Basic Needs of Compost Worms

worm farming vermiculture

It’s an honour to have Adam ask me to post here on the Gentlman Vermiculturist. I’m not sure if that means he thinks I’m a gentleman but I’m counting it. Today I’m just going to post a review of the essential basic needs of compost worms

The Five Essential Needs of Compost Worms

Compost worms need five basic things:

1. An hospitable living environment, usually called “bedding”

2. A food source

3. Adequate moisture (greater than 50% water content by weight)

4. Adequate aeration

5. Protection from temperature extremes

Bedding

Bedding material for worms consists of a high carbon material like cardboard, coco coir, peat moss  or stable compost. It provides a safe zone for worms in the event food begins to ferment or heat up from thermophilc bacteria.

Food

A few commonly composted food sources for worms are food waste, manures, juicing pulp, spent brewing grain or other previously living organic material. Vermicomposting these wastes lowers greenhouse gas emissions and provides a valuable soil amendment.

Moisture

Worms berated through their skin. Without moisture worms suffocate. Excessive moisture makes separating worms from castings difficult and excessive moisture without proper ventilation can also suffocate worms. Keeping bedding about as wet as a “wrung sponge” is ideal.

Aeration

Worms and microbes both need sufficient oxygen to function. The sender your worm population the more oxygen they’ll need. Putting lids on plastic bins frequently causes worms to climb the sides seeking to escape to fresh air. Closed up bins also cause condensation which makes climbing easier for your worms. Lack of oxygen is almost always the reason behind escaping worms.

Protection From Temperature Extremes

It seems pretty obvious that you don’t want to leave a worm bed in direct sunlight where worms can cook. Nor do you really want to allow the bin to freeze solid. In a warm climate a shaded spot and a plan for cooling are necessary. In a cold region, often getting a thermophilic reaction going by adding a little extra food will be enough to keep worms active.

Providing these 5 basic needs of compost worms will increase your chance at successful vermicomposting.

Wanna read more from me? Come visit The Blue Worm Bin

Thanks Adam, I’ll invite you to write for me soon.

Worm bedding. What’s hot and what’s not?

Bedding is so important for your worms. It’s where they hang out when they’re not eating. Or they’re eating their bedding. It provides a safe place for them to hide if the conditions in your worm farm are less than favourable.

So what do you put in the bin for your worms to live in? The following list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start. Regardless of what is used for bedding, it should always be prepared. Typically this means soaking it in water for (about) twenty-four hours before putting it on the farm and then leaving the bedding for a couple of days to settle down. If you can add a bit of bedding from another farm, it will kickstart the microbe population.

worm farming bedding paley100 gentleman vermiculturist breeding more mixing bedding

  • Leaves collected and kept dry.  For new worm beds, soak the leaves in non-chlorinated water for a few hours then pour off the excess water. Dried leaves are both eaten by the worms and decompose naturally. This also serves as a pest guard when adding food. And they add a fresh, forest floor smell to the bins.
  • Shredded brown cardboard. Be careful of using “shiny” cardboard as it can contain chemicals to make it shiny. Corrugated cardboard works very well. You can either shred it or tear boxes up into small scraps. About 10-15cm square is fine.
  • Used office paper, pieces of cardboard, shredded newspaper. Paper is an interesting one. Inks used on paper used to be potentially harmful to worms. More often than not, the inks are soy based and fine for worms.
  • Coconut Coir. Most store bought farms ship with a block of coir and worms are commonly sold in peat. Coconut Coir usually has to be soaked in water for a while so it expands. Ideally, non-chlorinated water is best, but using tap water and leaving it to sit so that the chlorine evaporates is fine too.
  • Used coffee grounds. Coffee plus worms? High-speed vermiculture, anyone? Used coffee grounds contain nitrogen and are a great food source if properly balanced with carbon like dried grass clippings.
  • Torn up egg carton. Seriously, worms can’t get enough of this. Making a bed entirely of torn up egg-carton and feeding it a cup of kitchen scraps each week and you’ll have some very happy worms!

Don’t forget that variety is the spice of life; even for worms. While all the bedding listed above is awesome bedding by itself, mixing up bedding ingredients makes your happy worms even happier!

Is there anything that you use that your worms just love? Let me know in the comments below!

How to Make a Worm Compost Sifter

how to build tools worm compost sifter final assembly wire

DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT A NEW IDEA. IN FACT, IT’S A BUILD OF A COMPOST SIFTER I SAW HERE:
http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s4561569.htm

Simply put, it’s three second-hand bicycle rims screwed to some batons and mounted onto a frame that sits on top of a wheelbarrow. You load up the cylinder with compost and as you spin the cylinder smaller bits of compost ready to go on the garden fall through the wire mesh. Larger bits are deposited out the end for further composting.

Costa’s video is straightforward and easy to follow. In need of more detail, I have undertaken the build and recorded it here in my own worm compost sifter.

WARNING: I have a year 8 pass in woodworking, so some of the steps can probably be done better! Also, be careful with the tools kids and use the appropriate safety gear.

The compost sifter is ideally used as a faster way to sort worms from worm compost. The 6mm wire I eventually used, should be small enough to stop worms dropping through into the finished vermicompost. However, some smaller worms and also cocoons in the worm compost will fall through the wire. You can either sort through the sifted worm compost to retrieve the worms or leave them where they are.

A more thorough sorting method is to take the finished worm compost and place it under a light source. Worms are photovores and will naturally burrow towards the centre of the pile. After giving the worms ten to twenty minutes to burrow begin scraping the worm compost away. It should be devoid of worms or only have a few slow coaches left behind.


A high schooler’s knowledge of woodwork? What could possibly go wrong?

Checkout Page Two – Tools used
Checkout Page Thee – Build instructions