Worming my way back into the garden

It’s been a long time, but I’m back! A lot has happened since my last post that kept me away from gardening, mainly my move away from Washington back to sweet home California — San Diego, to be exact. And to sweeten the package, I have my very own yard now to transform into a vegetable playground.

I have big plans for this yard. This picture will be different once I get cracking. But I’ll elaborate later on my plot to take over this yard. First, I need to restart what I consider one of the most important gardening tasks: composting.

One of the instances that prompted my gardening hiatus was the passing of my red worms back in Richland. I made the mistake of moving my worm bin outside (where the temperatures reach over 100 F in the summer). The worms did fine until the triple digits hit. One day, I found them all clumped in an almost dry ball on the cement. They likely escaped the bin trying to find some cooler air just to get hit with hot, dry desert air and no hope for resuscitation. It was a very sad scene.

So now, I’m starting with new worms, as well as a new worm bin. I built a multi-tiered setup with “fancy new features” that could hopefully make the following tasks much easier:

  • harvesting ready vermicompost without having to sift out the worms
  • keeping the worms from crawling out when opening the lid
  • keeping fruit flies out

Here’s what the complete setup looks like:

IMG_20160104_213539 Materials used:

  • 3 plastic storage totes (10 gallon size) w/ lids
  • Wire basket reclaimed from a tossed-out shelving unit — this is the platform to keep the worm bin above the ground
  • Plastic yogurt cup — to harvest the leachate (worm bin drippings)
  • Drill with 1/2″, 1/4″, and 1/8″ hole bits
  • Red worms (bought a bag of worms with their bedding from Walter Andersen Nursery)
  • Worm bedding: shredded newspaper (not the glossy kind) and cardboard (paper towel tubes, eggshell cartons, boxes)
  • Food: fruit & veggie waste (I also add eggshells that are washed and crushed to the compost pile, but the worms don’t eat these)

Building the multi-tiered worm bin:

  • Leachate collection tray (bottom tier): Drill a 1/2″ hole at the bottom on one side of a plastic tote. Leachate will collect in this tote and drain through the 1/2″ hole into the yogurt cup for collection (commercial worm bins typically attach a spigot on the bottom tier to drain and collect the leachate, but I was too lazy to install one).IMG_20160104_212109Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes around the sides a few inches from the bottom. IMG_20160104_212304
  • Stacking trays (middle and top tiers): Drill 1/4″ holes at the bottoms of the remaining plastic totes. These holes are for drainage and for worms to travel through.IMG_20160104_212405Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes around the sides about an inch from the top. IMG_20160104_212439
  • Stacking tray liner: Take a lid for each stacking tray, cut out a large rectangular opening in the middle and trim away the outer border/lip of the lid. The liner covers the perimeter of the tray’s top opening. This will keep the worms from crawling over the edges and shelter the tray’s contents from fruit flies and other things (the tray bottoms are slightly smaller in size than the tops, so there’d be a small space that’s exposed when the next tray gets stacked on top). IMG_20160104_213002Here’s what it looks like next to an uncut lid for comparison: IMG_20160104_212939

Cover lid: Drill 1/8″ ventilation holes in one lid. IMG_20160104_212627

How to use the worm bin:

  • Place the leachate collection tray on top of the wire basket/raised platform, set the yogurt cup under 1/2″ drainage hole.
  • Set one stacking tray into the leachate collection tray (the side handles keep the stacking tray above the the leachate collection tray’s ventilation holes).
  • Set the liner right into the top of the stacking tray.
  • Fill the tray with moistened worm bedding, red worms and food. Seal with the cover lid. The worms will gradually turn the fruit & veggie scraps and bedding into compost.
  • Once this tray is full, remove the cover lid and set another stacking tray (with its liner) on top. Start filling it with fresh scraps & bedding. Seal with the cover lid. The worms will move up to this top tray where the new food source is and leave behind ready-to-use compost in the tray below — eliminating the need to manually separate the worms.
  • This setup can be expanded to include more stacking trays, if necessary.

Here we go!



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