Sharon Johnson is a gardener and nature enthusiast.

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Make Your Own Worm Bin
by Sharon Johnson    

As fertilizer costs rise, we find ourselves seeking ways to cut our gardening investments, while continuing to produce healthy food for our families. One way to accomplish this is with earthworm composting, or vermicomposting. 

A worm can eat its weight in waste every day, producing one of nature’s best fertilizers in the process. The secretions from the intestinal tract of earthworms actually increase the nutrients of compost by chemically altering the material to be more available to the plants. Everyone, even apartment dwellers, can tap into this magical process by building their own worm bin.

First, let’s talk about worms. Many people prefer night crawlers because these larger worms also make great fishing bait. But the red wiggler worms (Lumbricus rubellus) and red branding worms (Eisenia fetida) make better composters because they can survive the warmer temperatures of the compost bin. Night crawlers prefer cooler temperatures and will not venture into a compost pile, where temperatures heat up quickly as the heap decomposes. You can find red wigglers for your bins by checking your local paper or by searching the Internet.

 

Building the Bin

Supplies:
• 2 or 3 10-gallon storage containers (opaque)
• Drill and 1⁄8-inch drill bit
• ¾-inch PVC pipe (optional)
• Two bricks or some sort of non-crushable, water-safe material (gravel, crushed cans, Styrofoam peanuts or hydroton work well)
• 3 scrap 2 x 4s to use as a base
• Marine-grade epoxy or waterproof silicone

Getting Started: First, clean your containers with soap and water and let them dry in the sun. You will only need one lid for your bin. You might save the extra lids though, I use mine for holding potting-soil spills when I repot my houseplants or for moving seedlings from sun to shade when transitioning them from greenhouse to garden in the spring.

Drill holes in the sides of all your containers. Holes should be approximately 2 inches from the top, spaced 2 to 4 inches apart, around the entire circumference of the container. 

Choose one container to be the bottom one, and then drill holes in the bottoms of the others. Rubbermaid containers have grooves in the bottom, so if you’re using that brand, drill holes in the lowest section of the grooves and space them 2 to 4 inches apart.

If you want to add a tap, to drain out any compost “tea,” you will need a butterfly bit to drill the hole. Test your tap first for fit. Put the tap as close to the bottom of the container as possible. Mark the spot and drill the hole. Push the tap through the container and screw it in place. Use epoxy or silicone to seal around the tap or use rubber gaskets. 

Cut your 2 x 4s the width of the short side of your container. Place at least one board under the tap-end of your bottom container. Stack at least two boards on top of each other and place these boards on the end opposite the tap on your bottom container. You can epoxy these to the bottom container and to each other, or just stack them and sit the container on top. 

Assembly: Now you are ready to assemble your worm bin. First, figure out where you would like to put it. Here in the South, we can leave the bins outside year round in a protected area. Find a shady spot that will be protected from snow, ice and direct sunlight. The closer the bin is to your kitchen, the more likely you are to feed your worms frequently.

To assemble your bins, add your filler materials to the bottom first. Fill the bins about halfway. This allows the excess moisture to drain away. I used Hydroton for my bin, which is a common hydroponic medium, because I happened to have some handy. You can also use two or three bricks set on their sides in the bottom of the base container to lift the second container off the bottom. 

Then you add some worm bedding to the top container. Sawdust, peat moss or other locally available organic materials work great. Aged manure works well too. Avoid excessively acidic materials like coffee grounds. Add your worms and put the lid on the top container.

Caring for Worms
Now it’s time to feed the worms. Just like a compost pile, alternate green and brown layers, green being any fruit and vegetable trimmings from diner preparations and brown being shredded paper or leaves. If you want to be completely organic, you may want to avoid plastics and colored inks in any shredded paper going in your worm bin. Other things to avoid: fresh grass clippings (they create high heat when they decompose), fats, vegetable oils, meats, fish or butter. These materials will cause odors and attract vermin. 

Keep the bin moist by adding a little water if it gets dry. All excess water should trickle down into the bottom bin, where you can drain the compost tea and use it on seedlings or any plant that might need a quick nutrient boost.

Feed your worms regularly. The more you feed them, the faster they will grow and multiply and the quicker you can start harvesting those miraculous earthworm castings. As one bin fills up, remove the lid and add another container with holes drilled in the bottom and sides. Add more bedding and start feeding in the top container. Your worms will migrate up to the food through the holes you drilled in the bottom of the container. Once you rotate the bins, you are ready to harvest from the lower container. 

To harvest your castings, remove the lid and the top container (the one you are actively feeding), exposing the lower container to light. This will drive the worms down further into the container, and you may scrape off the top 3 to 4 inches of castings for use in your garden. If you are quick enough when you remove the lid, you may grab a few worms and harvest them as well. Nesting birds, pond fish and children all delight in a nice wiggly red worm from time to time.

 

 

This article appeared in a previous State-by-State Gardening publication.

 

Posted: 07/05/19   RSS | Print

 

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