are built to capture the liquid waste at the bottom that you can then empty out and use on your plants. This could be a wise move if you don’t have a whole lot of time, since you have to keep the amount of liquid down so the worms don’t drown.
  • When preparing the bed, remember that worms need the right combination of food to eat! This includes shredded newspaper, wet shredded cardboard, peat moss, straw cut into small pieces, partially decomposed compost with clean egg shells, decomposing leaves, and a little bit of sand or garden soil for fiber (to help the worms digest).
  • Set up your bin with a couple of inches of loose bedding and then add the worms. Worms like air, so you don’t have to press or pack the bedding.
  • Worms like moisture, so keep the bin covered with something that will keep them moist, such as damp cardboard, a sheet of plastic to trap moisture, wet newspaper, etc.
  • The worm castings (solid waste) is the odorless byproduct that can be used to fertilize or mulch your garden. Horse poo may be black gold but this is the original “black gold!”
  • The liquid is essentially compost tea , which can be used as a potent, nutrient-rich addition to water your plants.
  • Be sure to add your household compost to the bin in small pieces to make it easier for the worms to eat. You may want to even consider running it through a food processor or blender first.
  • Worms can eat their own weight in food every day, so check with your worm supplier on how many pounds of worms you’ll need for your space.
  • Add scraps in different parts of the bin to keep the worms moving around and mix it into the bedding to keep it oxygenated.
  • You can start to harvest worm castings in a few months, which involves separating the new fertilizer from the worms which can be done in a variety of ways.

Feed ’em! Recommended worm food for your bin:

  • Vegetable peelings and scraps
  • Washed and crushed egg shells. (Please note that we’ve found that whole egg shells make great habitat for baby worms.)
  • Coffee grounds and unfiltered coffee filters
  • Tea bags and tea leaves
  • Leaves and stems from fruits
  • Shredded newspaper (no color ink please!)
  • Old lettuce
  • Corn husks
  • Cut up paper egg cartons
  • Grass clippings
  • Citrus peels, onions, and tomatoes should be added in smaller quantities to keep the pH in balance
  • Avoid feeding your worms the following:

  • Meat
  • Plants sprayed with insecticides
  • Animal bones
  • Dairy Products
  • Poisonous plants
  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Bread
  • Soap
  • A google search on “vermicomposting” will turn up a ridiculously large amount of information, so there’s no shortage of research out there to get you started! I checked out this website when I was writing this (thanks!).

    Advertisements
    Comments
    6 Responses to “Creating a vermicomposting container for your home (and giving the gift of worms)!”
    1. polly says:

      It looks great! I’ll let you know how it all goes…

    2. Tim Herron says:

      Great information, I have never needed drainage holes though.

    3. Roch says:

      Thinking of getting a kit for vermicomposting. I might just end up putting it on my list. Would you suggest going to the multi tray installations or just a simple box?

      • Hi Roch,
        I don’t actually have a vermicomposting set-up myself, so I’m not sure. I asked my cousin, who I wrote about, but she didn’t know which would be better. She set hers up in a barrel half, which worked well!

      • Ann Sansbury says:

        I have several worm farms in single rubbermaid bins and have never had a problem needing drainage. I recently set up a flow through system which I love. Once my rubbermaid bins are done, I will start new flow throughs. They will hold an exponential amount of worms (5,000) at this point and process food scraps unbelievably fast.

    Trackbacks
    Check out what others are saying...
    1. BlissBowls says:

      […] Creating a vermicomposting container for your home (and giving theVermicomposting! Gabel assembled this large vermicomposting container for about $50, and this is probably bigger than most residential composters would need (unless you have an acre of land and a horse). […]



    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: