If you’re squeamish about worms, you may be tempted to stop reading right about now (and yes, I’ll admit that photo may not help), but hang in there, if you can, for one more sentence or two. At least buy a bag of worm castings, called vermicompost, and spread it on your soil. It improves soil structure, immunizes soil with micronutrients, encourages microbial life, and can even increase seed germination rates and speed. Still with me? How about I tell you how to create your own worm bin? It doesn’t smell (or, if anything, it smells sweet). It takes very little time to maintain. It’s just not that big a deal. In fact, you would never know I even have a worm bin in my garage. I know this for sure because I had that worm bin in my living room for almost a year and no one knew it (well, or at least no one mentioned it).
The trick with worm bins, as with any part of composting, is keeping the system balanced. With worm bins, that means creating a healthy environment for the red wrigglers (that’s the kind of worm you need–not earthworms) and then feeding them just enough, but not too much.
I ordered my worms online many years ago, which made for a fun package to receive (said possibly with a little sarcasm), but I hear you can get them at a bait shop, or you can get them at Farmer D Organics’ Briarcliff location. I’ve been happy with my homemade worm bin (a large container with a lid, with small holes drilled into the sides and lid), but many people prefer those worm towers where the worms crawl from one level to the next, leaving behind the rich remains (and yes, you can find them at the store and at the Farmer D Organics site online, too). That’s a better option if you want to create a greater quantity of vermicompost than I make.
Where “worm bins go bad” is when, let’s say, a teacher lets 25 students all feed the worms their apple cores. Every day. The worms can eat half their weight in pounds of food per day, but, let’s be realistic here, they are little. They don’t need that much. Rotting, smelly food is inevitable in that situation. (A better solution for a class might be five appropriately-sized bins each labeled with a day of the week so that each bin gets new food scraps only once a week.) I feed mine a small amount of kitchen scraps maybe every two weeks (being sure to include some egg shells as they need that to help them break down food), and I pay attention to how quickly or slowly they are consuming things and adjust accordingly. I am also diligent about covering the food thoroughly with shredded newspaper. You will find that the worms actually consume this over time, and it will be clear when it needs to be replaced. Final worm care tip: be sure to keep them in a location that’s not too hot or cold; the garage has worked out just fine for my worms year-round in our metro-Atlanta climate.
When you are ready to remove some vermicompost, you simply scoop some out and then pick the worms out. Okay, you hate that idea, don’t you? If you have a child or a neighbor child you can borrow, you may find he or she loves doing this. If not, just put the food scraps in the opposite corner each time you feed and the worms will migrate toward them, making it easier for you to scoop from the other side.
Do you like the idea of vermicompost but are not on board with the worm bin yet? How about just encouraging more worms right in your garden? Now we’re talking about earth worms. You can put down cardboard before creating a garden bed and that will attract earth worms. You can also dig a trench and bury your kitchen scraps in it and that will attract earth worms as well. (Remember to not do too much at once, and be sure to bury the scraps about 8-12 inches deep; also, don’t include meat or fats). Now, that was easy instead of queasy, wasn’t it?