Worm Cage Success!

mendopeteAugust 5, 2010

Last March I posted about a worm cage I built as an experiment. A 3'x10' piece of 1/2" hardware cloth was fastened as a cylinder about 3' diameter. 4 layers of organic coffee-bean sacks lined the outside. More hardware cloth and thick cardboard layers as a floor. I added a milkcrate full of VC and worms to the center of the bin. Another milkcrate with kitchen scraps and cardboard was placed on top of the first crate. Manure-rich compost with thousands of native redworms was filled in around the crates. A RM bin was dumpped on top and it was covered with more burlap and 8" of straw.

I live in a very mild coastal climate and had regular rain into June. In mid July I tore the pile down. All VC was sifted in about an hour using a homade trommel stye tumble sifter. The material was 75% finished and I now have many worms. I got about 30 gal. of pure black castings for tea brewing. The rest and the worms went into a new BIGGER cage with fresh cold compost and lots of aged horse manure.

Worms finish my compost for me. 14 months of vermicomposting with about 2000 worm starter herd has expanded wildly. Luckily I started the worms BEFORE I got chickens and a horse. Good manure management!

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I'm curious about your trommel sifter. Can you describe it for me?
I've been thinking of making a small one.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 8:46AM
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Me also.

Dave Nelson

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 8:56AM
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The sifter, like me, is low-tech and cheap.
Materials needed:
2 - 5 gallon buckets
1/4" hardware cloth approx. 2'x3'
30-40 plastic cable ties
2 - 12"x1/4" all-thread, with 8 - nuts and washers
4'x1" PVC pipe (axle hub/housing)
drill and 1/4" bit
1 - broom-stick (axle)
6-pack of beer (optional)

Cut the bottoms out of the buckets.
Drill holes in the sides of the buckets 1" from the bottom and 3" apart.
Form a cylinder with the hardware-cloth and attach to the buckets using plastic ties. Note: attach cloth on the outside of one bucket(imput) and the inside of the other bucket (output) This keeps worms from getting stuck going in/out.
Use plastic ties to attach the side of the hardware-cloth cylinder. I attached all plastic ties from the inside and left 2-3 inches of end stick inward to act as beaters. I added about 10 more randomly.
Remove the bucket handles and drill holes at the handle attachment points.
Slide all-thread through these holes and use nuts to attach.
Slide the PVC pipe down the center and attach to the all-thread using plastic ties. I offset the pipe under/over the allthread to create a wobble.
Slide the broomstick through the pipe.
I adapted a homemade miter-saw stand for the main frame. The sifter works best on drier material set at about 20degree slope. Two people are require for operation, 1 continually spinning about 12 RPM and 1 feeding.
I also formed a hopper to feed, but a better design is imminent (as soon as I think it up!)

I hope this helps. There are several designs on the internet, and I adapted OP ideas.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 1:51PM
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If it's as 2 man job, bring more beer.
Other than that, It sounds easier than what I built.
2 vids:

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 6:24PM
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antoniab(5 WofChicago,IL)

I would like to see a photo of the worm cage. I think it sounds like a perfect way to make an airy temporary worm home to process a large amount of compost in a shortish time.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 7:13PM
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Antoniab, as I said I am low-tech and, I know not how to post photos. It really is not much to see. It is a cylinder 3' high x 3' wide and burried in burlap and straw. I wet it with a hose when it seems dry.
I could have harvested more castings from this pile if I had allowed the material to dry. It was quite dense and damp in the center.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 10:14PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

Pete, do you think the worm cage allows for faster processing of VC compared to your in-ground wormery? So the cylinder is standing on it's end...like a giant can of beer? Did you open up the cylinder to harvest?


    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 5:37PM
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Andrew, I Think the VC processed much faster than my in-ground bin due to the vastly improved air-flow. The only VC that did not process well was the outside inch or 2. Either it was too dry or the light filtered in through the burlap.
The cage does stand on it's end, and is easily taken down for harvest. This was a passive, no-peek system (except I pulled the top off several time to check progress) I tried 2 other cages without the burlap or additional worms, but they did not process nearly as fast!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 4:30PM
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After reading your post, I built myself a trommel last weekend. I wanted a one-man setup so i built a smaller version, using two plastic flower pots (the 10 inch hanging ones you see with ferns etc in them). Instead of allthread, I had some flat steel pieces with holes along its length. Kind of like a big piece of erector set. I bent the ends 90 degrees and then simply attached the wire to the flower pots with a short bolt and nut. I used 2 on each end forming an X and then ran a PVC pipe like you described- at an angle to make a wobble when it turned.

