Setting up a box to grow worms will take some time and effort, but the end product is well worth the effort. For those of you who are lazy I do sell worm ready-to-go composting boxes which are populated with worms. The Instruction Sheet for these boxes is below the set up instructions.
How to Set up a Worm Composting Box
The following set up procedures describe my method of setting up a box. Other worm growers may do things slightly differently, but this has worked well for me.
1. Get Container for the Worms. Plastic boxes or totes at least 10 inches deep work the best. However, plastic buckets, wooden boxes, or other stable containers can also work. Styrofoam and metal containers are not recommended. Worms do not like light. so see-through containers are not recommended. Volume of the container should be from 5 to 20 gallons. Surface area tends to be more important than depth. Larger containers would work, but would be very heavy to move around. The container should have a tight fitting top which can be removed easily for feeding the worms.
2. Ventilate the Box. Next step is to drill holes in the box to provide adequate air flow for the worms. I usually drill a minimum of 25 1/4 inch holes in the upper 1/3 of the box. That is about 5 or 6 holes to a side. A few holes drilled in the bottom of the box to release excess liquid that may accumulate is a good idea, but can result in a mess on the floor unless some sort of tray is put under the box. Holes in the top will also help with the air flow. I have had very good success with boxes that do not have air holes in the top or bottom so the choice is yours. Clean out the box after drilling holes. The worms might not like the scraps from the drilling operation.
3. Prepare Worm Bedding. This is the material the worms will live in while they are not feeding on the top. I use shredded newspaper for my bedding, but other materials such as shredded cardboard, peat moss, computer paper from the shredder, horse manure, leaves, etc. will also work. Do not use the shiny newspaper or magazines for the bedding. The worms don't like it. Colored newspaper is OK. I take the newspaper and rip it with the grain in narrow strips. One of my customers showed me that newspaper shredded in a shredder even works better, but both methods work well. I put the shredded paper in a large container and add a few large handfuls or peatmoss and a little dirt to provide some grit for the worms digestive system. The end result will be mostly paper with dark traces of peat and dirt. Don't fret over the portions. The worms are not too particular. Now gradually add water to the bedding mix. Stir it up with your hands until the water is well absorbed. The end product should be very moist, but not wet. If you take a handful and wring it out, you should only get a few drops of water. If it is too wet, just mix in a little more shredded paper or peat moss.
4. Put Bedding in Bottom of the Worm Box. Add the bedding to the box. I like a depth of 6 - 8 inches. I like to let it sit a while to be sure the moisture is evenly distributed. If you are patient, let it sit for a few days which will give it a chance to start the microbial processes required for a good worm growing environment. The end product should not be hard packed. I like to fluff it up a little before adding the worms.
5. Obtain worms. Chose the type of worms you wish to grow. I would suggest red wigglers for composting and pet food, but European or African nightcrawlers for bait. Red wigglers can often be found in manure piles. Results from using normal garden worms will be very poor. They are a soil dwellers and not top feeders like red wigglers and the nightcrawlers mentioned above. Friends will often provide extra worms from their boxes for others to start vermicomposting. Least desirable method is buy them from another vermicomposter, bait store, or worm farm, but you can chose exactly what you want. Also, once you buy some worms you should never have to buy them again.
6. Add Worms to the Box. Add 100 - 1000 worms to the box. 1 pound of worms is approximately 2000 worms. It is often said to use 1000 worms per 1 square foot of surface area of the box. That would work well, but the worms multiply fast and successful boxes can be started with fewer worms. The down side is the process will take longer if you start with fewer worms. The more you add the more garbage they will eat resulting in more compost and more baby worms. I have found a box started with only 100 worms has produced well in 8 months time. Obviously maintaining a proper environment and proper feeding is key. Putting a bright light on the worms will get them to burying into the bedding faster and reduce the possibility of them wandering.
7. Initial Feeding. I usually put a very small amount of food in a new box, and do not add any more food until the worms have become acclimated to their new environment and the initial feeding is being consumed. I find 1 or 2 old banana peels or a few lettuce leaves is a good starter for feeding. They love bananas and lettuce! Usually they do not start eating the food until it starts to rot.
8. Final Step
I like to cover the top of the bedding and food with a good section of damp newspaper that covers the whole surface of the bedding. Covering up the food with shredded newspaper also works well, but the whole section of newspaper can be easily lifted to check the worm activity. I find the worms like it and it helps reduce the fruit fly population from finding the food. Caution! Check the boxes often in the beginning. Sometimes they have a tendency to roam and get out of the box openings. Retrieve any wanderers and put them back in the box. I have found the nightcrawlers tend to wander in the beginning more than the redwigglers. That's it. You did it. Good Luck. Read my instruction sheet below and other topics on Vermicomposting on this site and other sites to become knowledgeable, so you can keep your worms well and happy.
Woo’s Worm Boxes Instruction Sheet
Your worm box is all set up and ready for you to 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 8 oz. of red wigglers both babies and adults. That would be approximately 1000 worms. The number of worms will vary depending on the size of the box and type of worm as well as the price.
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.
Questions - Feel free to contact Woo via email at email@example.com or by phone at 508-240-1014.
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A copy of this document can be found on my Woo’s Worms website under Vermicomposting/Setting Up Box.
To facilitate printing a Word copy of this document is available by clicking the link below: