If your yard has spare square footage in a shady corner, you can fashion a worm bed out of practically anything that provides a relatively shallow, enclosed area--a closed system that will contain the compost worms, their bedding and their food sources. Worm hobbyists pride themselves on finding inventive re-uses for discarded items to maintain the sustainable agriculture principles central to worm composting.
Things You'll Need
- Salvaged item (e.g., discarded refrigerator, cinder blocks, lumber)
- 1/4-inch bit
- Measuring tape
- Hardware cloth
- Food scraps
- Red wigglers
- Spray bottle
- Marine grade plywood
- Rigid foam insulation
- Bales of hay
Prepare a salvage item to make your worm bed as "green" as possible. Use an old refrigerator, lumber, cinder blocks, bricks or hollow tile. Other options are steel half barrels, old livestock water tanks, washing machine tubs or other large containers.
Drill 1/4-inch holes in the bottom of your container if it has a solid bottom.
Clear and level an area equal to the footprint of your salvage item if you're using a discarded refrigerator or something similar. Measure, shovel and level an area 3 feet wide by 8 feet long if using bricks or cinder blocks. Place the dirt on a tarp for later removal. Dig down deep enough to bury your building blocks or container a foot or more in the ground to control the temperature.
Roll out hardware cloth lining for an open-bottomed bed if you have moles in your area to prevent them from eating the worms. Lay the hardware cloth on the bottom of the hole.
Add 12 to 18 inches of organic bedding to the worm bed. Plant wastes and animal manures, especially horse and rabbit manure, work well. Shredded paper and cardboard can also make fine bedding; soak these in water and wring out. Add food scraps in a pocket in the bedding and cover them up with bedding. Add additional pockets of scraps when the first pocket is consumed.
Add 1 lb. of red wiggler worms (Eisenia fetida) per square foot of worm bed. Gently tip the worms out of their bucket or muslin bag onto the top of the bedding and spritz with dechlorinated water that has sat for a day in an open-mouthed jar.
Cover the worm bed with a lid of marine-grade plywood; in winter, add a sheet of 2-inch rigid foam insulation inside the lid to keep the inside of the bin warmer and moister.
Insulate the outside of the bin in winter with bales of hay, piles of straw or alfalfa.
Tips & Warnings
- Align your worm bed lengthwise to parallel the prevailing winds. This will help keep the container lid from blowing off.
- Select a well-shaded area to avoid overheating the worm bed in the summer.
- You can start a worm bed any time of year, including in fall and winter, says Bentley Christie, a worm hobbyist in Southern Ontario who runs the online sites Red Worm Composting and Compost Guy.
- Do not use cedar, redwood or other types of aromatic lumber for the worm bed, notes biology professor Rhonda Sherman of North Carolina State University. These contain tannic acid and resinous saps that may harm the earthworms. Do not use pine, as it soaks up water and softens such that worms will begin to eat the lumber.
- Photo Credit Earthworms image by Ana Dudnic from Fotolia.com
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