Starting vermicomposting

vidyutJuly 31, 2014

I live in India, in a small studio apartment and am planting a (very small) kitchen garden in containers and trying to compost at home. There aren't any local suppliers of earthworms, few shipping earthworm starters and the one offer I got was very expensive.

What I have done is purchased a vermicompost that specifically mentioned it has cocoons and will encourage earthworms in the soil, and added it to a bin of mixed materials (kitchen scraps, corrugated cardboard + newspaper for bed, and such). I also found a couple of earthworms wandering after the rain and put them in.

Now for my questions.

1. Is it reasonable to put in vermicompost and expect the cocoons in it to hatch enough to start a bin? (slow is fine)

2. How in the world to pick out cocoons from it (I added some of it, but I'd like to pick cocoons from the remaining and add too)? Thing is, what I have is a dry vermicompost, and there is nothing that looks like the glossy prominent cocoons in it. There are plenty of small white/cream specks, but they don't look anything like the cocoons I'm seeing in pictures. Is this a fool's errand, or is there something I have missed, or do dried cocoons look different, and if there are images someone can point me to.

3. The stray worms I found are almost certainly not the vermicomposting breeds (no idea what they are, beyond "earthworms"). They also seem mostly young. Is it okay if there are different species of earthworms in the same bin?

4. Is it a good idea to go worm hunting and just dump in all I can find to start a local earthworm breed bin?

5. I am not able to make out what exactly is going on with the bin. It doesn't smell particularly decomposing or ammonia, or anything. If anything, it smells nice. Like wet soil (or maybe I'm warped). Does this mean that nothing is going on? I am not able to find the worms for the most part. There's a lot of bedding and stuff in there, and at best I see one or so.

6. Some of the food seems to be breaking down, but I'm not sure if that is from the earthworms or sitting in the bin getting bored waiting for the earthworms. The material also seems to have compacted more, though to the best of my ability to assess, it doesn't seem packed tight. When the level went down and the top bedding got damp (from me pulling it away to see all the time :p) I saw two fruit flies, so I added some more dry shredded cardboard right on top. I haven't wetted this cardboard at all (it is for discouraging the fruit flies, not earthworms) - will this be an issue?

7. I got some compost microbes product, which the chap says will increase microbe activity and he said it is beneficial for earthworms by making more food available. Should I add it? Will it help them thrive? (There's plenty of food in that bin, also plenty rotting food).

This probably sounds quite muddled, but it is my first bin, and I think I have read too much and am trying to do too much without actually having earthworms in hand, so to say :(

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry India. I ,too, am a beginner. I hope you get the answers you need bc I have some of the same questions and I am across the world from you . I added cardboard to discourage the BSF... I think. I think I read not to add food if you are trying to get rid of other things just the cardboard bc the worms will eat that and the others won't.
I also have questions about adding different kinds of worms. I have red wigglers. My husband buys fishing worms and I want to know if I can put them in my bin. He doesn't usually buy red wigglers . Maybe someone will help both of us.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 11:33AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

1) Is it reasonable? Sure. Why not. But it will be a very slow start. Are you sure you have a variety that will thrive in a composting bin?

2) There really isn't a great way to pick out the cocoons. Cocoons are small. They are easy to miss.

3) You can throw these worms in the bin, but they are not likely to do very well in there.

4) Depends on where you hunt. There are different types of worms, and not all of them are suitable to a worm bin environment. If you just hunt for worms, you could wind up with a bin full of worms that don't want to be there.

5) If the bin smells like wet soil, then you have aerobic decomposition happening. This is what you want.

6) Bacteria needs to break down the food before the worms will eat it. You can have decomposition, but no worm activity.

7) Sure. Toss it in. It will help. Sorta like tossing a bucket of water into a lake will help the water level. It isn't really necessary.

I think the one big hurdle you need to overcome is finding a source of worms that is known to thrive in a worm bin. If the cocoons you have are that variety, then you just need to be very patient and not try to rush the process.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 12:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


Wow. This is more optimistic than I thought!

I understand what you mean by the right kind of worms and I am not sure the local "wild" worms are it. For one, the rare sighting I get is at the very bottom of the bin - doesn't look like a surface feeder at all - gut feel.

However the cocoons I'm talking of are from purchased vermicompost. Without knowing what species, it is a reasonable expectation that if someone can sell the vermicompost commercially, those cocoons will hatch into some species that will eat and poop fast enough...

The bin does smell of wet soil. I keep it under the kitchen sink, and never before in my life have I associated such a wonderful smell with that place. :D

@MaryAnn1950 :D walk along, let us muddle through together :D

This post was edited by vidyut on Thu, Jul 31, 14 at 14:17

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 2:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Is it normal for the level of materials to go down even without worms? Or should I be doing something?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 2:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes, it is normal for the level to go down. Decomposition is taking place with or without the worms. I would leave the whole thing alone, check the moisture from time to time, and see if the cocoons hatch. It may take a few months before you have a large enough worm population to find many in the bin. Add bedding if the level drops much below 6 inches (15 cm) and don't feed unless you can't find any visible food when you poke around. Eventually, things should get going in the bin.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 7:25PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Greetings, after great excitement my worm farm is finally finished. 3 levels, works in.
What happens next?
When do I feed them again?
When can I expect some tea?