It looked good when I tested it empty. But I found that the slight taper of the pots let some compost dump out when it hit low position. I had to raise it well above a 20 degree angle to compensate.

I've only used it once but it worked fairly well. I followed it up with my collander to remove the smaller compost and leave only castings. Later on , I may not do that but for now I am picky about the quality of what i keep back for tea.

I have a batch of compost drying a little so I can sift it. It looks better now than what I produce in one of my regular compost bins, but like I said, I am picky.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 6:20PM
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Pete ... don't mean to hi-jack your thread, but you seem to be one of the few in-ground vermers .... do you have any problems with critters in your worm pits? I've recently discovered either small rat or large mouse ... am taking measures to catch it/them... but just wondered what your experience has been. The worm-eating slugs were bad enough, but DOUBLE EEEEK for furry critters.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 7:55PM
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plumiebear(z9? CA)

I lined the bottom of my on-the-ground bin with window screen. I suppose a dedicated rodent could probably chew through that or the plywood, but none have so far. I once forgot to use the plastic flooring of a commercially manufactured compost bin. It didn't take long for mice to find that. I had to empty it out and add the floor.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 11:20PM
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Hi all. I had a cornea transplant a few months back that has improved my vision enough to observe my herd again and see the keyboard. So time to start posting again.
My second larger wormcage sat mostly unattended untill I inspected it in late October. The material was done and the worms were gone!Even though it was in shade, lack of water and fresh food caused a mass evacuation, losing maybe 10 lbs of squirm :O I ended with about 1 cubic yard of VC. Some material went to my garden beds, some to neighbors, and about 10 cu' as "starter" for my new haybale/wedge system.The worms left many cocoons.Amazing.
I would and may use this system again. If you used a mister to keep everything damp and feed weekly, it works very well. To harvest,slip the cage off the pile and set it on some new bedding. Then pitchfork off the top 10" of the old VC into the new cage.
BTW the sifter mentioned earlier in this thread is still working, as I tumbled last week.


    Bookmark   March 13, 2012 at 6:57PM
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The better to see you with.
Welcome Back!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 7:23AM
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Hi all. Worm cage update.

I have 2 cages going currently Neither are wrapped with burlap or have bottoms. Both cages are in the garden area.

Cage #1 was started last september with a wheelbarrow load of bedrun (maybe 4 lbs. of worms). I put the cage around the pile and added 4" of horse manure and covered with straw. I have added to tos weekly with chicken manure, hay, straw, and horse manure.. I managed to keep temps around 60F-80F and the material keeps shrinking. Currently it is 24" tall.

Cage #2) This pile started as a hot compost pile built in January. I used lots of raspberry canes and leaves, mixed with horse manure, straw and used coffee grounds. It heated up to 135F before it cooled and I turned it. I added about 15 gallons of bedrun in today (maybe 6-8 lbs of worms). This was topped with 4" of horse manure and 6" of straw. A nearby cherry tree will offer ample shade soon.

Both cages are at 70F-80F now. I plan to try and keep both systems running with regular additions of horse manure and straw mulch. I will be adding water soon and regularly also. I plan to kick them over in the fall and start over.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 11:34PM
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Cage #1 referenced in the last post was torn down yesterday. After 8 months of little food, water, or attention the results were mixed.
The worm herd grew to probably 10-12lbs quickly and kept up until feedstock diminished. I only harvested about as many worms as were put in, maybe less. They were certainly less active.
The castings were absolutely beautiful. Black, completely processed, and the oldest stuff on the bottom crumbled easily in my hands. These would compare to commercial grade without sifting. Only the outer 2-3" of the cylinder was semi-processed VC.

This was my first attempt at feeding fresh chicken manure to a wormery. It worked. I suspect without the hay and straw henhouse bedding and occasional additions of fresh horse manure, it would not been as active early. But it would work.

