Saturday, March 21, 2009

How Worms Came To Live Under My Kitchen Sink

AKA Adventures in Vermi-composting

Some may think its creepy; others plain gross with a capital G.

Or if you are like me, you'd think both initially.

Last year, our world grew a little bigger--and so did our household's "critter count" when friends gave us an old sour cream container that had been converted into a shack cozy enough for a family of baby red worms.

Our local Ag Extension hosted a series of classes for kids, and since we were unable to attend the worm bin class because of a road trip to Idaho, Ri's bff thought it would be great to make her a "welcome home" gift. Since he's a 6 year old "All American" boy, i bet some of his willingness to piece together two bins was really just an excuse to play with more worms. :o)

Although i faked graciousness at first, i was truly grossed out and perplexed. How are you supposed to look at a thoughtful 6 year old who thinks he's done something so cool for his friends and say, "Uh, no thanks, Junior"? How can you also say, "Forget it!" to a 5 y/o daughter who thinks its the bee's knees that her and her friend will get to raise worms together? We've already deprived her of the dog she's always wanted. :o) And moving to more practical matters, we have a finished basement and no garage, so i had no idea where our vermi-composter was going to find a "cool" climate (and one that didn't lend itself to finding little shriveled up twig like corpses on the Berber.)

(the little ripple-y, segmented body there in the black next to the spinach is one of our resident worms)
So, my friends, this is how we entered the world of worm keeping. I figured after the newness wore off, and we'd fattened up the little ruby wigglers, we'd be giving them the ol' Bugs Bunny send off "Bon Voyagee" in the garden or feeding them to our chickens. But....
(there always is one, isn't there?)

instead of Ri becoming attached to the little guys, i grew to love them.
They certainly are more rewarding for the little amount of work that goes into their care.

  • They make "worm tea" (pictured above), which is the nutrient rich liquid that pools out of their home. It smells clean enough to use on indoor plants--a great alternative to synthetic plant food.
  • Their castings (a worm's equivalent to a cow's meadow muffin) are nutrient powerhouses for your plants and great soil builders. The other day, i saw a 12 quart bag of casting selling for $16! Why not make them yourself for the cost of a sour cream container and some wet cardboard and shredded newspaper?
  • They eat what your chickens shouldn't: citrus, tomatoes, onions, banana & potato peels. And like chickens, worms should NOT be fed meat, dairy. or oily food (that will make your composter stink and attract unwanted pests)
  • No trips to the compost pile! (Especially rewarding if you live in a home like ours where the kitchen is on the 2nd floor and you have to descend 1.5 flights of stairs to get outside.) We really haven't had success with our pile to begin with. Area where our compost would cook away nicely all day are too close for my comfort to the street (those pesky nocturnal foragers could meet their demise in the road while making a bee-line for our fresh from the kitchen scraps.) And, since our front yard is our "backyard" equivalent, i am sure our neighbours wouldn't delight in the sight of a compost bin in their line of sight. :o)

If my agrument for keeping Mother Nature's lil garbage disposals under your kitchen sink has convinced you to try your hand at worm farming, here's what you'll need to do:
1. Find an old yoghurt, cottage cheese, etc container and poke a few small holes in the bottom.
2. Soak shredded cardboard for 15 minute, and wring out until it has the feel of a wet sponge.
3. Place cardboard bedding in container, mixing with shredded news and dry leaves (if you desire, you can leave our the leaves.) Make sure to place these materials with a light hand--packing material into the container will be devistating to your worms. Imagine you in a heavy duty sleeping bag that is wet and too tight for you to fit comfortably in. :o)
4. Add your family of worms on top of the material--they'll dig their way down on their only. You'll only need a few red worms, which can be acquired through a friend that has a vermicomposter, at the bait shop, or a gardening store.
5. Slowly add food scraps to your bin the first couple weeks. The worms are still adjusting to their new surroundings. You'll need to dice up peels and such bigger items at this point because they just won't eat that much, but in about a month, you can just add the whole peel, etc. to the bin.
Now you need to place your container in a plant saucer (so you can collect the worm tea.)
These little guys will live on a night's worth of scraps for at least a week. Once we were gone to ID for 5 days--i placed a hand full of potato peels in the container with some onion ends, and when we came home, i still didn't need to feed them for another week. :o)
Once the bin begins to fill up, you have two options: you can move them to a bigger indoor bin (like a rubbermaid storage bin--remembering you'll need something that big to collect the worm tea too) or you can build a wooden 2'x4'x16" covered worm bin (recommended for a family of four) using the same specs as our plastic container (minus the collection bin, because the worm tea will just run out into the ground) outside in a shady and protected area. As the bin fills, you'll move the compost to one side, filling the bare side with more bedding and food scraps. In a few days, the worms should have migrated to the new bedding and you'll be able to apply your compost to your garden.
If you choose to keep worms outside,
during the summer you'll need to add a layer of damp bedding on top of the scraps each time you make a deposit in the bin to help keep fruit fly populations down. Some have found covering the outside with a sheet of plastic helpful too.
during the winter, bales of hay will need to be placed on the sides and top (or solid core blue insulating foam can be used) to keep your wormies warm during those snow storms.


  1. This is fascinating! Do you have to keep them moist at all? You only give them scraps, and that's all they need? I always thought it was way more complicated than that to vermicompost. Now I want some!

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  3. Hi Bethany! In response to your comment: the bedding (damp cardboard and newspaper) will be enough to keep the worms moist. And the scraps you add will add moisture content too. Plus, if you think it is getting too dry, you can add more bedding (aka damp daily news.) Scraps really are all they need--in the garden, they get the cast offs of our plants on the ground, so they are actually getting the good stuff when you feed them your kitchen scraps. :o)

    Good luck with your worms!! I hope you'll try it, cause they are just that easy. There is a book, Worms Eat My Garbage that is recommended by our Ag Extension...maybe your extension would have some resources too?


Thanks for taking the time to read my silly lil musings. Hope you have a wonderful day!