Our ‘Inherited’ Worm Farm

Backstory: I had started some Meyer Lemon plants from seed several years ago, and had to transplant them into some new pots. I’m a very frugal person (translation = miserable penny-pincher) so I used dirt from our property. 

Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Our lovely Meyer Lemon trees are growing wonderfully in our sunny bathroom. However, I had been having an ongoing problem that was starting to get out of hand. I was getting piles (and I do mean PILES) of dirt out the bottoms of the pots. I’d clean it all up, toss it into the top, and find the same piles out the bottom the next day. It was crazy!

Worms...

So finally I stopped and checked to see what was ‘living’ in my pots. To my surprise, there was a happy growing colony of worms in my plants! I had heard that Meyer Lemon plants were needy little souls, so instead of buying fertilizer (there goes my frugal self again), I had been dumping the tea scraps into the plants that were left after I made tea for the kids.

So we had worms… and as soon as my children discovered that, I also had dirty kids and a filthy bathroom! Those poor Meyer Lemon plants. So for Nathan’s birthday, we made him a worm farm. ...And bought some new soil, devoid of worms, for my Meyer Lemon plants.

How it works

Worms, especially the red composting earthworms, tend to migrate upwards to where the food is. Then they push their castings out the bottom (hence the piles of dirt out the bottom of my Lemon trees).  So we take advantage of that by creating a slightly tapered multiple bin arrangement. Then the bins can sit inside each other providing a way for you to feed, harvest, and drain the worms’ home. Then we screwed holes in the two upper bins so the worms could migrate between the bins easily. The bottom bin catches the compost ‘tea’ (great for fertilizing your plants with).

Worm castings are collected from the lower bins while you put the compost or food scraps in the upper bin. Then, once the middle bin is full of rich, black, compost, you would then harvest all the castings. Place the upper bin (with scraps) in the middle. Then the empty bin goes on top and you start over again.

Here is our farm...

Here is a picture of the entire bin system set up. The bottom bin usually doesn’t have much by way of compost tea, but that could be because we are in a dryer climate. We used blocks of wood to lift the bins some and give the worms some extra space.

The top bin is where I add the compost and scraps. I start by making a ‘bed’ of shredded paper or newspaper and sprinkle some sand on top. Then I use a watering can to add moisture to the bed. Then I start adding our kitchen scraps on top of that. 

Here are some of the items I like to give our worms:

Fruit peelings (not citrus)
Melon rinds
Carrot scraps
Tea bags or scraps
Bread
Cereal (unsweetened)
Pasta (plain)
Lettuce
Cornmeal
Squash
Paper towels/napkins

Here are some things you want to limit or avoid adding: 

Onions and onion skins
Potatoes and potato peels
Citrus fruits and their rinds
Animal feces
Meat
Fats or fatty foods
Dairy foods

Harvestime!

The middle bin is where you harvest the compost. Once I’ve added plenty in the top bin (usually after about 2-3 months worth of compost) and the worms have migrated primarily from the middle bin to the top, then it’s time to switch. I’ll pull the top bin out, and remove the dirt from the middle bin. Be sure to pull out any extra worms that might still be in the middle bin. Once it’s empty, I’ll move the top bin to the middle position, and place the empty bin on top. Then I make a bed of shredded paper or newspaper, sand, and get it wet in preparation for new kitchen scraps. The worms finish eating up the middle bin and slowly migrate to the top bin.

And the black gold you just harvested from the middle bin is WONDERFUL for your garden, house plants, etc. 

Does it stink?

I've had several people ask me if it stinks. Amazingly the answer is No. Not at all. It’s sitting in our dining room and the worms stay busy enough that there is not any problem with that at all.

It’s your turn… tell me if you have a worm bin and share with me what you’ve learned! I’m relatively new at this, and we are loving it. It’s not uncommon to hear my kids squealing with joy with little wiggling worms in their hands. 

Lisa Meissner

I'm a blessed wife, a proud mother, and a happy homesteader.

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