How to start a worm bin from scratch?
This site contains affiliate links, for more info, please read my full disclosure page here.
I’m happy I can start making a small side income while being really eco-friendly. I also teach kids how to start a worm bin in a wormy kind of way.
Growing worms is really eco-friendly.I would advise everyone to start a worm bin at home, even if it’s only to keep your kitchen scraps from going to the landfill.
if you want to see my video about it, check below.
There are many kinds of nightcrawlers, some go deep into the soil and others are soil dwellers.
Some nightcrawlers, who burrow deep into the soil are really healthy for the soil but it’s really difficult to keep them in bins as they wander around and far too deep into the soil for us to be able to make a bin that would be able to house them.
Some nightcrawlers love rich nutrient-rich compost. These worms will be attracted to compost heaps and heaps of manure. It’s those worms we need to grow in our bin.
The soil dwelling kind of worms that love manure and compost, will gladly eat your kitchen scraps. They will return the favor by giving you nice black gold. Yes, compost is black gold, especially worm compost. If you want to make perfect compost outside, read this article.
There are several different kinds of nightcrawlers that are able to thrive in a bin. There’s the European nightcrawler, there’s the red wiggler, there’s the African nightcrawler.
The European nightcrawler
I want to talk about the European nightcrawler specifically as it’s the only kind I’m growing at the moment.
Mind you, the system that I set up can also be used for the red wiggler and the African nightcrawler. But there are some differences in reproduction rate, the quantity of food and temperature.
The European nightcrawler, Eisenia Hortensis or dendrobena venata, different names for the same creature, is a soil dweller. It’s the big cousin of the red wiggler. Just like the red wiggler, it loves to eat kitchen scraps and can live in a bedding that consists of cardboard or compost.
For a beginner, the European Nightcrawler is a perfect first choice. The species is quite hardy and can withstand some abuse.
Dendro’s, another name for the critters, can be grown in lower temperature and they are the most tolerant of temperature fluctuations and environmental changes.
Although dendro’s burrow deeper than the red wiggler, they are still considered topsoil dwellers and they will be happy with decaying material whether it consists of animal manure, kitchen scraps, wood mulch, decaying leaves or rotten grass.
In one day, an ENC can eat about half of its body weight. This means that if you have a pound of worms, they’ll eat half a pound of kitchen scraps. This calculation isn’t 100% foolproof as they also munch on the bedding. But it does give you an average of what you can expect when growing them in a bin.
How to grow the number of worms?
Yes, you read it right, we divide the growing to size and the growing in numbers.
There is a difference in growing a lot of ENC’s towards growing large ENC’s. In professional settings, they need two different accommodations for the worms to expand in size or in numbers.
ENC’s don’t mind crossing each other multiple times a day. They are used to live and love to live in a colony. The more worms in the colony, the more babies you’ll get.
How to grow the size of the worms?
On the other hand, if you want large sized worms, you’ll have to give them enough space to grow to their full size. Fewer worms on a bigger surface will make them grow in size instead of growing in numbers. Of course, they’ll need the right amount of food as well as the worms will still eat an average of 50% of their own body weight.
ENC reproduction rate
The reproduction rate of European Nightcrawlers is quite rapid. They can double their population in about 3 months if all the optimal conditions are met.
They will have about 1 cocoon a week with an average of 1.1 to 1.5 hatchlings per cocoon. The hatchlings will be mature breeders after 13 weeks.
Temperature range to grow ENC’s
As already mentioned above, Euro’s can tolerate a broad range of temperature extremes compared to other nightcrawlers. The best temperature for euro’s is about 18°C or 64.4°F. But they can withstand temperature from about 4°C or 39°F to 25°C or 77°F without dying off.
It is said that red wigglers can withstand lower temperatures than the European nightcrawler but I have kept them out of the wind in outside freezing conditions and they didn’t seem to be bothered in any way. If it’s too cold, they’ll just stop eating and reproducing until better times arrive.
Heat can be a problem in the summertime as the bin starts to heat up due to sunlight. Temperatures above 25°C or 77°F can be devastating, especially if there’s not enough moisture in the bin.
