Composting Worms close up. Photo by C,.Quish

Composting Worms close up. Photo by C,.Quish

The basics of keeping a worm farm are easy. Explaining why you would want to have one is a little harder to justify to people, particularly family members. Having been a worm farmer for over twenty years, my family finally just accepts and then ignores the fact there is a bin in the laundry room holding more than dirty laundry.

Reasons I keep worms:

  • Composting indoors in the winter and all year round. (No smell)
  • For the the rich castings they produce for plants.
  • They are a very low input pet.
  • Free fish bait.
  • No yard needed.

To get started, a container, bedding and food is needed. For one pound of worms, a plastic bin two feet by two feet and at least eight inches high will work. Any size will really do as the worms are not that picky. Choose  one with light blocking sides as clear ones let in light. Worms do not like light.

Worm Bin with tray to catch drips. Photo by C.Quish

Worm Bin with tray to catch drips. Photo by C.Quish

Bin top with air holes drilled. Photo C.Quish

Bin top with air holes drilled. Photo C.Quish

Drill air and drainage holes through the plastic top, sides and bottom. The vegetable scraps will be of high water content, releasing moisture as they decompose to the point that the worms can digest it. This liquid can and will drain out of the bottom. Place a catch tray of any type under the bin to protect floor and surfaces. This drained water can be diluted in a watering can to be used on plants as a fertilizer.

Newsprint for bedding, photo C.Quish

Newsprint for bedding, photo C.Quish

Fill the bin with shredded newspaper, no glossy sections, colored and black and white print is OK. The worms will live in and eat this paper. Moisten the paper with water so it is as wet as a wrung out sponge. Worms breathe through their skin which must be kept moist. Feed the worms by pulling back some of the newspaper to bury the food scraps. The worms will find it. One pound of worms will eat one pound of food wastes each day! The food will not disappear right away. It will need to decompose a bit first. All food scrapes can be used except meat, dairy, oils, bones or pet waste.

The type of worm to use is not native to the Northeast, nor can you dig up worms from the yard and expect them to live in this confined environment. Red Wigglers is the common name of the composting worm best suited to life in a bin. Their Latin name is Eisenia foetida. They are available at bait shops and online. Ask for them by the Latin name to be sure of their identity. The Worm Ladies of Charleston, Rhode Island is a reputable seller of the correct composting worms. www.wormladies.com

Not all worms are alike. Nightcrawlers prefer to live a solitary life, alone in long tube going several feet deep. They only come out at night to feed and mate, retreating back alone into its hole by daybreak. Several other worms live in our soils, but they feed at different levels and move to different areas to find food. These mobile worms will not like living in a confined space either.

Eisenia foetida close-up. Photo by C.Quish

Eisenia foetida close-up. Photo by C.Quish

Harvest the castings after most of the bedding food has been transformed into dark brown, crumbly material. Dump the bin on a tarp outside on a bright day. Worms do not like the light and will move downward into the dark. Scrape off the top inch or so of castings to watch the worms move further down. Pretty soon you  will have a pile of wormless castings  and a pile of worms. Put the ball of squiggling worms back into the bin with new strips of newspaper moistened with water and begin the process again. The harvested casting can be used in the garden around the plants and worked into the soil. Your plants will thank you for it.

-Carol Quish

 

 

asian lady beetle

leaf footed bug

This fall has brought a few new residents to my home, and not the invited kind. I have been carefully removing Leaf Footed Bugs and Asian Lady Beetles from the interior of my home as well as my breezeway and garage. Both of these insects spend the winter in their adult stage in a dormant state. In the insect world, it is called diapause, equal to hibernation in animals. No eating or drinking, mating or reproduction happens. Their body functions slow way down.  Both insects are just using our homes for the secure, warm environment providing shelter during the winter. The do not do any damage to our homes, beyond the nuisance of their presence. Although the Asian Lady Beetle will defend itself by emitting a liquid from its leg joints if threatened. This liquid has an unpleasant odor to deter predators from eating them. The Leaf Footed Bug gives off an odor when crushed. All insects in this stink bug family, (Hempitera) lay claim to this offense quality.

Control measures are sealing up cracks and crevices to keep the insects from entering the home. One place they often enter is through attic and ridge vents. These should be covered with window screening. The insects enter the attic then work their way down to the living areas via wall voids, following pipes and wires. Minor infestations can be hand caught. Neither feeds on humans or will bite. They may pinch slightly if touched with the bare hand. Use a tissue or paper towel to pick them up and release outside. Vacuuming is another solution. Empty the vacuum to eliminate rotting and odors inside the vacuum bag.

Asian Lady Beetles feed on soft-bodied insects outside during the spring, summer and fall. Our native lady beetles overwinter in the adult stage also, but prefer to do so in leaf litter or  under rocky outcroppings and loose tree bark. The Leaf Footed Bugs have a piercing sucking mouth part used to feed on the plant juices of leaves. Neither insect will find anything to eat inside our homes unless you have aphids on houseplants or large leafy trees indoors. By November, the feeding phase has stopped for both insects.

I do have another type of creature in my house this fall, earthworms! I recently took the Master Composter class offered through UConn Garden Master program. It was informative and exciting. I know have made my own worm farm for composting indoors during the winter. Four weeks of kitchen scraps and no smell from the bin means the system is working well. Moistened strips of newspaper serve as the bedding. The type of worms best suited to worm bins are commonly called red wigglers. The Latin name is Eisenia foetida. This worm is not native to New England nor will it live over through our cold winters outside unless given added heat. Eisenia foetida specifically likes to live in the top two inches of soil, feeding voraciously on decomposing plant matter. It is not the normal worm found in our back yards. Eisenia foetida can be purchased online at various worm farming sites and sometimes at fishing bait stores. Be specific if purchasing worms for your own bin. Night crawlers (Lumbricus terrestris)  are not the same species, nor do have the same habits. Night crawlers prefer to create undisturbed burrows two feet deep, living a solitary existence, except to mate. Night crawlers will not live long in captivity.

-Carol

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Finished worm castings in a friends worm bin.