Start a Worm Bin (part 2)

Continuing on with our Starting a Worm Bin series, here are a few commonly asked questions about vermi-composting.cartooncaterpillar

Q:  What do I feed my worms?
A:  Almost any whole, uncooked, food waste.  Here are some examples:

  • Apple peels and cores
  • Carrot peels
  • Celery
  • Egg shells
  • Banana peels
  • Lettuce stumps
  • Pepper stems
  • Herbs
  • Bread
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds
  • I think you get it

Q:  Ok, so what can I NOT feed my worms?
A:  This is actually a bit easier to answer.  Worms can eat a ton of stuff, but there are a few things that you should not feed them, either because they take a long time to break down or are too acidic or harmful to the worms.
These items include:

  • Citrus peels or citrus fruit
  • Meats, fish, tofu, beans or other proteins
  • Cooked or prepared foods
  • Dairy
  • Onions
  • Fruit rinds (watermelon, cantelope, etc)
  • Anything with cooking oils on it, like salad dressings
  • That’s about it!

Q:  What temperature do my worms like to live?
A:  About the same temperature you and I like to live in.  Avoid placing their bin in direct sunlight or cold temperatures.  I keep my bin in my garage, but other people I know put their bins under their kitchen sink or on their covered patio.  Just remember if you’re uncomfortable with the temperature, they are also.

Q:  How many worms do I need?
A:  Good question.  About 1 lbs should get you started, that’s about 500 worms.  Worms do three things:  eat, poop and make more worms.  In about two or three months, you’ll have double or triple that amount of worms in your bin!  Oh and don’t worry, they won’t overpopulate the bin.  After your first compost harvest, you can share some of your worms with friends and help them get their own bin started!

Q:  How do I keep pest such as fruit flies and other insects from filling up the bin?
A:  Although fruit flies won’t hurt anything they can be annoying.  Try to bury the food under the newspaper, this usually keeps the pests at bay.  For ants and other crawling insects, a little petroleum jelly under the edge of the bin should stop them in their tracks.  Although, I have really never seen any ants in my bin.

Q:  When can I harvest the bin for all of the castings (worm poop)?
A:  Usually the bin is ready to be harvested in four of five months.  See instructions on how to separate the worms from the castings (in the final part).

Q:  I live in an apartment and don’t have any plants, what should I do with all the castings?
A:  Well you can give them to your friends or you can “guerilla” compost in planters where you live.  The trees and other plants will love you for it.

Q:  Can I add grass, leaves and other yard clippings to the bin?
A:  Very sparingly.  The newspapers serve as the “browns” and the food serve as the “greens” in our little micro-world.   Too much yard waste can overwhelm the worms and start to rot before they can eat it all.  If you have a lot of yard waste, you may want to consider starting a traditional compost heap and use the worm castings to augment that compost.  They go very nicely together and will create wonderful nutrients for your yard.

Q:  What about vacation?  Does someone need to watch the bin while I’m gone?
A:  The bin can sustain itself for about 3 weeks without needing any attention.

Q:  The bin is a little smelly, what should I do?
A:  This is usually caused by over feeding or the lack of air.  So, just reduce one and increase the other.

Q:  Ok, this sounds like tons of hard work.
A:  Hard work is not…but it is some work.  I would plan to devote 20 or so minutes a week to maintaining the bin.  Most of this is spent feeding and “turning” the bin over to help aerate the compost.  Like almost anything, the more experience you get the easier it becomes.  I find it relaxing and enjoyable!

Q:  I have more questions.
A:  Google, Yahoo, MSN is your friend.  Do a quick search, there is a wealth of information out there.  Also, feel free to contact me!

Click here for part 3…we’ll start to build our own bin!

Author Information -  During his spare time Eric writes for and maintains For his day job he works for an electronics company in San Diego, CA. Eric has been a vegetarian for about 10 years and believes that going 'green' and reducing meat consumption go hand-in-hand.

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