Beast in the East here to share some worm bucket construction and proper use information. The method I’ve been using is very EASY and low maintenance. There are probably 100 correct ways to build and use a worm bin, and I’m not a seasoned worm farmer or anything, but my system is built using a lot of research I’ve done on the internet and listening to experts through podcasts and online video – and it actually works really well.
I use a 6 gallon plastic bucket with a gasket lid. Get your bucket used or new, as long as it’s food grade. Most buckets are made of HDPE (high density polyethylene), which is ideal. My bucket previously held grape juice for wine making. You can probably locate a bucket like mine at any home brew store – most likely for free at the right time of year. You can also try local restaurants, bakeries, etc.
Cut an air hole about 5 inches in diameter in the top of the lid. It doesn’t have to look pretty, and you can probably use a steak knife if that’s all you have! This is to let in fresh air for the worms, while keeping the little dudes from escaping up the sides and over the rim. It’s IMPORTANT to get a bucket with a tight fitting lid that has a gasket. Otherwise the worms may crawl out. When you order fresh worms online they will be pissed off and want to get out of the bucket. Soon, though, they will realize how awesome the worm bucket is and stay inside.
Placing air holes in the bottom is optional. I drilled about fifty 1/4 inch holes and then covered that area with screen door mesh and sealed the edges with silicone caulking. I had those materials laying around and so I used them. If I didn’t have silicone then I would use duct tape. If I didn’t have screen door mesh then I just wouldn’t make the bottom air holes. The holes in the bottom are NOT for drainage. This bucket will never be that wet. If it gets to the point where liquid comes out the bottom the you f*cked up and you will have a fungus gnat farm instead of a worm farm.
“Bedding” material is what the worms will live in, eat, and convert to worm castings. I initially assumed I would be placing a bunch of kitchen scraps inside the bucket. WRONG! Those fruit and veggie scraps are mostly water, and will end up causing a soggy bedding for the worms and attract a bunch of fungus gnats. Since worms breath through their skin, a soggy bedding will restrict their oxygen and may kill them. Good worm bedding should be like a perfectly watered growing media, like a wrung out sponge.
You can amend the bedding with coffee grounds and spent tea leaves from the kitchen, but that’s about all I would put in mine. Other human food amendments are dry corn grits, dry milled barley (found at the home brew store), kelp powder, neem seed meal,…. it’s easy to see that everything you would put in a living soil also has a place in the worm bin. Rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t put the amendment in your growing media, then don’t use it in your worm bin.
The “base” bedding material is composted cow manure. I am using this because Clackamas Coot said it in a podcast. He’s my personal hero and I know he wouldn’t steer anybody wrong. In fact, you could use any compost as your worm bedding. Coot was excited about receiving some leaf mold/compost that he was going to make worm castings from. Just make sure it’s done composting, since actively composting material will increase in temperature and may kill the worms. The worms will work the compost until it’s just amazing worm castings. You won’t believe how effective they are until you see it yourself!
My cow manure compost comes from a local dairy that uses organic practices, but isn’t certified organic, and lets their manure age three years before I get it for free (hey, I know a guy). I built a screen sifter to sift out rocks and sticks from my compost before adding it to the worm bin. It’s made of 2x4s and some 1/4 inch hardware cloth I picked up on Amazon for $15.
Just put the screen over a wheel barrow and move the compost around with your hands until all that’s left is larger sticks, clumps of hard soil, wood chips, and rocks. The next picture is the compost before sifting. If you don’t have that kind of space, just make a smaller sifter and use a small bin or bucket to sift into. If you really don’t want to go through the trouble, then just use the compost without being sifted, no problem! It’s just important to use the compost.
It’s a really satisfying thing to see the uniform particle size after sifting. the reason I’m sifting to save work later when I’m separating the worms from their castings. The 1/4 inch mesh will catch most of the worms later on, and since I’m removing all the larger pieces, the worms will not be mixed with sticks and rocks when I sift them out. This next picture is the compost after sifting.
This next picture is what’s left behind after sifting. Definitely would be difficult later on to separate the individual worms from this larger material.
After you fill the bucket with compost, just add worms! Mine came from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm and were purchased from Amazon for $30. This is enough for at least one bucket. The species I use are Red Wigglers. There are other varieties, but these are supposed to be the best composting worms. It would be nice for them to have some used coffee grounds as food when they arrive in the mail, so put some grounds on top of the compost, place the worms on the grounds, and then use the coffee filters to place on top of everything else. It keeps the surface nice and moist for the worms but also allows it to breath. You can also use some printer paper, newspaper, cardboard, or a paper plate. I notice the worms like to congregate underneath and munch out on the grounds.
Note that your compost will likely NOT need watering, unless it is VERY dry. These worms thrive in a somewhat dry soil. Think about when your plants are in a somewhat dry soil and they are praying towards the light and growing like crazy. That is the level of moisture that worms love as well. I have never added water to my worm bucket. The worms also like temperatures that plants like. I try to keep them from 60 to 80 F. Isn’t it cool how plants and worms like the same environment? It just makes sense that they evolved in the same type of ecosystem and are meant to exist together.
Initially, the worms will try like hell to get out of the bucket. But if you have a proper gasket lid then they shouldn’t escape. Once the worms settle in to the coffee grounds and compost, they won’t even care they exist is a 6 gallon bucket!
When you’re ready to screen the worm castings just sift the worms out using the sifter and place them into a fresh bucket of compost. And the cycle goes on…
Something I didn’t do is add aeration to my worm bucket. My compost was at a nice moisture level before adding the worms, so I didn’t think it’s an issue, and screening the compost adds a lot of air to the mix. Worms also seem to make their own aerated soil structure naturally. If I WAS worried about aeration then I would add rice hulls. You can score a 50 lb sack at any good home brew store for about $40, and the sack is the size of a small woman! Brewers use them to provide good drainage and water distribution in their mashing and lautering process, so you can be sure they will do the same with air/water in your grow media. Another plus is they will break down over time and turn into compost. Not so sure perlite would break down as well, but if perlite is all I had then I would use it without issue.
Here are some resources:
The Cannabis Science and Cultivation Podcast – there are currently three interviews with Clackamas Coot, and I listened to each of them about 5 times. He just has some excellent information about making worm castings, compost, and growing organic. Tad also has another interview with “Microbeman” Tim Wilson where they also discuss worm castings. I’m pretty sure all the interviews include worm castings talk.
Larry Hall (YouTube channel). He’s an expert worm grower and shares all his knowledge for free. He’s the inspiration for the bucket design and adding dry amendments to the soil. Here’s the video of his worm bucket design.
Again, I’m not an expert, but this system has been keeping happy worms for a while now and most of the components were completely free. In fact, I only had to buy the worms for this project and I have multiple buckets. If you have limited space, then you can stack the buckets while keeping air flow by placing small (about 1 ft) sections of 2×4 lumber in between the stacked worm buckets. If you run into problems with fungus gnats then pick up some Gnatrol from Amazon – there is a seller that buys bulk and repackages into affordable sizes. Gnatrol is simply BTi (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis). This stuff works great in plant pots and in the worm bin. I ran into a sod moth problem in my worm bins and I cured that issue by using Safer brand Caterpillar Killer, which is simply BTk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki). Thanks Guru and DGC for helping me identify those little moths. If anyone would like to share their own worm bin info then I would really appreciate it! Let’s all be worm experts together.
Beast in the East