Saturday, March 29, 2008


I love worms!! So many people have asked me about my worm bin and vermiculture that I thought a photo 'how to' would be appropriate. Worms eat our garbage, some things around town, and as a result they create the richest compost available.

Above is a picture of my bin. It sits outside of our house next to our water heater. The bin is made of plywood and has some leftover green paint to match our house. One cool feature of a worm bin that is different from a compost pile is that it doesn't smell. The worms eat food that is rotten/decayed. The smelly stuff. So as long as they are doing their job the bin is smell free. One testament to the lack of smell is that the bin is permanently placed below our bedroom window as seen in the picture.
Here we have half an empty bin. The compost that was in the lower half is now in my garden and I'm ready to start again.

Here are my ingredients. The main ingredient in the bin is horse manure that is pictured in the blue barrel. The worms love this stuff and one of our friends has a horse with plenty of manure to go around. Going clockwise the big rectangle is some compressed coconut fiber which I use as the bed or base of the bin. It is the only purchased product for the whole process. The green bags contain coffee grounds and filters obtained from Peet's (yum). Below that we have some kitchen scraps that we keep in a tall tupperware container under our sink. And last we have newspaper. The key to this process is to balance nitrogen based products (manure and kitchen scraps) with carbon based products (coconut fiber, coffee and newspaper) by making layers inside the bin.

Here is our first product. On the left is the coconut fiber and next to it is a bin filled halfway with water. The coconut is tightly compressed so I like to crumble the fiber as I put it in for a soaking.

I let the fiber the fiber soak in water for 30 minutes so that there is no more dry coconut.

Add the soaked coconut fiber to bottom of bin until it is about two to three inches deep. The excess water that the fiber holds will just drain out the holes in the bottom of bin. (holes in bottom of bin are hard to see in the photos. There are hundreds drilled into plywood bottom but are just filled with dirt in photos)

Coconut bed is complete. Some people will add coconut fiber every few layers to keep that balanced nitrogen/carbon ratio. I follow up with loads of newspaper because it is free and readily available.

Now for the good stuff! Manure is added next. Again about two to three inches. I usually give it a little sprinkle of water before going on to the next layer.

Over each layer of nitrogen based product I add some shredded newspaper. These layers keep the worms diet balanced. It would be totally possible for a bin to have food scraps and nothing else. You would get a great product. Adding these layers makes my compost more moisture retentive, spongier (if thats a word) and helps break down my clay soil faster.

Fresh layer of paper ready for some more good stuff.

Kitchen scraps. Really the only items that don't make it into the bin from our kitchen are dairy and meat products. Worms eat most everything else like hair, egg shells, bills that are over due...

Layer of kitchen scraps

Some coffee and coffee filters added over kitchen scraps. The coffee layer is maybe a quarter of an inch thick, maybe an eighth. Now some more manure...

Thats pretty much it. I just keep repeating these layers until this half gets full. The worms make there way from one pile to another eating the fresh food.

Last we have a full bin topped with coffee filters and some grounds. The new set of layers will be ready in about three months or less.
Some days you can't pass up taking a peek at the progress thats going on inside. Day and night the worms are busy making compost. One of the only ways that I would upgrade the setup is with elephant manure. And believe me I've tried to acquire some from our local zoo here in Santa Barbara but they thought it was a liability.
Here is a pic of some early strawberries in 100% vermicompost from my bin.

Pics of finished compost comming soon...


Amber said...

Nice write-up! It looks like you have a great set-up there.

Thanks for your comment on my blog, I appreciate it. Let me know if you find out anything about keeping them warm in the winter. Where I live (at about 3000 ft) we get some pretty cold temps and snow during the winter. I was thinking that perhaps if I had something like what you show, but nested in another box with maybe styrofoam insulation in between that might be enough to keep them from freezing.

Mesa Lane said...

Its all about the layers right? That sounds like a great idea. Keep those little buggers insulated! Thanks for the comments. I will check back soon with any winter related worm ideas