8 Steps to Worm Composting

  1. Buy a multi-tiered worm bin that includes a temperature guage and plastic rake.
  2. Find a place outside that stays in the shade (take the bin inside during freezing temperatures)
  3. Create a nest for your worms of shredded newspaper or printer paper (don’t use plastic coated paper or shredded magazines), a little dirt, dried leaves and the coconut shavings (first wet them) that come with the bin.
  4. Add your red worms and place a little pile of cut up raw  or cooked vegetables along with the following options: garden cuttings, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags or shredded paper towel. Do NOT feed the worms meat, dairy or citrus.  Cover the pile of food with shredded paper to prevent flies.
  5. Keep the top level empty except for a layer of dried leaves and garden cuttings to prevent flies from moving in.
  6. Let the worms do their thing. Feed them every 10 days to two weeks. Check them weekly. Your worm bin should never smell bad – just like fresh earth.
  7. After a month of so, you can move some of the worms to the other levels so that you have three levels of worms working to create castings.
  8. Once a level seems to be getting full with castings, stop adding food on that level and those worms will make their way to the other levels.

Now you’re on your way to harvesting garden gold. Your veggies will thank you.

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Where Did the Worms Go?

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I sat down the other day to write my next entry about worm composting to discuss how easy it is, how great it is, etc. etc.  After all, I’ve been successfully raising my worms for over a year. But before I began writing, I decided to visit my little worms to see how they were doing. I hadn’t fed them in about week or so and thought they might be hungry. And to my chagrin, I found that my worms were DEAD, GONE!!! Oh no, what did I do wrong? My heart sank, my urban farmer confidence shrunk, and I felt so sad.  I noticed a few things: ants, a white fuzzy mold, tiny white, thin worms (were those new baby red worms?) and lots of critters running around that weren’t worms.

I called Malibu Urban Worms (the place where I bought my once vibrant worms over a year ago).  I awaited their response with baited breath.  Meanwhile, I looked up “dead worms in worm composter” in Google and got a few answers, but none that satisfied me. I wanted to speak to the expert myself.

Thankfully, Lara from Urban Worms called me. She told me not to worry, that sometimes the worms die from the heat or overfeeding.  After our worm discussion, this is what I concluded:

  1. I may have fed the worms too much food (typical of a New Orleanian, always trying to overfeed those we love).  This is a no-no for worms because it can cause the bin to overheat and kill the worms. Usually a little pile of food in one corner of the bin is enough for 7-10 days or more. I had put two piles in each corner. Obviously too much.
  2. I need to keep the temperature gauge (that usually comes with the worm bins) inside the bin so that the temperature is always visible when feeding or checking the worms.  The ideal temperature is between 40˚F – 80˚F.  If the temperature begins to approach 80 degrees, you can cool the worms off by adding a little cold water into the bin.
  3. Have no fear. Just like with gardening, we learn from trial and error.  I bought some new worms at our local nursery, gave them some food and am ready to help them flourish.

And for the other activity that I observed in the worm bin?

  • The tiny little white worms? They are called enchytraeids or pot worms. They are beneficial in that they assist in breaking down food material in the bin.
  • The ants? They come into worm bins when the bin is a little too dry. Ants do not hurt the worms and will go away when the moisture returns.
  • The fuzzy white mold?  This is just part of the food breaking down.  Just stir it into the rest of the worm castings.
  • The other critters?  They are  a normal part of a worm bin ecosystem.

It has been a couple of weeks now and my new worms are fabulous.  Soon I’ll have more castings and worm tea to feed my garden.