Are you ready for it? From this side of 2019, it looks like 2020 is sure to be a year of excitement. With the US presidential election and the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, we’ll have lots to keep up with.
Right at home though, I’m hoping things stay pretty chill. Ironically though, I’m also hoping to move. I’m looking for a bit more garden space for using my worm castings!
As I’ve begun to plan for the months ahead, I’ve reflected on what the past year taught me. I’ve grown as a mother and wife. And I’ve made changes and discoveries as a worm farmer too. What about you?
For better or worse, it’s almost time to say good-bye to 2019. 2020 is here for new starts and do-overs. Hooray! Want to know what my year as a worm farmer has looked like? Today I’ll show you how much we’ve achieved this year with our red wigglers. How they’ve impacted our daily lives, and our gardens.
Come to think of it, I have one other surprise for you too!
Time to Take Stock
I’m happy to report that overall I’d say 2019 was a success for me and my worms. Yet, some of my gladness is bittersweet. In truth, I had to learn some hard lessons I rather hadn’t happened.
It could have been avoided. I should have known better. I did know better. Alas. Live and learn, right? You’ll find out more about that just ahead. But first, come inside, and see what my worm farming set up looks like today.
DISCLAIMER: Even experienced worm farmers make mistakes. What you will read may shock and appall you. Please forgive my sometimes …unfortunate approach to worm composting. My intentions are good. ( :
Types and Quantities of Bins
At one point, not long ago in my worm composting career, I had 15 bins of worms working for me. These days, to placate my husband and save my back, I’m down to only 5, but a mighty 5 they are!
- 1 Worm Factory 360
- 2 clear under bed storage bins
- 2 opaque storage totes
That’s all. And truth be told, I started 2019 with more but have both lost and shared much of my colony this year.
Where I Have Kept My Worms
Worms aren’t native or well adapted to the midwest, where I live. So, throughout the year I move my worms inside or out, depending on the weather. As it is now well into the season of below-freezing temperatures, all of them are inside with us, for a few more months at least.
I’ve pulled them in from various locations outside, under benches, under the side of the grill, and from behind my compost pile. Here’s where they are now:
Worm Factory 360
This one has been the easiest of all to make room for. It’s perfect because it’s the one I feed most often while I let the others “rest.” Without all that yard waste of the warmer months, my Worm Factory is well-able to handle my family of 5’s kitchen waste.
Right in the kitchen, under my desk, in front of my chair hides my tiny but mighty tower of power. I just pull it out when it’s time to feed and shove it back under when I’m done. Easy peasy.
Underbed Storage Bins
These two bins I take a bit of extra care with. The clear bottom and sides are less than ideal but I make the most of it. Since these two are wide but shallow, they can be slid underneath our pantry shelves down in the basement. There they are kept mostly in the dark, undisturbed, yet still easily accessible for feedings, and to be checked on periodically.
Large Storage Totes
In plain sight these two hide. Again, in the basement, these bulky totes could hold clothes, holiday decor, or next month’s donations. Nobody knows but me!
The truth is, for a while there, MANY of my storage bins held worms. You (or my husband) can’t tell because, from the outside, these bins appear just the same as all the rest. But, right there, neatly stacked on a shelf beside other totes, are thousands of worm eating, breeding, and composting my scraps into valuable black gold! And there they’ll stay until the weather turns again.
How My Worms Have Been Fed and Put to Bed
As it is, compost worms are likely to have a diet reflective of their owner’s, right? My worms eat the leftovers of what I eat. So this year, my worms went keto for a little while. That didn’t last. But they loved the avocado shells while it did!
Also, they consumed far fewer peaches than ever before, that’s for sure. Our peach tree was damaged by a long cold spring. That’s okay. The pits are a bit of a pain. And the tree will bounce back with a vengeance come next spring.
Instead, the worms enjoyed a windfall of apples that surprised me with their bounty. My guess is that all the bees that would have pollinated the peaches headed straight for the apple tree instead. Or it was the worm tea foliar spray… Either way, the apples were a hit.
One other change this year had to do with the over-winter bedding my worms are used to. Our region was hit hard by Emerald Ash Borer, an insect that decimates Ash trees, like the one in our backyard.
We had to cut it back hard to try to save it. In doing so we lost a ton of the leaves that I usually shred and pack the bins with for the winter. Junk mail will do, but I so prefer the leaves!
Where I Hit a Pitfall
I have a confession to make. I messed up big time with some of my worms this summer. I was asked to visit a classroom to do a little worm composting presentation at our church’s summer day camp. Knowing how much the kids loved that stuff, I was all in.
To prepare, I tried to super-boost the populations in 2 of my bins so there would be lots to work with. Doing that meant actually transferring some worms from other bins into these two. I fed them really well to get them plumped up and kept them nice and well-hydrated. Oh, they were beautiful!
But then, they were delivered to the classrooms and poured into the sensory tables …with loads of dry peat moss.
Which is very dry. And also acidic.
By the time I got to them, they were hurtin’. We dumped buckets and buckets of tap water into those tables to rehydrate my buddies. That was helpful, but we still had very highly acidic bedding going on.
When the presentation was over I had to clean out the tables and put my worms back in my bins. By the time I got them home and out, they were all lining the top and sides trying to escape
I poured my bins out onto a huge tarp in the garage to try for emergency rescue. I did what I could. In the end, my compost worm population took a major hit. And I felt like a huge idiot because I KNOW better. Just didn’t have my bases covered that week. That stunk.
But compost worms are like hair, they grow back. And they have!
