Grab Bag

True Confession:
I gave up on worm composting

To recap the history here, I researched worm bins, saw a vermicomposting demo, and was psyched!  So I bought a compost bin and some worms from The Worm Girl and was on my way.  Or so I thought.

First, the big bin took up a lot of space and the spot I gave it was (apparently) too cold for these fussy critters over the winter.  Moving the bin into my living room worked, but Lord, who wants a worm bin in their living room?  And worse, when it came to harvesting the castings I had to manually separate the worms from the decaying food from the worm poop – not my idea of a fun time.

So I switched to a small multi-layer homemade bin and tucked itWormbinsmall300 under my kitchen sink.  Surely the worms, food and poop would sort themselves out without my micro-managing the process, I thought, but that didn't pan out.  And the bin was either too wet or too dry, had not enough food or too much, and I worried about failing at my worm-keeping duties.  After all, these red wigglers are out of their element here and would freeze to death next winter if I just released them to my back yard.  So honestly, I felt burdened by their care, inadequate to the job, and frankly, turned off by the whole operation.  (Hmm, is there a pattern here?  In my defense, I manage to keep three cats alive and happy.)

Lucky for me and the worms, my friend PamJ loves worms, and even has a blog – My Lovely Worms – devoted to their worship care.  Aspiring worm composters find her and she mentors them to worm-composting bliss (one assumes).  She agreed to take my worms and do something with them -  I don't really care but I'm sure she'll fuss over them, truly appreciate their special qualities, and eventually find them a good home.  A far better home than my own.

In this video you see Pam examining and assessing my worms and their bin, then the contents of her own worm bin – with cat.

Posted by on May 18, 2009 at 4:23 am, in the category Grab Bag.
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24 Responses to “True Confession:
I gave up on worm composting”

  1. Plant Lady says:

    I know I’m not ready for this responsibility!
    Plant Lady

  2. Do you think they’ll write?

  3. Gloria says:

    Worm bins are not for everyone that is true.
    A contained composter will work if you just like the idea of not throwing out all those fruit and vegetable scraps.Adding shredded newspaper to soak up the condensation helps keep it from being a soggy mess.

    I keep a worm bin in the laundry room closet,so far without incident.

    An easy way to separate worms from waste…
    Fill a couple of small nylon net bags (like an onion bag)with chopped kitchen scraps. Bury in the worm bedding, leave for a few days. Then remove bags full of wiggling worms to another container and start anew.
    Let castings dry out for a few days then sift out pieces of bedding and any worms you did not catch in the bags. Use castings.

  4. Elizabeth Stump says:

    You know, I’m not having the grandest of ease of use with my worm either. They are not eating as much as I was told or have read. Maybe some of my worms took off (I bought 2 lbs.) and I don’t have as many as I thought I did. I know I still have worms, as I find them when poking about through the bin. But I buried food and still find it rotting a month later. I added leaves, but found them seemingly untouched. I had a major fruit fly infestation and couldn’t seem to get rid of them. Maybe now that it has warmed up, they will eat more. I don’t know. I’m close to giving up.

  5. Matt says:

    Worms ARE fussier than cats. Who would have thought?

    I put mine in the garage on top of the water heater thinking it would be warm enough for them. Unfortunately, the composters became the compost (RIP).
    I’ll arm myself with better information from Pam’s site before I put worm lives in my hands again.

  6. Foy says:

    I just read Worms Eat My Garbage and started a worm bin outside. Granted I live in Panama and won’t need to deal with the possibility of freezing.

    We will see how it goes. The book talks a lot about letting the worms die when their job is done. So that is my plan, keep enough worms around for optimal compost and not worry if some die. They are not my pets.

  7. Michele Owens says:

    My country neighbor is doing this, but it always seemed like more trouble than it’s worth. Why not just have a nice, civilized outdoor compost bin and let the native worms do their thing?

  8. Maria says:

    I live in zone 7, and keep my layered worm compost bin outside. (Inside is my pretty galvanized steel bucket, into which I put scraps before I take them out once a week.)

    I’ve had no problems. The worms move themselves from one layer to the next. Once I stop putting food in the bottom layer, I can use that bottom layer in the garden a month later.

    It is a mildly gross process of burying the scraps, but overall I’m happy I bought this bin and worms.

  9. donna says:

    I shred the paper in my paper shredder — the worms deal with it a lot better and it soaks up the water more evenly.

    I neglect mine for weeks at a time and they do just fine.