They can withstand really extreme temperatures but keeping them inside in a controlled environment will greatly impact their reproduction and health. So, try to keep them in a basement or a room where you can monitor moisture content, food, and temperature.
moisture and oxygen
European Nightcrawlers, like other worms, breath through their skin. For that to happen adequately they need moisture. ENC’s need more moisture than red wigglers.
Although moisture is a necessity, make sure the bedding doesn’t turn anaerobic due to compaction and too moist conditions. Without air in the bedding, the worms will suffocate and die.
You can use shallow bins to avoid compaction, but make sure to check the moisture level daily.
Food for the hungry
Above all, worms need food. As long as it’s organic, it’s probably ok to feed to your worms but I will mention some materials better not to feed the worms.
- Meat products, meat products can attract rats and other vermin and can make the bin really smelly. Meat can also turn anaerobic in no time.
- Cooking oil and fat. It is possible to give these products in really small quantities but I wouldn’t recommend it as the oil can cover the worm’s body and suffocate it.
- Citrus fruit. The acidity can kill the worms. Once again, it is possible to give in really small quantities but it’s better to try this out once you’re more used to the bin and have some experience with it.
- Human waste. Worms kill off a lot of pathogens but still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Pet waste. Same problem as with human waste. Potential pathogens can be dangerous to us, humans when the compost is used to grow vegetables in.
- Pineapple. Pineapple contains an enzyme that can dissolve your worms so it’s a big no-no.
As already mentioned above, as long as it’s compostable and not part of the list, you can probably safely give it to the worms.
Start an easy bin with worms, how to start a worm bin in practice?
Now, how to start a worm bin practically?
First of all, we need a bin in which we drill really small holes 1/8th of an inch or so. Make sure you drill enough holes so excess water can drain easily.
We also need a second bin or something to catch the water draining from the holding bin.
Back to the first bin. You can start filling the bin with paper shreds, cardboard pieces, old potting soil, aged compost as a bedding. Don’t use too much old potting soil as this will compact down after a while but mix it in with your paper, cardboard, and compost.
It’s also possible to just make a bedding of cardboard shreds alone, but then you should start making the bedding at least 2 weeks prior to putting in the worms. You should do this to make sure that the wet cardboard already contains microbes which the worms can then ingest and feed off.
Make the bedding about 4 to 5 inches high, between 10 and 15 centimeters high. You can put in your worms at this point.
A number of worms
A 1/4th pound of worms per square foot should be okay to make the compost at a decent tempo and expand your colony at a high rate. If you want a lot of compost and don’t really mind the number of worms, you can go with a pound of worms per square foot. That way, the bedding will be turned in no time.
Now cover up the worms with another layer of bedding, let’s say another 2 inches or so, about 5 centimeters.
At this point, you can add the food. I personally add the food on the one-half side of the bin and about half an inch high to 1 inch high. Just make sure it doesn’t start to steam because your worms will most definitely crawl out of the bin at that moment.
avoid pests, cover up
Now you can top up the bedding with another 2 inches or 5 centimeters of cardboard. This avoids messing with fruit flies and other pests in your bin.
Cover the bin with a plastic sheet or cardboard sheet to keep the moisture-content inside the bin high enough for the worms.
Give it time
When you have finished setting up your worm bin. Try to leave it alone for about 2 weeks. Just check the moisture level in the bin from time to time as newly wettened cardboard can dry out really quickly.
After about 2 weeks you can check the food and start feeding if necessary. Always cover the food with cardboard or something else because you’ll get fruit flies in no time if you don’t.
If you want to see my video about my worm bin, check below
I think this is about all you need to know to start up a new worm bin. If I missed out on something, feel free to contact me or comment below the post with recommendations. After all, this is an article on how to start a worm bin, so more info makes it easier to start.
So this is it for this article on how to start a worm bin, I hope you’ve found it interesting. If so, please share on social media, with friends, and other gardeners.
If you want to be notified when I put on new articles or video’s, please subscribe to my newsletter on the right side of this page.
Thanks for reading and see you in the next post.