Let’s talk worms!
I was not raised a “country girl” by any means. I spent my growing years moving from town to town, city to city. However, there was always something in me that wanted to live a simple, quiet life. I dreamed of goats and sheep dotting the hills, and making bread from scratch. Was I dreaming of cinematic Ireland?? Quite possibly!
As we’ve started to establish ourselves on our little 5 acres here, not in Ireland, but Northern Wisconsin, I get more and more excited every year. I absolutely love to see things falling into place, though not always on the timeline I’d prefer. Which leads us to FINALLY beginning the vermiculture journey!
If you’re unsure of what vermiculture is, it’s basically providing a place for worms to live and grow and compost. When the worms work their way through your scraps (and cardboard, leaves, etc) they produce beautiful castings that are so beneficial to your garden.
Creating the space
We knew we needed a place to compost that wasn’t accessible to our dogs. They can seemingly find rotting food no matter where it’s put. Very annoying. We happened to have a stand up freezer go caput, and it seemed like the perfect environment to start our worm farm. It’s insulated for temp regulation, will stay dark and retain some moisture for the worms. Most importantly, repurposing it keeps it out of a landfill! I found a few articles on using freezers to house worms, and I combined the knowledge people shared to get started on my own.
My husband got to work stripping everything out of the freezer we wouldn’t need- the shelves, Freon lines, etc. We were left with a completely empty insulated box. He removed the seal from around the door to create some airflow.
Since a large white freeze is a bit of an eyesore, we chose to keep our worms somewhat hidden behind a shed/between the fencing for our chickens. This also makes it easy to bring out kitchen scraps to give both the chickens AND the worms. In order to facilitate good drainage, we propped the freezer up on cement blocks, making sure the side with the drain was lowest. There was already a “drain” hole we could use. We will use a bucket to collect the what drains out so we can use it diluted in the garden and for watering houseplants. Absolutely nothing goes to waste!
Next, my husband sealed all other holes with silicone. He bought a piece of thick pvc and drilled lines of holes up and down, sticking the narrowest end in the drain hole, and caulking it in place. This will help prevent a clogged up drain.
I noticed a few people used bricks on the bottom of their freezer or fridge to prop up their hardware cloth bottom layer. Our freezer has ridges that I figured served the same purpose. We filled the bottom of the freezer with rocks (some I saved from our fish’s old aquarium, most from the driveway). My husband cut a piece of hardware cloth to fit snugly inside, covering the rocks.
Because we had saved some cardboard boxes (and I have read how much worms LOVE corrugated cardboard) I soaked enough to lay over the metal. On top of that we put a few inches of aged compost. Thankfully we had some on hand from used chicken bedding!
Where do you find these worms?
I was so tempted to just dig up my own earthworms in the garden to use, but opted to order some instead. It seems like most people recommend the Red Wigglers, and initially that’s what I planned to buy. However, the more I read about them, the more I was unconvinced they would work best for BOTH composting AND as fishing bait. It was important to me that we could use them for both purposes!
After hours and hours of reading, I finally decided on Super Red European Earthworms that I ordered from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. They appeared to be the ideal size. I spent around $60 for 2 lbs Of worms. Seems like a lot of money for worms, I know. But! I’m so glad I bought as many as I did.
Worm bedding choice
In preparation for the ordered worms’ arrival, I got to work shredding newspaper for their bedding. I didn’t want to make any other purchases after spending money on the initial worms. A lot of people have success using coconut coir, though. After saving newspapers every week (I use them to clean windows and glass instead of paper towels) I had quite a good collection to use. Unfortunately I’m the only adult in America who doesn’t own a paper shredder. I may also be the cheapest person in America, because I was not willing to spend $35-75 dollars on one just to shred paper.
Oh well. Grabbing my scissors and with the help of my 4 year old I had the afternoon planned. If you think you would be long done before your four year old finished their story- you’d be wrong. She managed to talk nonstop for probably an hour straight. Maybe that made the time go by faster? No. No, it did not. We cut the black and white sections of newspaper into skinny strips and filled a big bucket.
The long awaited arrival
Then the most beautiful sound a woman can hear: the FedEx truck pulling into the driveway with a package for little ol’ me. It felt like Christmas! That may be a little sad. I’ll get back to you on that. Soon after opening the bags and seeing the wriggly worms I followed the instructions and added a half cup of water to “rehydrate” them. We immediately put them in the compost in our freezer farm. My daughter and I soaked the strips of newspaper and wrung them out until just moist, not sopping. We laid them gently over the worms and let them be. Possibly the only person as excited about these worms as I am is my daughter. She wanted to hold them and sing to them. Haha
I had a great experience using Uncle Jim’s for my worm order, there were only a couple worms that didn’t survive the shipping. After checking on them the next morning, they all appear happy and wiggly!
I absolutely can’t wait to start harvesting the castings and keeping these little guys busy helping us compost.
One step closer!
Part of my “zero waste” journey is reducing the amount of trash our family produces. As a family of four, we create one bag of trash per week. I seriously cannot wait until the youngest is out of diapers, it will reduce so much waste! (Unfortunately we weren’t successful cloth diapering the youngest, although we had few to no issues with our oldest) A large part of the trash we end up with are vegetable peels that the chickens don’t care for. I save as many veggie scraps as I can to make vegetable stock for soups, but so many end up in the trash.
Long term my goal is to only produce one bag of trash per month- and I hope I’m well on my way to that!
I’d love to hear about your vermiculture journey! How do you utilize these little creatures?