Worms in a Tote with Mara

Hi,I’m Mara Bacsujlaky, community
development agent with the Cooperative Extension Service. And today I just thought we’d talk a
little bit about how to do composting worms in a tote at home. There are commercial worm bins that you
can use, but a really easy and cheap way to do
composting worms is to use this simple Rubbermaid tote. In
order to do this, a tote of any size will work well, but I’ll the larger the better, and
you will want to drill holes in the tote so that your
worms can get air. You’ll want to drill a series of holes
to give the worms ventilation and fresh air to
breathe. To start your worms you’re gonna of course
need a tote of a pretty good size so that they have room to multiply and produce lots of compost. You’ll need to have some bedding material
for your worms to live in and that usually consists
of shredded paper. You can use newspaper, newspaper’s great. If you have access
to office shredders, you can also just use
regular white shredded paper. The one thing you want to avoid
using is the color inserts that come in your newspaper. If they’re shiny, they tend to
use inks and paper that has some clay in it which is not something that worms particularly care for. You’ll also
need to have food for them. You can save food
scraps, tea bags, things like that, vegetation
like lettuce and carrots ends and things are really good.
Coffee grounds are good worm food. You can give them the paper filter, they
like that, and egg shells. The one thing you want to avoid putting
into your home tote worm composter are things like meat
scraps, fish scraps, and citrus. The meat and fish will have
your warm tote starting to smell and since it’s going to be in your house, it’s not a good idea. Worms also tend
not to like to eat citrus rinds and things of that
nature. The last thing you’re gonna need are,
of course, your worms. For worm bins, the commercial worm bins, they
usually advocate or recommend about a pound of worms, and that’s how they’re sold. However, when
you’re doing a worm tote, it’s a much smaller space, and it’s quite possible to get a good
crop of worms going with just about a yogurt container full of worms. You can get worms ordered through garden
catalogs at the lower forty-eight. You can also call your local Cooperative
Extension agent. You won’t need a complete pound for a
tote because its a smaller space, and they multiply quite rapidly. So now
that we have all the things that you need for your
worm tote, let’s go through setting it up. The first thing you’re going to want to do is put down
a bed of newspaper strips. So just fill the bottom of the tote with about an inch of newspaper strips,
again, remembering not to use any of the colored inserts or
shiny paper. You don’t want to use magazines either. Shred up a bunch. Also, worms need to have a certain
amount of moisture in order to stay healthy.
They breathe through their skin. So after I put in enough newspaper, I take some water and I
just slightly moisten the newspaper. A spray bottle
works really well. It’s important not to have it over wet because then
your food scraps will mold, and also sometimes it can get so wet in their that your worms will actually drown. I happen to
have some shredded office paper and some since worms really like this as bedding, I’m going to add that as well. So I put that betting in first, mix it up, make sure it’s good and damp. So here we have the bottom of the tote and about an inch or so of newspaper, and in
this case shredded office paper. I’ve moistened it. Then you’re gonna want to add soil. In
commercial worm bins, they actually have tiers, and they have a certain way in which you put the
materials, like the newspaper first, the soil, the
vegetable leavings, and then the worms. In this case
it’s all going to be mixed up together, and the worms are just going to be burrowing
through it, much like they do in a garden, so I don’t worry about it too much. I
just put the newspaper on the bottom because it helps soak up any extra
moisture. I then add some soil, in this case I
have an old plant that died, and I would like to rejuvenate the soil,
so I’m just gonna toss it in there. There’s plant roots in there. That’s
even all for the better because they will eat the plant roots as well. So I clean out the soil. If you don’t have enough soil, you can
add some, either soil from your garden, if you have access to that or some
commercial soil. It is basically a substrate for the
worms to live in. You know worms, earthworms live in earth, so you want to give them some soil to have as a bed. In this case ,this soil is really dry
because it’s been sitting in a pot, so I’m gonna again wet it with some water and just mix it up. Again, trying to leave
most of the newspaper on the bottom to soak up any extra moisture. So this pot of soil actually is not quite enough
soil to get the worm started, so I’m going to add a little bit of commercial
potting soil because I don’t have any other used
potting soil. So again, I just add a couple handfuls.
