Maintaining Your Worm Box Now that you have a box all set up you can start feeding garbage to your worms. Below are some tips to help you have a successful vermicomposting operation of your own. The box contains a bedding material composed of shredded newspaper (not shiny paper), peat moss, horse manure, and a little dirt to provide grit for the worm’s digestive system. It is damp, but not too wet. Damp newspaper is on the top to help retain the moisture in the box and reduce the presence of fruit flies when you feed the worms. It is populated with about 100 to 1000 worms babies and adults depending on what was purchased.
Box Location – Box can be kept outside or inside. Avoid sunny locations outside, and be aware that raccoons and other animals like to eat worms. Freezing temperatures can kill your worms. Some growers have successfully insulated boxes to keep them outside year around. A basement or garage is a good location for the box. Some people even keep the box in the kitchen.
Moisture – The box should never be allowed to dry out. Under normal conditions there is no need to add water. Try to maintain a moisture level like the bedding is when you get the box. Not wet, but moist.
Feeding – Feed small amounts in the beginning while the worms are getting acclimated to the box. Feed only as much as the worms will consume in a few days. If too much garbage is added, it might start smelling and fruit flies will become numerous. If this happens just don’t feed them for a while. They will take care of the excess in time. The food can be buried in the bedding or just put on top of the bedding under the newspaper on the top. The worms can go a long time without food, so a month or more vacation is not a problem. They will eventually consume the bedding material. Since the worms will eventually reproduce in large numbers, the amount of food they eat will gradually increase due to more mouths to feed. Worms will eat almost any organic material. Avoid all meats and large quantities of citrus. A few egg shells help to reduce the acidity in the box. My worms like bananas, lettuce, avocado, celery, coffee grounds and filters, spaghetti, melon rinds, asparagus, cardboard egg cartons, apples, pineapple and artichokes to name a few. Experiment and see what works the best for you.
Pests – Often worm boxes house other creatures such as mites, fruit flies, snails, etc. Usually this is no problem, and they are all part of the decomposition process. Never use pesticides to try to eliminate anything. You might just eliminate your worm population. I have heard centipedes are bad, so I kill any I find in my box.
Harvesting Compost – Usually I wait a minimum to 6 months before dumping a box to get the compost. Small amounts can be scraped off the top layer of the box if you so desire. Before dumping a box I stop feeding for a couple of weeks, so the worms eat up all the garbage. Feeding on one side of the box will concentrate the worms in that area, so you can remove compost from the other side of the box. I prefer dumping the whole box. I separate the worms from the compost by piling the box contents in cone shaped piles. I put a bright light on the piles which causes most of the worms to bury to the bottom of the pile where they can be collected. I put the compost in tub containers carefully to save any worms I missed. The baby worms are difficult to see. Often I put banana peels in the tubs of castings to locate the worms that I miss. It is amazing how many worms will gather at the banana peels. I put damp newspaper on the castings to make it a good environment for any remaining worms, so they will find the banana peels, and can be collected at a later date.
Starting a new box – After dumping a box, I start new boxes with the worms I collect or use the worms for bait or fish food for my fish pond. To start a new box make about 6 – 8 inches of bedding out of shredded newspaper or cardboard, peat most, manure, or whatever materials you have available. Add water to the bedding material, so when you squeeze it, only a small amount of water comes out. The worms live in this bedding and go to the top to feed on the garbage you provide.
More Information – I do not pretend to be an expert, but have had pretty good success growing my worms. I am always available to answer questions and provide lots of information on my Woo’s Worms website
(www.WoosWorms.Homestead.com/index.html). There is a plethora of other info on the internet about raising worms and vermicomposting. Just go to Google and input vermicomposting, worms, red wigglers, raising worms, or some similar topic. You will find plenty to read about. I am a member of the www.vermicomposters.com site which is another information source.