Photo and article by Carol Quish for UConn Extension
The basics of keeping a worm farm are easy. Explaining why you would want to have one is a little harder to justify to people, particularly family members. Having been a worm farmer for over twenty years, my family finally just accepts and then ignores the fact there is a bin in the laundry room holding more than dirty laundry.
Reasons I keep worms:
– Composting indoors in the winter and all year round. (No smell)
– For the rich castings they produce for plants.
– They are a very low input pet.
– Free fish bait.
– No yard needed.
To get started, a container, bedding and food are needed. For one pound of worms, a plastic bin, two feet by two feet and at least eight inches high will work. Any size will really do, as the worms are not that picky. Choose one with light blocking sides as clear ones let in light. Worms do not like light.
Drill air and drainage holes through the plastic top, sides and bottom. The vegetable scraps will be of high water content, releasing moisture as they decompose to the point that the worms can digest it. This liquid can and will drain out of the bottom. Place a catch tray of any type under the bin to protect floor and surfaces. This drained water can be diluted in a watering can to be used on plants as a fertilizer.
Fill the bin with shredded newspaper, no glossy sections, colored and black and white print is okay. The worms will live in and eat this paper. Moisten the paper with water so it is as wet as a wrung out sponge. Worms breathe through their skin, which must be kept moist. Feed the worms by pulling back some of the newspaper to bury the food scraps. The worms will find it. One pound of worms will eat one pound of food wastes each day! The food will not disappear right away. It will need to decompose a bit first. All food scrapes can be used except meat, dairy, oils, bones or pet waste.
The type of worm to use is not native to the Northeast, nor can you dig up worms from the yard and expect them to live in this confined environment. Red Wigglers is the common name of the composting worm best suited to life in a bin. Their Latin name is Eisenia foetida. They are available at bait shops and online. Ask for them by the Latin name to be sure of their identity. The Worm Ladies of Charleston, Rhode Island is a reputable seller of the correct composting worms.www.wormladies.com
Not all worms are alike. Nightcrawlers prefer to live a solitary life, alone in a long tube going several feet deep. They only come out at night to feed and mate, retreating back alone into its hole by daybreak. Several other worms live in our soils, but they feed at different levels and move to different areas to find food. These mobile worms will not like living in a confined space either.
Harvest the castings after most of the bedding food has been transformed into dark brown, crumbly material. Dump the bin on a tarp outside on a bright day. Worms do not like the light and will move downward into the dark. Scrape off the top inch or so of castings to watch the worms move further down. Pretty soon you will have a pile of wormless castings and a pile of worms. Put the ball of squiggling worms back into the bin with new strips of newspaper moistened with water and begin the process again. The harvested casting can be used in the garden around the plants and worked into the soil. Your plants will thank you for it.