Please help as I am really new to this.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 10:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

What happens next? The worms eat, and multiply. Hopefully, eggs hatch, since that seems to be your actual source of worms.

When do I feed them again? If most of your worms are in cocoon form, not for a long time. Poke around in the bin every few days and see what it looks like. When you can't find anything that looks like food, it is time to feed a little more. This will change when you have a healthy population of worms, since they will consume the food faster, and you will want to stay a little ahead of them.

When can I expect some tea? Please don't. What drips out of the bottom of the bin is not worm tea. We call it leachate. You get leachate when there is too much moisture in the bin, often from overfeeding. There are differing opinions about its use as a soil enhancement, since it contains both beneficial microbes and volatile organic compounds, which can be toxic to plants. In theory it should be harmful to plants. In practice many people have seen improvement in their plants when they use it. Some people will deliberately douse their bin with too much water to produce it. But real worm tea is brewed outside of the bin using only finished worm castings.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2014 at 12:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you so much for your assitance and help.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2014 at 11:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Leaving the bin alone for a bit other than topping off with bedding as recommended. Will check once a week and unless I see lots of worms or no food scraps at all, not doing anything else for now. Seems sound advice.

I seem to have got maggots now, so is it too damp? Will adding bedding fix that or should I mix it or something? I'm afraid to mix it, as if there are small worms hatched, I don't want to break them... I can add fly traps outside. Can't see any flies in the bin. Nor too many outside. Our area seems to be "fly rich" in general, but my room freshener (eucalyptus and rosemary oils in water) and a penchant for killing any I see seems to keep my home mostly fly free.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2014 at 2:12AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just a quick update. Checked my worm farm and the worms are having a great time and all very busy.
I seem to have a bit of fruit flies in the bin where the food stuff are in.
Any tips on how to get rid of them.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 9:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Covering any addition of food with lots of shredded paper minimizes the risk of fruit flies. Also freezing the food will destroy any eggs.

Once you have fruit flies, placing a piece of fruit in a dish covered with plastic wrap, and a hole pierced in the plastic. They will get in, but won't find their way out.

Don't feed anything more until all the food is gone. There is too much food in the bin, if it's attracting fruit flies.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2014 at 10:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Draping sheer curtain material over the bin will keep the flies in the bin. For some reason the flies do not figure out how to fly under it. When all flies are gone it is safe to lift the cover to feed again.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 12:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Just a quick update. Checked my worm farm and the worms are having a great time and all very busy.
I seem to have a bit of fruit flies in the bin where the food stuff are in.
Any tips on how to get rid of them.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 1:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In the past I've put a small jar with a bit of cider vinegar and a drop of dishwashing liquid in, or near the bin.

Alternatively you can put a piece of fruit in a small dish, cover it with plastic wrap and pierce a hole in the plastic. They will get in but won't be able to find their way out again.

As noted above, to prevent fruit flies, freeze the food first, and put lots of shredded paper on the top of the bin. They don't like to "work" for their food.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2014 at 7:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Update: I deliberately left the bin alone apart from the occasional whiff and look from the outside. Then last week, I looked into it, poking around a bit. Didn't notice a single worm, so I assumed the few that were there had died.

So I decided to move the whole thing to a bigger tub and add more stuff to build some mass so that it would at least compost somewhat better. I added my browns and greens (pathetically fewer than I'd imagined before starting) and upended the bin on the lot.... and at once saw some 6-8 worms and some that could be really small earthworms or something else.

Facepalm. They were growing, just that I hadn't seen them in the middle of all the half decomposed stuff.

So now I have a much larger bin for them to lose themselves in :/

Someone assured me that initially they may seem like they are growing very slowly, but "give it a couple of months" and they'll seem to boom because they grow exponentially if the bin is comfortable for them, which mine seems to be. She should know. She went from half a pound of earthworms to selling vermicompost :O

So now, I am essentially back to keeping the (larger) bin out of the sun and ignoring it... but I am very happy that the worms seem to be happy :p

    Bookmark   August 24, 2014 at 2:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You are doing fine. Have lots of patience, and you will have a viable wormery.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 2:09AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

@vendor777 as you see, I'm a bona fide newbie, but about the compost tea... the only time I found anything coming out of the bottom holes of the bin was when I got maggots in it as well, so it doesn't appeal to me as such a great thing to look forward to. Though the two may be unrelated...

    Bookmark   August 25, 2014 at 4:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have added food scraps for the second time in two and half weeks or so and things are going very well. How long do I still add food before I take that bin out?
I also have a lot more fruit flies which I'm not particularly worried about or should I worry???

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 6:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My bin is a mess. but the worms seem happy but bc I have a homemade bin many of them are dropping thru to the bottom. Every couple of days I gather them up and put them back in the top. I think I need to have a new system made. Should I just pour it out on a tarp and gather the worms and put them back in the new bin?

    Bookmark   August 26, 2014 at 10:33AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Worried about my worms
I'm in zone 9. Coastal Texas. I have my bin well established...
Greens vs Browns
I've done standard compost for a while now and I just...
Air: Pump + Stone
How about a 5" airstone disc with a small (for...
Red Mites Eat My Garbage
Yes, it's true. Red mites have taken over my worm bin...
Food stock variety
Found this online in a university research paper on...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™