Cage # 2 referenced in the last post is yet to be looked at. It has not been fed or watered since July at all. It was doing very well, but I think worms will be few now. It was a little bigger than bin#1, and only topfed horse manure after it started. It is near my apple and cherry trees. Those trees are about to get very happy!

These are great systems for a small farm or even backyards. They are cheap and easy to manage. I add whatever feedstock I have every week or two and always cover with lots of straw or hay. The insides of the cages are progressively lined with straw as the bed grows. I sometimes add water in the summer. Harvesting is a snap. Simply remove the wire cage, remove the worm culture from the top, and then remove the gold from the bottom. Retie the cage, dump in the bedrun and you start again. It takes about an hour. And they do not look too unsightly, especially compared to some of my other systems............

Worm cage #8 was started yesterday.

Happy wormin' and good luck!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2014 at 2:44PM
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Outstanding! Definitely going to try this method. Biggest challenge will be getting worms to start. I will be using goat "litter" - manure, urine, and straw - primarily but will be adding shredded leaves and sundry other "organic" matter.

THANKS for resurrecting this thread!


    Bookmark   March 29, 2014 at 1:40AM
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Pictures of Pete's schemes would help those of us with limited visual imagination. So when you build yours, would you please post pictures ?

Dare I recommend on the site ? I guess arguments are good ways to learn:

1. Getting worms to start:

I would start with a "satin sheets" king size bed and not too many worms. I think one of the reasons I've never had any
losses, either by demise or escape, is that I started with only half a pound.

2. I think I would wash the litter: brew it. That horse manure I brewed had 5 gallons of water and maybe two plus pounds of horse litter. The brew bubbled over with a dense head. Correct me, anyone, if I am wrong, but I think the dense bubbles were a result of viscosity: that is, lots of matter to water. A rebrew of the washed stuff is bubbling a less dense head, but still to the top of the bucket. The merit of this notion is that your bedding (the litter) will be more of a blank page for what you do next.

3. I am trying to imagine being one of your worms and living in the litter you describe. Bear with me, please. I "like" the straw for air, but won't eat it. I don't like urine at all. I want my manure aged [old wine ; ) ], and I want more desserts:
fruits: pureed rotten apples, melons; I want pureed, rotting dark greens (kitchen type scraps) to balance out the boring brown leaves. This is just my imagining, but I think leaves (of any size) are more like bedding than food, until well worked by the other habitants.

It is informative to read what the large scale worm breeders use for food. My recollections are too fuzzy to post.
It would be informative to learn more about the critters that make the food accessible to the worms. I haven't got that far.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 12:24PM
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Happy to post pictures when I construct and fill mendopete's "cages".

I am slowly - as is 'normal' and appropriate - discerning the wheat from the chaff. And here's the rub - "chaff" is still part of "wheat".

By that I mean that in a recent epiphany, I realized that a whole great lot of "experts" (pick ANY field) aren't TECHNICALLY "liars" (telling falsehoods), they are more "deceivers"(intentionally leading people to incorrect conclusions by virtue of carefully crafted "explanations"). Deceivers in that they know that what they are saying is 'technically' "true", but that any reasonable person will interpret their carefully crafted comments in a manner that is inconsistent with reality.

So what does all the above actually mean in the context of this thread?

WRT "leaves": I am with you on this most of the way. There are two elements that cause me to stick with using worms to compost leaves: 1) The observation of them coming in DROVES to the fermenting leaves in bags, and 2) leaves compost "on their own" in "regular" compost bins. They are a large component of the "browns" of "greens and browns".

There is no doubt in my mind that being made up of considerable amounts of celulose, leaves are a bit more difficult to 'digest'. I think the 'solution' to that is to make them 'smaller'. Your willingness to put the extra effort into your prep - be it #2 above, or "blending" your kitchen scraps - is the same level of commitment I have to macerating leaves to accelerate their 'usability' by my worms. Also, I think that mixing in the goat litter while macerating the litter -with it's urine and straw - will inoculate the leaf matter with microbes that will accelerate their conversion to something edible by worms.

