Waiting for the Worms

…And thank you Pink Floyd for the title of today’s lesson and for years of psychedelic bombast.  Quite a nasty little song actually, a free autographed Ojai Rambler hockey puck to the first reader who can name what album it was from, without cheating.

A bit of a change of pace today, thought I would try a “how to” on one of the few projects that I actually completed.  I became interested in vermiculture after a failed half dozen attempts at getting a composting bin going.  I wanted something more compact and neat which I could keep close to my house so I didn’t keep forgetting about it and letting it dry out or die.  There are plenty of websites out there to get you started, just thought I’d share what worked for me.


A plastic Rubbermaid bin, with lid.  Holes drilled about 2 inches from the top, all around the entire bin, the worms need oxygen.  Also 8-10 holes drilled in the bottom to let the liquid goodness drain (save this stuff if you can).

The preferred worm is the red wriggler, Eisenia foeteda, which I purchased at Green Thumb.  I started with a one pound bag, I eventually needed another for reinforcements.  Unlike your average garden nightcrawler these guys love eating organic kitchen waste and multiply like crazy once you get a nice balance going in your bin.

Worm’s Home

The bedding should be made up of shredded leaves, lawn clipping, wet newspaper or cardboard, hay, random garden trimmings.  Twigs are OK, but nothing thicker, it will take too long to break down.  Also a little sand, dirt, fireplace ash are good for the worm’s digestive capabilities.  Fill up the bin no more than halfway with this mixture, make sure it is moist but not wet.

The bin should be kept out of the sun, indoors is great if you have a spot, if not a dark spot on the porch where it doesn’t get to hot is fine.  The ideal temperature is 50-80 degrees.

Worm’s food

We feed them mostly kitchen scraps like potato peels, rotting fruit, banana peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, wilted lettuce etc.  No citrus, no bread, meat, dairy or oily stuff.  I feed them about once a week, placing the contents of my collection tub in a corner of the bin, buried if possible.  It will take a while to get the proper balance and for the worms to start thriving.  For a full 6 months I had all sorts of funky uninvited bugs and the worms seemed to be disappearing.  Just watch out for bad rotting smells or flies, that means some meat product got in there somehow.  I eventually had to buy a new bag of worms, but that was it I now have 2 full bins teeming with them.

As you start using your earthworm castings in the garden as fertilizer or mulch you will need to slowly add back bedding product to the bin.  I’ll throw in a few handfuls of garden trimmings and wet newspaper every other month

Making Compost Tea

Again, there are numerous sites with instructions, this is what worked for me.  It took at least 6 months until there were enough castings to make tea, but I now have as much as I need.

You’ll need a 5 gallon bucket, fill it with water and let it sit in the sun for a day to let the chlorine burn off.  You will also need an aquarium air pump with 4 aerator hoses (less than 30 bucks at Petco), horticultural molasses (Green Thumb), and something to hold the worm castings, I use a sock, you could use pantyhose, or cheesecloth.

Scoop out a healthy 2 handfuls of worm castings from right in the middle of the bin, get way down there.  Now’s the fun part.. picking out live worms to throw back into the bin, I just try to get the big juicy ones, you’re not going to get all of them.  Stuff 2 of the aerator hoses then your filtered worm slop into the sock.  Drop that in the water, I use a clothespin to keep the whole thing from submerging.  A healthy dollop of molasses (sugar feeds the happy microbes), drop the other 2 aerators into the water and rev up your pump to max.

At least 24 hours but less than 48 and you’ve got 5 gallons of concentrated earthworm tea.  You can cut it by at least half for use in the garden (again use water that has allowed chlorine to burn off).  Use the processed worm glop as mulch or a nice salad dressing.  It’s a great way to save a few bucks on fertilizer, waste less in the kitchen and get a little dirt under your nails, and who doesn’t love that.

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4 Responses to Waiting for the Worms

  1. Brian says:

    That would be The Wall. Was just listening to that last weekend. Worms are cool.

  2. Melody says:

    Do you think a Worm Cafe sitting in the shade of a shed here in Ojai will be too warm? I’ve got the perfect balance, but already lost one $15 box of worms from Green Thumb…

    • ojairambler says:

      My box sits in an area that gets no direct sun but gets plenty hot anyway. Best test is check the box, if you are constantly needing to add water to keep the contents moist then find a new spot. I went through a couple of bags of worms before it finally took, keep with it Melody and thanks for reading (especially 2 year old articles!)

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