Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I've Got Worms

I'm so happy and excited I'm giddy today! All because my mother in law sent me worms from her vermicompost to start mine. My husband walked in with worms (red wrigglers - Eisenia fetida) wrapped in shredded paper and balled up inside 3 plastic bags. I immediately unwrapped them and layed the mass on top of the bed I had prepared for them. I poked around a bit to see if I could find the worms and I did but they quickly burrow into the bedding when the light hits them so they aren't visible long enough for a good photo. Here are my next step by step instructions on preparing a vermicompost.

Fill cleaned plastic bins with water and let soak for a few hours
1. After obtaining my two drawer plastic storage container I washed it with some lemon window cleaner and then rinsed both drawers. I wanted to make sure the plastic didn't have any chemicals or foreign matter since I bought them used so I filled both drawers with water and let them soak in my tub for several hours.

You can see how I did the holes in the bottom of the drawers in this picture.
2. I dried my plastic drawers once I was sure they were clean and grabbed my rotary tool for the next step. The top of both drawers is open to the air so I eliminated the holes on the sides that most plastic totes say to make. Instead I made two 1/2" wide by 5" long cuts in the bottom for drainage and to act as a portal when I'm ready to migrate my worms. I also drilled 4 small holes around these just to be sure I have enough airflow.

Arrange cardboard in your drawers anywhere light might come in.

3. Once I had the holes in the bottom of the drawers I cut up a cardboard box and line the clear plastic with it anywhere I thought light might come in. Worms don't like light so giving them a dark drawer to live in will make them happier and less likely to escape.

I shredded enough paper to fill the drawer 1/3 when wet.
4. My next step was to prepare plenty of shredded paper which acts like bedding for the worms. I don't have a shredder so that nice pile in the picture was cut by hand. If you have access to a shredder I would recommend that but cutting by hand isn't too bad if you have sharp scissors. Another trick is to fold the paper in half a couple times so that it takes fewer cuts to make one strip.

The paper bedding is moist but not soggy.
5. I added the shredded paper a little at a time so that I could wet each layer with a water bottle. I used a bottle with a sport type lid on it so that I could spray the paper faster than a mister but not as fast as just dumping water right on. I used a bunch of junk mail I had laying around (provided it was the non-glossy paper), scraps of paper I had jotted notes on, dry paper towels (clean - no meat, chemicals, or fat on them), and a few brown paper bags. I think having diversity in the compost will create a higher quality end product.

6. This damp paper bedding was left overnight (I wanted it ready before the worms arrived) to allow all the pieces to come to an even moisture level. The next morning I added a little more water since the top felt drier than when I went to bed. I had a couple handfuls of soil to add to the top since worms need "grit" to help digest what they eat. I'm holding off on adding food until I'm sure I created a proper environment that will aid their reproduction. My fear is that if I add food before the worms are acclimated to my bin then the food will start to rot and attract other pests.

Closeup of moist paper bedding with a handful of soil on top.
7. When the worms arrived I simply unwrapped the plastic holding them in a wad and laid the mass on top of my moist shredded paper. I spread the wad o' worms out a bit and left the drawer open so the light in the room would drive them into the bedding I had made. I was a bit worried since I had read that worms can sometimes crawl out of their bin and my compost bin is still in my kitchen, but I haven't seen any escape artists yet. I figured my kitchen was actually a good place to start them for a variety of reasons. I always leave the light on in the kitchen which is a great way to discourage the worms from leaving the drawer, the temperature is always around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and the floor is linoleum in case I have a mess.

8. The last step in the setup of a worm compost is just to maintain it. Check it regularly to see that the moisture is appropriate and the temperature is right. It is recommended that you feed them your kitchen scraps about once a week. Remember that worms are basically vegan and won't eat any meat, dairy, or fat and adding these things will cause a foul odor and attract pests.

In the coming weeks I will post more on this topic. I plan to give more info on the length of time it takes to establish my vermicompost as well as time to complete one bin. I would like to observe what the worms prefer to eat and give instructions on making a "holding bin" from mostly recycled materials. The holding bin will give me a place under the kitchen sink to store food scraps for the worms without letting off odor.

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