Moral of the story- remember, peat moss is not garden soil. It should not be used on its own as bedding. Large quantities can be toxic to your red wigglers.
Upcycling in 2019: Quantity vs Quality
Do you have any idea how much waste were you were able to upcycle this year? I don’t.
It would have been really obsessive if I were to weigh all that food before feeding it to my worms. (Sorry if I’ve just offended any of my obsessive friends out there. Love you anyway!) So I really have no idea, but I’d say it was a lot.
Now here’s what I was mentioning above, about a surprise for you. Want an idea of what kind of upcycling you’ve contributed to? We’ve calculated that The Squirm Firm customers alone have contributed to an enormous reduction in waste. Check this out!
Data extrapolated from our worm sales alone shows really impressive impact. Even if each pound of worms has remained stable- without growing-, we figure that each week The Squirm Firm worm farmers convert a whopping 82,402 lbs of waste into compost every week! WOW!
Using Worm Castings Here and There
My worm compost was sifted all over my gardens this year. With each new planting, a hearty helping was added and watered in. Because of that, our vegetable garden did well and suffered little pest damage at all. Soil and airborne diseases didn’t seem to hit until October. Made it through a long season, and still, certain crops are going strong.
I also prepared a compost tea foliar spray to treat my apple tree. It had been limping along with apple scab. I only did one application. I think it could have used additional treatments as well. Still, it bore much better fruit this year. Was it because of the tea? I’m not sure, but it was a bumper crop for sure.
All in all, our garden soil definitely seemed to make it through this summer with less need for my attention. It retained water and used the available nutrients to grow resilient plants that bore much fruit. It was a good year for growing with worm compost.
Even my pots were healthy and vibrant for months and months on end. Regular feedings of worm compost just watered in kept these arrangements strong. I wouldn’t change a thing about those.
Direction for 2020
This coming year I would like to figure out a long term solution for keeping my worms protected. Bringing them in and out, up and down the stairs- it’s getting to be a bit too much.
I think I’ll try to build a kind of storage cabinet in the garage that I can insulate to protect from both heat and cold if possible. It needs to be large and likely heated (Christmas lights), but also needs adequate airflow and cooling in summer. Think, think, think. I’ll let you know if I come up with something great!
Lasting Impressions and Reflections
I don’t know about you but I feel like I took some hits in 2019. I’m hoping they were worth it! But moving forward, I vow to keep this little handful of tips in mind:
- No more sensory tables!
- Use more foliar spray.
- Keep teaching and learning.
Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did. But I’m standing behind that number 3 there.
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How do you drain the liquid off your large bins? It doesn’t sound like you have drain holes.
Hi Idey, great question. You are correct. I do not have drain holes. I do my very best to never let moisture levels get outside of ideal. When I expect a meal will yield too much moisture, I serve it over a dry egg carton so it can absorb the excess. If I am surprised by too much moisture, I leave the lid off a day or lay dry paper over the top of a moist area. There are so many creative ways to keep things in balance. I love that it can be done in so many ways!
I sure don’t have your winter problem here in Adelaide South Australia , for the next 4 days it will be over 40c degrees,
My worm farm is in half and upright washing machine case lined with pine wood , off curs from house building sites and has a wooden lid the bin is currently under a plum tree in the shade .
I bought two handfuls of worms from a community garden and that is what I have started with only about 4weeks ago so I am very new to worm farming.
The other half of the washing machine case is growing mushrooms which have just started to poke through so hopefully I will have some soon
We do not get your extreme winters it is rare for us to get below freezing but summer is hot
Oh, your set up sounds really interesting! I love that you are growing mushrooms alongside the worms. Thanks for sharing your method with us! Before you know it those couple handfuls of worms will be thousands!
How do you make your compost tea foliar spray?
Hi Jruth! The easiest way of all is just to put finished compost into water and let it steep. There are much more extensive ways to get it going for a much better result- with aeration for example. For more information please check this out! https://thesquirmfirm.com/is-worm-compost-tea-worth-the-hype/
I am in West Australia with 2 outdoor worm set ups. One a layered farm (a la 360) and one large upturned bucket in the ground. Biggest problem here is summer heat. I drape the worm farms with towels and water that each morning and as necessary. currently in a heat wave, 32’-40’c daily, the worms dig deep.
Bucket is just for recycling waste, the other provides tea and castings.
Hi Margot. The idea of using wet towels over the top is a great idea! As long as it isn’t dripping very much into the bedding or drying out quickly, it can be a very good insulation and moisture manager. Also, the inground bucket method is sweet! Thank you so much for sharing how you’re getting it done down under! It sounds like worm composting is really taking off in Australia!
One of my worm farms is a big old cast iron bath tub which works beautifully. However, when it comes time to separate the castings from the worms what a nightmare. The last time to do the whole bath took me no less than 5 weeks. Surely there is a simpler and quicker way.
Hello Katrina. 5 WEEKS, WO! Oof, but I bet yours is the best looking worm farm in town! I wonder how you do your separating. I can imagine that if you see a harvest coming soon, feeding only on one far side of the tub, for like a month, would get a great majority of the critters to one side. From there, yeah, that volume of compost to sift and work though- woman, I love your determination. Thanks for telling us what you’ve got goin’ on!
My worm bin is about 6 weeks old, stored in the garage in an old toy container recycled from my kids. My husband asked me yesterday what my “endgame” was. Would I be releasing the worms into the garden? Stick them in containers? The shock!!! He was only slightly amused when I told him I wanted to expand to more tubs. Hopefully when we can harvest and use casting to grow amazing plants, he’ll be a convert.