This is not exact rocket science as you might of gathered. I just put in enough to pretty much have
the worms something that they can live in and stay. They like dark. They don’t like to be out in the light, so they want to be able
to burrow in enough soil to have a nice home. Again, I add a little bit more water,
like I don’t really have a precise measurement. This was four cups of water that I added to the
tote and that’s probably about right too start your worm bin. Again, it’s gonna
depend on how wet your soil is that you put in there. You don’t want to be
able to squeeze the soil and have water running out of it. That would be way too
wet for them. Again, you’re gonna be checking your
worms in the first few days to make sure that everything is okay, and if it seems too
dry in their, then you’ll add water. If it’s getting too
wet, what I do is I just tear up more newspaper, shred it. this is about a good width for worms, and
I just add more newspaper because then that will soak up some extra moisture. You can also put shredded newspaper on top of the
soil. Worms use them both for bedding and they also digest it, so this is a good way to compost your
newspapers for your garden as well because they will eat that, digest it, and pass it out as
worm castings. Then you can put that into your house plants and garden. Now it’s time to add the food to the
worm tote before we add the worms. First thing we are going to add are the
vegetable leavings. Generally I put food into one end of the tote or the
other because what this will do is cause your worms to migrate to one end. They’ll sit
there, digest the food, and once you get your
worm tote up and running, you’ll have castings. If you migrate all your worms to one end, it
makes it easier to to pick out the castings without worms and use them. So I just clear an area in
the tote, I put dump in the vegetable leavings, the
scraps you have kitchen. In this case we’ve got some
rotten jalapenos that I didn’t use, a little bit of old cilantro, lettuce, and an eggplant piece. I also add the coffee grounds on top. Worms are not really fussy, so yes this can get messy. Keeping worms is
not very neat. So I clean out the coffee grounds, giving a little extra moisture. I’m also going to add in this case some egg shells, and i dump that in the corner, and then you have this corner of food. Then I’m
just gonna cover it up with some soil and a little bit of the newspaper. That’s all you really need to do to start your worm bin. The last thing we’re gonna
throw in there are the worms and in they go. As you can see,
they’re all here on top. What they’ll do if they’re going to
migrate down. They don’t like light, as you can see. They’re crawling to get away
from it. They’re going to migrate down and start eating the vegetable stuff. We’ve added the
worms and their food and now it’s time to close up the worm bin. First, before I do that, I generally add
a couple sheets of newspaper, just flat on top. I don’t shred them. I
moisten them a bit with just a little bit a water. The
reason I do this is for a couple reasons. One is that it keeps the
worms moist. The other is that with vegetable scraps
and things like that you often get vinegar flies, fruit flies, and other little flying bugs. Because you’ve drilled holes in the top
of your tote lid to give your worms ventilation, these little bugs and
that will fly up and out and into your house. So if you’ve moistened newspaper and keep it on top of
the worm bin inside that helps cut down on the pests
that come out of the ventilation hole. So your worm bin is now set
up ready to go and just put it aside in a nice warm
place. You don’t want to keep your worms too cool, so that they multiply and compost your scraps. Let’s take a look at a worm
bin that has been in operation for quite a bit of time. So as you can see, a worm bin in action is
not a very neat and orderly thing. Again in a commercial worm bin
which has several layers, you’re not gonna have everything all
mixed together. This is the old newspaper I kept on top
to keep the bugs down. Here’s a piece of old sweet potato. It has
been in here a long time, and if you notice in your worm bin things that are not
getting digested, that’s a clue to you that your worms
really don’t care for, and then you don’t feed it to them
anymore. So I’m learning that they don’t like sweet potatoes. I’ll take that out. If you paw around in it, you will
generally see that the worms will be in one area or the other. In this case, I have a
collection of worms down in this corner cause thats where I last put food, and I probably
have some over here. It is important to routinely remove the worm castings
because if you leave them in there too long they can become toxic to the worms. It’s time for me to do that. I usually let the worm bin get up to about
this level in the toe, and then I go through, and I have to pick out and clean up the worm castings. If you
are neater with your warm tote then I have
been, you won’t have everything all jumbled together. I’ve been kinda pawing
through this to see how many worms I had. I have not been taking a lot of care
with this tote, and so I wasn’t sure if I even had worms, but I do. So what I’m going to do is leave it all to
one side and then get a bag and start picking out the worm castings. I just take out most
of the worms. It’s okay if you leave some of the worms
in the castings because they’ll live in your potted plants quite
well. If you put them out in the garden, in almost all of Alaska, they’re not gonna
survive the winter, so don’t worry too much about having a few
worms left in your castings. When you take them out, you’re gonna
wanna sit and try to get out most of the worms, if there’s any large food items left.
When your worm tote is set up, you might have a
question about how often to feed your worms. Again, in a commercial worm bin, the
purpose of that is you have a large number of worms, so that you can actually compost a large
amount of your kitchen waste. The goal is to compost all of your
waste. In my case, I have chickens, so they get a lot of my
composting vegetable scraps, and then I have
this worm tote. I feed them maybe once every two
weeks, and sometimes I forget about them and maybe it’s a month or so. I just check them regularly, and if you
put too much food scraps in, what will happen is the words can’t process it, and
it will start to rot. That will make your worm bin smell bad, and also it tends to build up this gooey,
slimy mess. There’s too much moisture in the
worm tote. It’s not healthy for the worms, so I kinda go by feel. In this case, container of about this size, every two
weeks is good for a tote of this size. It’s also gonna depend
on how many worms you have. In this particular case, in my tote right
now, I don’t have a really high worm population. I suspect that’s because I haven’t
been feeding them very much. If you feed them a lot, you’re going to
have a higher rate of worm reproduction, so it’s not an exact
science. Now let’s put the lid back on this tote,
and I hope you can see from this that it’s really easy to set up a worm. It’s very economical, you don’t
need to buy one of those multi-tiered commercial worm bins. You
just find a place in your kitchen or in a side
room that’s relatively warm, and let the worms do their thing.

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