by Nicole Wines
Imagine my surprise when my holiday gift from my mom came in the mail this year. It was exactly what I wanted, something I was planning on investing in myself over the winter season. It was every girl’s dream. It was…
Earthworms actually. European nightcrawlers, or super reds. Eisenia hortensis, to be precise. I had been wanting to get worms. Not knowing anyone who is currently keeping their own worms in my area I found a worm farm from the next state over that would ship live worms, Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, and mentioned it in passing to a friend. A few days later, they literally appeared on my doorstep, in a box marked “Live Product! Perishable”.
It was a practical gift. It was ecological, supported a small farmer, and added to our growing Raíces EcoCulture Homesteading project. These worms will help us compost our food waste more quickly, create free protein for our chickens, and make a rich “black gold” fertilizer for our gardens, seedlings and plants. Within a few months, we will be able to split the colony, create new worm bins and start our own mini worm farm. This project will help to close the input loop for our EcoCulture projects, bringing us one step closer to self-sustainability and zero waste. It was the perfect gift. The only problem was that even though I had been researching vermiculture and even seen demos on vermicomposting and building worm bins, mine wasn’t fully set up. I had to hurry up and work with what I had to keep my new “farm workers” happy.
The worms arrived in the morning, and I got to work setting up their new home immediately. It was ready before noon. I was surprised about how easy and fast it was to set up. There are several ways and methods of setting up a worm bin, but for now I will just share how I did ours and leave the rest for you to research. The supplies I used were two matching large tupperware style storage bins, one lid, a drill (or hammer and nail if you don’t have a drill handy), newspaper, corrugated cardboard, a small amount of fall leaves, food scraps, some water, a few spare small plastic planters (you can also use a ceramic pot or a brick), and the worms which had arrived shipped in peat moss inside of a breathable bag.
After drilling holes in one bin lid and around the top lip of both bins for cross ventilation, I spent an hour shredding newspaper and cardboard into one of the bins to make the base of the bedding. After mixing in enough water to make the bedding about as moist as a well wrung sponge, I added one handful of fall leaves from the backyard and mixed well before burying some chopped up food scraps. Then a scooped out an opening in the center of the bedding and slid the worms and peat moss out of their bag.
I covered the worms with a handful of the bedding and then covered the bedding with a few sheets of wet newspaper and then put the lid on, but not without poking around just a bit to inspect them first of course!
The first day many of them tried to escape, crawling up to the top of the bin, lining the lid and the inner handles, poking their ends out through the air holes. I had read that this was normal and placed a fluorescent light on the lid to shine through those top holes. Since they are sensitive to light, they learn to stay underneath the bedding. It’s only been two days and they are already settling into their new home and starting to do what it is that worms do. They’re living inside for a few days while they settle, making it easy to check on them, but they’ll be making a move to the basement soon, where temperatures and moisture levels will stay steady enough for them throughout the changing seasons.
In about another week, when they are a little more settled and have begun to process their bedding and food scraps, I will finish making our first worm bin system by adding drainage holes to the bottom of their bin. Many instructions for worm bin construction include making the drainage holes before adding the worms, which I will try when I make our next bin and split this colony a few months from now. However, these worms had just endured a few days traveling by mail and were pretty agitated and restless by the time they arrived. Since this was my first time setting up a worm bin, I wanted to keep the bottom of the bin and the bedding fully sealed off to make it easier to deal with the escape artists until the worms were settled.
To drill the drainage holes, I’ll simply move the bedding away from one side of bin and drill a line of holes along the bottom on that one side. Then I will rest the bin inside of the second bin on top of two slightly different sized plastic planters, giving the bin the smallest tilt down towards the drainage holes. The bottom bin will collect any excess liquid that drains off. This can be diluted and used when watering plants as a fertilizer.
This is only one type of worm bin, but it was very simple and quick to put together and it was made fully out of materials I had laying around the house just waiting to be used! I will be updating in the near future with additional worm bin designs and updates about our first colony of Raíces worms. Keeping worms is a great project for anyone interested in homesteading, self-sufficiency, ecology, reducing waste. It is also an easy project to work on with kids, as it is both fun and educational and only requires a small amount of work to maintain.
We will also be creating a comprehensive resource list with info on raising worms and vermicomposting, but in the meantime I recommend checking out the great beginner’s guide with and videos on worms4earth.com.