Thursday, January 19, 2012

DIY Worm Hotel in Six Simple Steps

Our raised beds have been built. Our compost is happily rotting away. But we still don't techincally have soil yet. You see, the soil in Wilmington is mostly sand, and we needed something more nutritious for our garden. Worm castings (basically worm poop) are a nutrient-rich source of organic fertilizer, so we bought some worms and put them in our raised beds. Worms, however, can be expensive and we needed a lot. Enter: the worm hotel.

With a worm hotel, we could colonize our own creepy crawlers and keep our garden stocked and healthy, with the added bonus of having some new friends. And this is exactly what I did last Saturday.

DIY Worm Hotel in Six Simple Steps
(We basically followed the instructions found here, with a few alterations)

You will need: 
Two 8-10 gallon dark colored plastic storage bins
A drill with 1/4" and 1/16" drill bits
Shredded newspaper
A few handfuls of leaves, dirt and finely chopped kitchen compost
One pound of redworms


1. Using the 1/4" drill bit, drill 30 evenly spaced holes into the bottom of both bins. These holes will provide drainage and allow the worms to crawl to the second bin when you are ready to harvest the castings. I drilled from both ends to get rid of the jagged bits of plastic, as I didn't want my worms to injure themselves.

2. Using the 1/16" drill bit, drill ventilation holes at one inch intervals along the upper perimeter of each bin. Using the same drill bit, drill about 50 small holes in only one of the lids. The bins are done! Now it's time to prepare the bedding.

3. Begin by shredding newspaper into one inch strips. I used my paper shredder for this step, which was very convenient. Next, briefly soak the newspaper in water, then squeeze the excess water out before placing it in the bin. You (and the worms!) want bedding that is moist but not soggy. Cover the bottom of the bin with 3-4 inches of moist newspaper, fluffed up. Next, add the leaves, soil, and kitchen compost, so the worms have something to snack on while they enjoy their hotel stay. Finally, add the worms to the mix and watch as they immediately begin burrowing away from the light and into their new home.

4. Cut a piece of cardboard so it will fit snugly in the bin, over the worms and their bedding. Run water over the cardboard so it's wet, then place it in the bin. The worms love cardboard and it will break down within a few months.

Worm hotel: phase one

5. Place your worm hotel in a well-ventilated area. We're keeping ours in the kitchen, next to the trashcan, so we can easily add our kitchen compost as we create it. Elevate the bin by placing it on blocks or bricks to allow for drainage, and use the lid of the second bin to catch whatever drips down. This "worm tea" is a great liquid fertilzer.

6. Feed the worms! Start slowly - as the worms multiply, you can add more food. Gently bury the food (we're using kitchen compost) in different sections of the bin each week - burying it will help keep fruit flies away. Also, from what I've read worms are pretty much vegan, so give them things like vegetable peelings, tea bags, coffee grounds, bread and grains, and fruit. Avoid meat, dairy, oils, and feces.

Worm hotel: phase two

Here's the part that confused me slightly, but after reading it a few times it makes more sense. At first, you will be filling up one bin. When that bin is full, you'll start using the second bin. To get the worms to crawl from the first bin into the second, place new bedding material in the second bin and place it directly on the compost surface of the first bin. Begin burying food scraps in the second bin and, in one to two months, the worms will have migrated to the second bin through the holes you drilled in the bottom. Once the worms have taken up residence in their new hotel, the bottom bin will contain worm free vermicompost that you can put directly into your garden. (You may have a few stragglers, but that's okay.) Obviously I am not yet at this step (the above photo was just for demonstration) but I will let you know if it works, when it works.

And that, my friends, is how you build a worm hotel. Happy composting!

No worms or dogs were harmed in the taking of this photo.