Which type of worms will work for my bin?
That is a good question. There are many different types of worms on the market today for vermicomposting. Red worms, or red wigglers have always been the ones, I have used with great success over the years, as well as my clients. Now Alabama Jumpers are on the market and fellow breeders tell me they also do a fine job. I am staying with the breed I do know a great deal about. You can choose, after reading up on the various species, which ones will work for you and your situation.
What is the right size of container is right for my worms?
Take a week or so, look at or weigh your organic waste recyclables from the kitchen. Compare the volume of your waste with this rule of thumb: for a one to two person household a twelve to sixteen quart bin will work. To meet the needs of a two to four member household, a twenty-two quart will do the job.
The container doesn’t have to be very deep, remember E. Fetida are top feeders, anything deeper than one foot is wasted. The more surface area you give the worms the better.
Measure the length and width of the container in inches. Multiply the length by the width to calculate the surface area of the container in square inches. One square foot equals 144 square inches.
The ideal beginning volume of worms will vary depending on the size of the bin you choose. Once the bin has been set up the worms will begin to multiply. In about four to six months the worms will have doubled the number you began your bin with. When the volume reaches three quarter pounds per square foot, the worms will become over crowded and will try to begin to migrate. Worms on the sides and top of the bin trying to escape are good indications that it is time to harvest the castings and divide the herd, as it is sometimes called by breeders.
How much and how often should I feed my worms?
In ideal conditions in the wild, a worm will eat its own weight daily. In the confined space of the worm bin you can expect a worm to eat up to one half its weight per day. Worms burn up less energy in a worm bin. They do not have to range very far to locate food and they cannot travel far in a confined space.
A family of four with a 22 quart bin, starting with 2 pounds of worms, can expect them to consume one pound of waste per day. Estimate processing 3 to 7 pounds of food waste per week. Feeding the worms twice a week should work out well. Having written that I do need to tell you that the most common cause of worm bin failure on the part of the new bin owner is over feeding of the worms. In their haste to have the worms consume as much as possible and see the results in the vermicompost, or castings they will give you, many people over feed the worms. What happens in the bin is catastrophic for the worms. Too much waste in the bin will cause the wastes to heat up or hot compost. This means it will cause the bin to over heat. This over heating of the bin will, in turn cause the worms to panic, as they have no where to escape to since they are in a confined space. The only way the worms can tell you there is something wrong in the bin and it needs to be remedied ASAP is this: t hey will all congregate at the top and sides of the bin, as they are trying to get away from the intense heat. I always caution the first time worm owner to error on the side of too little food wastes to begin with and see how the worms handle this in their new home.
The rotation method of feeding your worms:
In the show and tell bins I use for demonstrations I have the top of the bin labeled with a marking pen into a grid of numbers 1 through 8. I mention that the worms are new to their bin and should be fed on the third day after they have been transferred into the bin. The amount they should be fed can be 1 to 2 cups only and that should be placed in the spot labeled #1. At three day increments of time the worms are fed again, this time in spot #2 and so on. Once the spot #5 has been reached pull back the bedding in #1 and see if the food wastes have been consumed, if they have you can carry on with this feeding schedule until the worms are used to it and have adapted. All the food wastes are buried deeply as you can into the bedding. Since the bedding is shredded, soaked household paper wastes you will need to always have on hand both wet and dry bedding, as the worms will consume this organic waste, too.
I also ask that everyone, who is a client of mine to have a worm annex on hand. Any old sweater box, a dish washing tub will do. Have it drilled out along the bottom with your 1/4 inch drill bit, 9 holes evenly spaced, lined with cardboard and ready. If the worms have a problem you already are prepared for it. You have a new and safe bin to transfer them into, while you fix their real worm bin. You have an adequate supply of wet and dry bedding. You are prepared for any eventuality!
> Determine the ratio of food wastes your home produces in a week, to tell you the number of pounds of worm you will need and size of the bin you will need.
> Mark the top of the bin for feeding spots or stations. Perhaps marking your calendar will help, so you will know when and how much you have feed them.
> Always have your worm annex bin ready. You never know when the worms and you will have need of it.
Good job. Well done!
I will be back in a few days with some helpful hints about a recipe for a worm bin, the instructions for it and how often you should add more bedding to the bin.
Until then: please enjoy your worms!