    I tried the double stack thing but it really didn’t work all that well — now just use one bin and sort them into the other when I want to use the castings. All you really have to move is some bedding and the worms themselves, which is pretty easy if a bit messy. I use a small trowel to bury scraps, no big deal. I also keep an outdoor compost bin and use it for stuff the worms can’t eat. Perhaps the compost bin is the better solution for you!

  10. Pam J. says:

    Possibly the most important element in successfully rearing a family of worms is time. It takes lots and lots of time for worms to eat through apple cores and banana peels. Months, not weeks. The worms have no teeth and what they are really eating are the microscopic bacteria that form on the rotting food. Some people try to help things along by chopping up or blending or freezing the scraps before feeding them to the worms. Personally, I find this a bit ridiculous—it’s just a little too technological. My first harvesting, which took place 7 months after I set up my worm farm [note that Susan gave her worms only 2 months to start producing for her....], resulted in only 2 cups of castings. Readers of GardenRant may have noticed that Susan is a VERY busy person; I don’t know anyone with more energy. I don’t think she has any slothful genes, which makes me think she doesn’t have the temperament to sit back and ignore the worm bins.

    Her worms are quite happy and thank her for letting me, a person with many sloth genes, adopt them.

  11. firefly says:

    Thank you for posting this, Susan — it is exactly why I haven’t taken the plunge with indoor worm bins. I’m fed up with making mistakes in the garden already, and I’d rather feel guilty over using the garbage disposal in winter than over killing a couple pounds of red wigglers because I’m a noob.

    I think Michele O hit it on the head. I have an outdoor bin and it’s full of hardy earthworms, it looks like I’m going to get two batches (about 13 cu ft each) of compost per year out of it, and since these worms can take care of themselves, it’s one less thing I have to worry about.

    I admire your ability to try things and then be honest about them when they don’t fit or don’t work for you. Kudos!

  12. LauraBee says:

    Hmm – good info. My in-laws are giving me a “worm chalet” for my birthday ( my request ). Now I have a few more clues about what to do or not do.

  13. Worm composting isn’t for everyone. I just started mine a month or so ago, and so far so good. They seem to beating and producing castings.

  14. Todd says:

    For some reason, my worms all disappeared in the first worm bin I made, from plastic. I have had much better luck since making a big wooden bin. However, I have had to start with new bedding recently when mites showed up and the worms were unhappy. I know they are not happy when they hide down deeper instead of hanging out eating on the surface.

    So its not just as easy as tossing some food and harvesting the castings every few months, as some people make it sound like. It seems like you do have to take stock of how well they are doing weekly, and its very easy to overfeed. Its a little bit of a science fair project thats may be really worth it for a lot of people only if they have kids who are into it and learn something. Im going to stick with it, but I’m not sure how much benefit Im getting since I have lots of worms with zero effort in my outside compost pile much of the year.

  15. Gloria says:

    Young school children love these projects. Check out how we keep them from becoming a problem for teachers. I just finished a post about it because of this thread.
    http://pollinators-welcome.blogspot.com/2009/05/getting-worms-out-of-worm-castings.html#links

  16. Pam J. says:

    Todd wrote: “I know they are not happy when they hide down deeper instead of hanging out eating on the surface.” I don’t agree. Worms hide down deeper because they like to be where it’s dark and moist, which most often means deep in the bin. He also wrote: “So its not just as easy as tossing some food and harvesting the castings every few months, as some people make it sound like.” Again, I don’t agree. People who expect to harvest every few months are bound to be disappointed. As I said in an earlier comment this activity takes patience; worms aren’t fast but they are efficient. And although we all define “easy” differently, I don’t think tossing in food every few days and checking on moisture once a week is very hard. After reading all the comments to this post I realized that I love worm composting not because I expect to score a lot of castings but because I’m in awe of the entire process. Darwin said it best “Without the work of this humble creature, who knows nothing of the benefits he confers upon mankind, agriculture, as we know it, would be very difficult, if not wholly impossible.”

  17. Amy Stewart says:

    Those of you who have read The Earth Moved probably know that I’ve got a stacking bin–a Can O Worms–that I’ve had for over 10 years. It is incredibly easy and straightforward.

    Keep tons of shredded paper on top of the food/bedding to keep bugs out and wick up excess moisture. Bury food under that paper–keep a spading fork nearby for this. If the bin is too dry (should be wet as a wrung-out sponge–damp but not drippy), dropping an ice cube or two on the paper will allow everything to get slowly damp.

    I rotate the trays & harvest castings once every few months, and I don’t get overworried about separating out the worms.

