The next step in vermicomposting is filling the worm bin with worms and bedding for the first time. I might as well toss in a few words about siting the bin too.
Obtain bedding material.
The bedding is basically the worm home. People like to live in houses, worms like to live in bedding. The bedding is also worm-edible, so it’s a bit like a gingerbread house for people, I guess.
Bedding can be made from any paper-like or carbon-rich material. Newspaper is popular because it’s ubiquitous and free. Cardboard, egg carton, office paper, peat moss (nonrenewable), coir, straw, sawdust, fallen leaves are all fair game. The thing to keep in mind is that since the worms are going to be living in and eating the bedding, you want it to be non-toxic, and about as chemical-free as possible. Appelhof, the Worm Woman, recommends staying away from colour inks (black is okay!) because they’re probably toxic.
We use an egg carton-like material; one of the places from which Hide buys wine uses it as packaging for the wine bottles.
If you’re using paper bedding, you need to rip it up into small pieces to give it more surface area and the ability to fluff (remember, aeration is #1!). I’ve heard that some people use paper shredders. We use our hands and guests who sit next to our bedding pile (it’s like bubble wrap: you can’t help but pick at it).
Fill bin with bedding.
Appelhof suggests filling the worm bin about three-quarters full. If that seems like a lot to you, just remember that the bedding is going to be where the worms live; you want to give them room. They’re also going to eat the bedding over time.
Since the bedding is going to form a home for the worms, it needs to be moist just like the worms themselves are. The rule of thumb is that the bedding should feel damp like a wrung-out sponge — not soggy, not dry. Appelhof suggests that, by weight, the ratio of water to bedding should be 3:1. She also says that for plastic bins, that ratio could be 2:1, since plastic bins tend to get soggy. I use a watering can to wet the bedding.
Throw in a handful of grit.
Grit helps worms digest, just like rocks help chickens. You can use a handful of dirt or rock dust. The nice thing about dirt is that it also provides a hit of microorganisms that will get your worm bin ecology started. I’m ashamed to say we actually neglected this step — we figured that the bedding in which the worms were shipped and the aged compost forming their first meal would be enough. I guess it was, because I didn’t see any problems with the bin.
Site worm bin.
We put ours indoors, in the kitchen, right underneath the trash can. It’s convenient and fits well where we put it. We tilted it so that the drain hole is the lowest point in the bin, and put a cup underneath to catch leachate. So far, no leachate. I guess that means our bin isn’t getting too soggy…
Mostly, siting is about convenience. I’ve heard that worms don’t like vibration, so don’t put them by the washer or dryer. But ours is close to the washer and dryer, and I haven’t seen the worms attempting a mass exodus yet. Worms also don’t like temperature extremes, but if you keep them indoors, in the same area where you’re also living, then they should be fine.
There are different species of worms who specialize in different ecologies. For worm composting, the best species is Eisenia fetida, also known as ‘red worms’ or ‘red wrigglers’. Some people also use European nightcrawlers, but unless you know your worms, I say stick with the tried and true.
Appelhof suggests getting enough worms so that the worm to garbage ratio (by weight per day) is 2:1. Most places sell worms by the pound; if you get more or less than what you need, the population will adjust. However, if you start with fewer worms than you need, be sure not to overfeed them as you wait for the population to increase.
Here are some ways of getting your hands on some red worms:
- Find an aged manure pile and dig in. (Too gross for me.)
- Find a friend who’s willing to share. (Didn’t have one.)
- Buy some from a local worm farmer or a bait shop. (Couldn’t find any.) Make sure to specify the species.
- Order online. (We ordered from the Worm Woman site.) Make sure that the supplier guarantees live delivery; despite precautions, things can happen, and worms can die en route.
Place worms in new home!
Make a small depression the bedding and put the worms in. Cover them with a bit of bedding. Leave them in darkness and allow them to get acclimated to their new home for a day.
I found that for several weeks, I had a handful of worms crawling up the sides and onto the lid. I was worried that their wandering was an indication that conditions in our worm bin weren’t right, but then Bentley reassured me: it turns out that this behaviour is perfectly normal, especially right after you put worms in their new home. You can read his post, but basically he says that commercially grown worms are accustomed to vast manure piles, so they tend to wander when placed in a comparatively tiny plastic bin.
Next: feeding the worms.