My Vermiculture Set-Up
Thanks to Red Worm Composting for Part One on this extensive and helpful article.
I have been practicing Vermiculture for a number of years now with great success. I started with one bin and a pound of Red Wiggler Worms and was up to 6 bins at one time. The problem I had was not having enough food to feed the worms.
So I sold some off and got down to two systems now. One is home made as you can see here and the other was one I purchased for just under $100. Is there a difference in the success of one over the other, frankly, I can’t see it. It might be a little easier to separate the worms from the castings in the purchased unit, but may not worth the extra cost.
The professionally made unit has trays with an open screen on the bottom so the worms can travel UP to get the food. The food is kept in the uppermost tray. As that tray starts to fill with castings you add another tray on top of that one and now that is the Feeding Tray.
Once you have added a number of trays you can then start to clean the lower trays which will be pure castings and may still have some worms, but that is easy to remove later.
Shredded Cardboard and Newspapers
As we have learned worms like the fiber they get from cardboard, newspapers and Peat Moss which I use to also lower the moisture content of my bins. When they get too wet, you will start to see the worms trying to escape the bins. They will come up the sides because the bins are either too wet, or the PH is off due to feeding them acidic fruit waste like pineapple skins, which is not a good idea. There
I use a heavy duty paper shredder in my office to shred up cardboard boxes, after I remove any packaging tape. I use a razor knife to carefully cut the carton down into strips that will fit the width of my shredder. Same with newspapers and other paper I might have. Do not shred anything with plastic, they will not eat it, but as you screen the castings from the worms, you will see that material show up as undigested and caught in the screen,
As I mentioned I like to use Peat Moss as well to bring the moisture level down in my bin and often put on a pair of rubber gloves and loosen up the castings and mix in shredded paper or peat moss to aerate the bins.
How I Prepare The Worm Food
I have two empty plastic containers I use (old Blue Bonnet ice cream containers). Each time we prepare a meal we put the veggie and fruit waste into the containers. We may have some old bread or other material too and it all goes into the container. For bigger loads of material us a one gallon plastic zip lock bag. I use that for larger material like watermelon rinds, which can weigh as much as 11 pounds.
I have a Cusinart that I use for grinding the material down to a nice mash like consistancy. The smaller the material the easier for the worms to consume them. Also takes up less space in my refrigerator where I store the containers.
For watermelon and other very liquid materials like the pinnapple rinds, I will put them in a large pot and actually cook it on my stove for as much as a couple of hours in some cases to remove a lot of the water. The photo you see here shows what it looks like when it thickens.
I use a spatula and my neoprene of rubber gloves now to add this to the worm bins. I dig a hole in the castings put some of this mix in and cover it. If not, you will begin to get fruit flies which is not a fun thing when you open the cover of the bin and they fly into your face.
They say a pound of worms can consumer a half pound of food each day. They are a composting machine so when you put in 60 pounds of food over a period of time, you will get almost the same amount of castings.
Small White Bugs
I should mention that some friends of the worms will appear in your bins, but don’t panic as they also eat the food and their poop is also full of beneficial bacteria. These small white bugs are almost microscopic and if you look at this photo you may see them. They love moist conditions, the dark and of course all the food the worms eat. To cut down on the amount, don’t allow your bins to get too moist.
Dry them out with the shredded cardboard, paper and peat moss and aerate the castings on a regular basis so they don’t become too compacted. If you want to try to remove some you can put some of the watermelon or other fruit rinds in face down into the bins and in a day or two they will be covered with these bugs and you can then throw them out. However they reproduce so fast, it won’t help much.
I have just accepted them as my friends now, they don’t get out of the bins, they don’t fly and they are clean.
Aerate The Castings
One other item…as you see the castings grow in your bin you will see it gets compacted, so I will go in with gloved hands and aerate the material mixing it up to aerate it. You may only have to do this once and awhile as your bin gets full of castings.