    People using a homemade plastic bin like Susan’s should really just feed the worms and not worry about taking out castings until it’s really full of finished castings. Then wait until a day when you’re going to put new plants in the ground, scoop out some castings for the bottom of the hole, and plant. Don’t get too worked up over how many worms go in the garden. They may survive, they may not, but it’s all good for the garden.

    I’ve probably posted this before, but in case it’s helpful–on the upper left of this page is a 2-page PDF about worm composting you can download:

    http://www.amystewart.com/earthmoved.html

  18. Pam J. says:

    “Don’t get too worked up over how many worms go in the garden.” Such sage advice. And I needed to hear it. There’s an obsessive part of me that wants to have pure castings, and I’m willing to sift through fists-full of wormy castings pulling out the worms and dropping them back with the herd in order to get it (pure castings, that is).
    Hard-core vermicomposters can go to http://vermicomposters.ning.com/ to have in-depth conversations about worms.

  19. Todd says:

    Pam J, I don’t bury the scraps very deep in my bin, and I keep a dark plastic bag loosely on the surface in my wood bin. So at least near the surface is where its both moist and where the most food is. I haven’t been doing this long, but the only time I had real problem (with mites) they stopped eating much and went deeper. I’m trying to take cues from the worms as I learn what works and what doesn’t. Its the fun part of the whole thing for me, since the worms in the outdoor bins must be making castings without my help, but probably a lot more slowly and of course not when the piles heat up.

    The Can-O-Worms system sounds pretty darned good to me.

  20. I love my worms. I’ve been raising them for damn near three years now and probably haven’t harvested a gallon of castings. On the other hand, two layers of my Can-O-Worms are full, with plenty in the bottom, too. I keep having to dump the bottom catch tray back into the top working tray to keep up with the ‘escapees’. My babies are pretty happy to hang out throughout the bins, though I only feed them in the top. This is a great way to use up all the fruit and vegetable scraps, though a lot of it goes in the compost bin, too. I do freeze my scraps if they have any fruit in them, to cut down on the army fly larvae. (A good way to gross out my friends is to pick out that larvae in front of them. Wonder if it makes good fish bait?) I have some defectors… every container I re-pot is full of red wigglers! They have lived through summers when the temps hit 100 degrees, and winters when it was 16 degrees. outside… I don’t have room for them inside. Someday I’ll get around to actually using the castings, but I am the lazy gardener type, so it might be later than sooner. The drippings, though, that come from the spout… those I use even though I’ve heard mixed reviews on whether they actually do the plants any good. My two cents worth is that the drippings are good, and the worms are an integral part of my recycling.

  21. What a relief (I see a support group in the making.) Hi I’m Tom and I’m a failed home worm composter. [Hi, Tom!]

    Yep I think I’m going back to my old way of worm composting which is to bury a plastic laundry basket and place a weighted garbage lid on it to keep critters out. My fancy worm bin comes with too much pressure attached. ;-)

  22. Nick says:

    I have to say that as a lazy composter, worms are my friends. I live in Northern Nevada, where it routinely gets into the single digits, teens, and twenties during the winter. I mostly rely on my “Earth Machine” black plastic composter bin. Start with last year’s non-quite decomposed stalks etc, add kitchen scraps, then a layer of non-seeding weeds, then more kitchen stuff, then autumn leaves…and all the time little layers of wood shavings mixed with chicken poo from my stalwart hens. If I wasn’t lazy and actually turned the stuff I might get hot compost, but instead I get cold, wormy compost. Yes, the worms overwinter. Yes, I get buckets full of good black compost/worm casting stuff every spring. Yes, I just move the pile once a year, as part of my loose crop rotation strategy. As far as I know, the little red worms were always in the soil in small numbers, waiting for an organic bonanza. Go worms, go!

  23. Linda Keenan says:

    I was no good with the worms either. I bought a stacking bin system and apparently conditions were too moist for the first batch of worms, and they all died. Don’t know why the second batch expired, but given the size of my hard, the worms would only have made a very minor contribution to it, so I’m better off throwing stuff on the compost pile in winter even though little composing occurs in cold weather.

  24. Sharon says:

    I’m sorry, but this is just too icky for me. I compost and recycle faithfully, rarely use garden chemicals, don’t kill bugs or any other helpless creature, and I’ve accepted without complaint the litter box chores and dog-poop scoopage in my back yard. But I draw the line at keeping worms in the house. And excuse me, but enough with the polite euphemisms. Let’s call these “worm castings” for what they are: worm poop!

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