Thursday, September 29, 2011

Worm Composting

Worm Factory installed

This is a picture of my new worm composting system in place near the boiler, which will hopefully keep the worms cozy this winter in the basement. I considered worm composting in the past but never did anything. Now that I have my Square Foot garden that needs regular additions of high quality compost, the idea is more attractive. A lot of our kitchen scraps can go into the composter without making a trek out to the compost bin behind the shed. In the winter with a new 3 foot snow fall, that sounds attractive. And my wife was actually interested in the idea of having a worm composter in the house, so that made it easier.

In addition, there are now a lot of well-designed compost bins available which make composting easy and eliminate a lot of the mess, Sure, you can build an economical bin out of a Rubbermaid storage container. And there are lots of helpful tips on the internet, such as the one suggesting using the wife’s turkey baster to siphon the excess worm “juice” out of the bottom of the bin so the worms don’t drown. There are also some nice wooden bins built from cedar, but they are really designed for outdoor use. That is not practical in New England.

The new bins I looked at are compact, efficient and cleverly designed to eliminate or minimize most of the messier details of raising worms, and they are designed to be kept in the house without leakage, odors or escapees. Two I considered were the Can O Worms and the Worm Factory. I went with the Worm Factory 360, the newest model with a taller base and an improved ventilation system. The Worm Factory 360 also is manufactured in the US from 100% recycled food-grade plastic. I ordered mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm and it came with one pound of worms (supposedly about 1000 worms, but I really doubt it – although the package did weigh a pound). Below are some photos showing the setup of the composter.

Worm Factory components

The composter comes nicely packaged as a complete kit with everything you need except the worms. Included is the base, four trays, the lid, bedding material, pumice, tools, and a sprinkler tray. Worms are shipped separately and will arrive later.

Reservoir base with worm ladder installed

In the 360 model, the reservoir, designed to catch any moisture that drains down from the worm bins, is built into the base and has a spigot to drain into a container. No need for the turkey baster here. And the taller legs of the 360 raise the composter higher, making it easier to place a container under the spigot and reducing the amount of bending over to tend to the trays. The black insert is a worm ladder that allows any worms that fall into the reservoir to make their way back to the upper tray.

First tray installed on base

You start with one tray placed on the base. You can see the grid of holes that allow worms to migrate between tray levels. To start, we want the worms to stay in the tray, so the tray is lined with several layers of dry newspaper to cover the holes.

Hydrating coir for bedding

Next a half block of the supplied coconut coir is soaked in 2-3 quarts of water to allow it to expand. The stuff is amazing and swells up into a soft medium much like peat moss. Any excess water is then squeezed out of the coir.

Adding grit and compost to bedding

Here is the hydrated and expanded coir. To this is added a cup of active compost from my outdoors compost bin. This adds the microbes and grit that worms need to digest food. In addition, I added a half cup of sand, again to help digestion.

Adding shredded paper and pumice to bedding

Next, the included bag of shredded paper and a cup of pumice is added and mixed with the coir.

Bedding in place

The bedding mix is now added to the tray and spread evenly over the newspaper. In the upper right corner of the bedding, a handful of kitchen scraps was buried in the bedding. This will be the first food the worms encounter after they are introduced to the tray.

Bedding covered with shredded newspaper

A 2-3 inch layer of dry shredded newspaper is then added to cover the bedding.

Bedding covered with wet newspaper and cardboard

Next, a layer of wet newspaper and/or cardboard is added over the shredded newspaper. The bin is covered and is now ready to receive the worms when they arrive.

Bag of worms

The worms were sent Priority Mail and arrived two days after the composter. They were packed in dry peat moss in a cloth bag placed in the shipping box. The dry peat moss helps control moisture, keeps the worms cooler, and helps prevent them from freezing in cold weather.

Adding water to restore moisture to worms

The worms were poured into a bowl and a half cup of water was added to restore some moisture.

Worms spread on bedding

Next, the layers of wet newspaper were pulled back and the worms were spread over the bedding. The worms will eventually migrate down into the bedding.

Red wiggler worms

Red wrigglers, unlike common earthworms, are communal. Here they are in a clump after being added to to bed. They dislike the light and will soon wiggle their way into the bedding. The wet newspaper covering is replaced and the cover put in place. It will take a couple of days for the worms to recover from their trip and get used to their new digs. Once they appear to be feeding on the buried kitchen scraps, additional scraps can be buried in new spots and the process of composting is under way. I will post more as I get experience with the composter.

Has anyone else tried worm composting? What is your experience?

2 comments:

  1. I always thought worm composting was a messy affair that needed to be outside. Then what do you do in the winter? Looks like you will have some lovely worm castings to add to your garden in the spring.

    I have nominated you for a Liebster Blog Award on my blog. There is no obligation to continue this award, but I do hope you will consider passing it along to introduce your readers to blogs that they may not have discovered yet.

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  2. Rachel, The worms have been neat and tidy so far, and I don't have to worry about them freezing and dying in our New England winters when my outdoors compost bin freezes solid.

    And thank you for the Liebster nomination! It is much appreciated.

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