Saturday, October 29, 2011

Permaculture 101: All about Worms!

Vermiculture Explored and Explained

Vermiculture is the practice of keeping worms for the purposes of super-speed composting and generating what is known as worm-castings, an INCREDIBLE fertilizer for your garden or pots. Worm castings are full of micro-organisms and bacterium that are helpful and healthy for your soil - and when you make your own, it's the cheapest fertilizer you can get. Another helpful by-product is the compost tea that you can drain from your worm bin and use as additional fertilizer for your garden (not as strong or balanced as compost tea you might find in a garden store or online, but it still works!).

Keeping worms? Don't they just live in the soil? Well, yes, but worms actually travel quite a ways under ground and if they're not finding delicious food for themselves in and around your garden, then they will move on and you will lose the benefit. For some time now humans have been creating worm bins/enclosures that are ideal for the tiny vermin and in turn they solve a major problem for us...what to do with food-waste?

For longer than I can remember my parents tried different methods of composting. Trenching - digging in your garden and dumping food waste there, once the hole is full you cover it up and the worms in your garden do the rest. Compost Bin - one of the most popular methods for dealing with food-waste, but it often results in other unwanted guests in your yard or garden such as raccoons and rats/mice. Some compost bins deal with with this better by providing a frame and a container that does not touch the ground, but in my experience, the mice are smarter that the air-born compost bins and find a way to get in all the same. With each attempt we continually attracted raccoons, rats and mice and wound up having to set traps which never felt right to my family.

The Solution!

Build a worm-bin! I decided that instead of just showing pictures and writing about what a worm-bin is like it would be more beneficial to give you a video experience of the worm-bin I built with my community for our apartment complex. Enjoy and as always, please ask questions, let me know what you're interested in and I will do my best to incorporate the answer into my future posts. Grow your own!


  1. Having a worm bin is a great way to cut food waste and make healthy soil at the same time. My question is about other bugs, and whether they are a problem. We quit using newspaper to layer over fresh food in the bin for a number of reasons. Seems like this led to an explosion of pill bugs (those grey colored roly-poly guys). And I do mean explosion. Maybe we can consult and I can learn if they are a problem or not.

  2. Hi Dave: Thanks for including a post about worm bins. Is it possible to buy an affordable "pre-fab" worm bin or "assemble it at home" one? Would love a bit more of an explanation re: the two sides of the bin and how you presumably get the worms to move from one side to the other so you can use the fertilizer without throwing out all your worms. How many worms do you put in there and where do you buy them? How many people contribute to your bin and how many pounds of fertilizer does it produce for you? Another naive question: Why are the worm castings better than other home compost? For that matter, what exactly is a worm casting? Katia

  3. Tamara,

    Concerning bugs... Those bugs are NOT good for your worm-bin. The larvae have sharp pincers and will agitate your worms. The best thing to do I have found is to cover all your food waste with a layer of dirt each time you dump food. That has kept most of the bugs out of our bin, but admittedly I go out there once a day to make sure that food-waste is all covered.(Not all our neighbors cover it up!) Another trick would be to cover it up with an additional layer of un-inked cardboard (or soy ink is ok), worms LOVE cardboard like you wouldn't believe and it helps to keep other bugs from making your worm-bin 'home'.

  4. Katia,

    Pre-Fab worm bins are definitely available online. Here is a link to the one we bought on amazon (I used this one before we built our large community one and it was excellent):

    As for how we get the worms to move from one side to the other... It's quite simple actually. The worms are very good at finding food in the soil, they can 'smell' it with the membrane on their bodies. We came up with a simple and effective solution to allow the worms to migrate back and forth. The center piece is actually just a 2x4 frame that we then nailed in vertical palate pieces alternating sides - not all in a row on one side, but one vertical piece on one side, then the next on the other side opposite where you would have placed the vertical slat on the same side in order to make a wall. In this way, we can keep the food (mostly) from just being one huge bin and the worms can move freely from side to side. If you have anymore questions, or need me to be more specific or draw up plans for how we did it, just let me know and I would be happy to pass on the information. I should warn you though that we kinda flew by the seat of our pants on the design and just figured it out as we were building.

    The project turned out incredibly well, we have a 1.5 month turn-around once a side is 'resting'/full. and we don't worry too much about losing a few worms on one side because we have SOOOO many now. In fact we are going to be selling red-wigglers from our bin this spring in order to create a community fund with which we will purchase plants for our community garden! I have found that worms each eat their body weight daily, so a pound of worms means you want to be producing about a pound of food waste per day for them. Every two months or so your worms (if kept in the right conditions) will double! So... you either need to start putting them in your garden, or give them to friends, or ... fried worms? (just kidding!)

  5. Thanks Dave. I already had a bit of knowledge about Vermiculture before finding your blog, but this post (and the great comments) have helped me gain knew insights into this type of composting AND inspired me to think more about doing this on a large scale for my farm! More questions to come...
    Thanks again!