Harvesting Your Castings
One of the most difficult questions to answer is how do you harvest the castings from the worms. On YouTube there are a number of videos that show all sorts of ways to do this including building your own sifters. I spent a few weekends building one that was supposed to shake the screens, the castings would drop through the screens into bins below and the worms would fall down the end into another bin. Unfortunately this didn’t work well and now I only use the screen I made for this machine.
I found the screens I made for this sifter work better if I first put down a plastic tarp on my driveway, form piles of the castings on the tarp and wait for the worms to form a clump in the bottom of each pile. I want the castings to dry out a bit, but you don’t want them to dry or all the beneficial microbes will die. You want it to dry enough so the worms can be seperated from the castings.
I carefully pull out that clump of worms from the bottom of each pile I made and return them to a fresh bin and continue the process until I have most of the worms out of the castings. I brush the castings off each pile gently so I don’t distrub the worms forming at the bottom of each pile. This of course is time consuming, but I can get 30 pounds of clean castings or more from each time I do this so for me it is worth the effort.
Optional Method To Screen The Castings
For crazy people like me or if you intend on selling your castings you will want to screen the castings as I do. If you don’t intend on selling or storing the castings, then you don’t have to screen them you can just use the castings after you seperate the bulk of the worms from the method I use. You might end up putting some worms in your garden, but they reproduce quickly and you won’t lose that many, but you will save a lot of time an labor using the castings unscreened.
So if you decided to screen them, you need to make the screens as I did. I put together a nice wooded frame large enough to cover my wheel barrow and bought some 1/4″ opening screen. I built a second frame which is not necessary, but nice so I could double screen my castings that uses an 1/8″ opening. I start with the 1/4″ screen and once I have screened all the castings I do it again using the 1/8″ screen. The screens fit over the top of my wheelbarrow and I begin to shake the castings and with gloves on my hands gently push some of the castings through the screen. I will pick out any remaining worms from this and return them to a container.
I of course try to let the castings dry out in the sun so it will be easier to screen the material. I dump out the shredded paper or material from the peat moss that was left in the screen and then screen some more. After the initial screening and the castings are just a little moist by now, I go to a 1/8″ screen I also have and screen it a second time. I usually find some very small baby worms and return them to the container.
Now the final step is to clean my bins, I usually wash them out put in a layer of newspaper on the bottom, then I put in a layer of ground up fall leaves or other organic material, on top of that I put in a layer of moist shredded newspaper that I wring out so it is not too wet and then a handful of soil. The worms need the granuals of soil that they will consume and it helps their system grind up the food they eat.
Finally I can add the worms to the clean bin. I usually throw some shredded newspaper on top as they don’t like the light so this covers them. You can sprinkle some Peat Moss that I buy on top as well. I use the peat moss also to dry out the castings when they get too wet. The bin should be moist, if it gets too dry you will need to spray it with water, but if you are feeding them ground up food the moisture in the food will be enough.
This now gives me a very fine and beautiful rich black, organic fertilizer I put in every hole I dig before I plant anything in my garden.
My neighbor also has his own home made setup of trays with screens that he uses. In addition to using unscreened castings (he doesn’t care if he loses some worms), he prefres to make Compost Tea a liquid fertilizer. You can do a Google search or click here for a nice video on this, there are many articles and videos on making Compost Tea.
These articles are meant to give you an overview on how to create your own organic compost system using red wiggler worms. You can find tons of information on the internet and loads of videos too. There are many different methods, but I have found mine works perfectly for me. A few plastic bins, chopping up their food, aerating the bins and then seperating the worms from the castings. I have not make Compost Tea, I have found I have so much castings for my garden it isn’t necessary.
I especially love how my veggies and flowers grow from this rich, healthy fertilizer and I feel good that I was able to convert all of my organic waste into the best fertilizer for my plants.
Learn How To Make Worm Tea…No not to drink…Liquid Organic Fertilizer…Click Here
Photos Showing Results Using Worm Castings