So to summarize on "leaves": I agree with your assessment of the use of leaves, but am willing to put in the extra effort to try to facilitate their consumption by worms.

"Deceivers" are telling the community-at-large that "anything" can be "worm composted" and that leaves are especially "good". Yeah, "true" (with a lower-case "t"), but not really True, because their use requires extra preparation or a LONG time. Both points intentionally excluded from the propaganda that the politically correct want to propagate. Namely, "You can compost anything organic! Huzzah! Let's save the earth."

"Density": I'm of two minds here. What I read, and what I know from personal experience from culturing other animals, is that "density matters". The more there are, the more get made in an EXPONENTIAL manner. By the same token, exceed a certain density threshold, and production is actually inhibited. There just "ain't no free lunches".

I share your concern with regard to the density in one bin. The current "indoor" bin I am using has a surface area of approximately 1.79 square feet. (19.5" x 13.25"). From what I read (wheat or chaff???) 500 worms per square foot is a "good" density for "maximum" production, with "maximum production" defined as "half a pound of food consumed per day per square foot".

Of course I do not assume this is "the law", but it IS a place to start until I can sort REALITY from "technical truth".

To summarize on "density": As soon as I see how the worms are doing at this density AND I have another bin set up, I will reduce the number in this bin to something like the 500 per square foot (500 X 1.79 = 897).

I don't agree so much with the "desserts". (Although I am not strongly in disagreement. I could still be convinced.) In the "wild", it is my understanding that E. fetida's primary food source is ungulate manure. Do "we" find them coursing through the 'rotten' apples at the base of a wild apple tree? I'm pretty sure not.

That said, I certainly found them advancing in droves to fermenting bagged birch leaves. Were they headed for food, or shelter? I don't know. Could have easily been shelter, as it was the fall in Alaska, and it is KNOWN that worms in Alaska seek shelter from the cold in leaf litter. Meaning... maybe it was 'bedding' (your assertion) that they were looking for.

One of the 'settling points' I am coming to is that the quickest way for me to "make soil" may be to macerate and mix the goat litter, leaves, and "sawdust" and call that "soil" for large - multiple cubic yard - planters. For the most part, that mixture would have everything except sand - which I can add - that a reasonably good commercial "potting soil" would have. At this stage, no need to spend the time running all of that through a worm's gut, acknowledging the 'value added' by the worms, but also acknowledging the fact that YEARS could be in the waiting.

I do NOT make the above comments in 'argument' FOR or AGAINST any comments or postulates that you or anyone else is making. I offer them to give insight into the "methods of my madness". Just MY thoughts on how and WHY I am acting in a certain fashion with regard to how I choose to "raise worms". I have no interest in "converting" anyone to "my way", and I am most certainly NOT seeking prosyletites.

I enjoy the discussions of what people THINK, and do not assume that the person 'speaking' is demanding that I follow their lead. (That assumption fails on occasion.) I LIKE hearing other people's ideas, and theories, and concerns, and suggestions. I hope no one thinks I am willing to simply mindlessly follow in lock-step every piece of "instruction" given. That "ain't gonna happen" for several reasons, some of which are:

1) I have a "y" chromosome; therefore I have a genetic predilection to 'rebel' against authority. To aggressively suppress that genetic predisposition seems counter-intuitive. Why would it be genetically 'carried on' if it wasn't 'useful'?

2) I am not a "follower". That has gotten me into trouble occasionally in my life. Still, the occasional pain that ensued by NOT following, has not been sufficient to beat me into mindless adherence to the 'social norm'.

3) NO INNOVATION OCCURS WHEN WE ALL DO THE SAME THING! All of us doing the same thing is "comfortable, and superficially "safe", but it is oppressive and stifling to creativity. Creativity is OFTEN painful!

I wandered there a bit, but I wanted you to know that I wasn't being argumentative for argument's sake. I APPRECIATE your comments, thoughts, suggestions, and recommendations. I have taken to heart FAR MORE of the suggestions I have received here at this forum, than I have rejected.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 1:51PM
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barbararose, if you were one of my worms, you would be quite happy in my mother-bin, where kitchen scraps go ( at least the ones our hens turn their beaks up to). Your bin, made of redwood, and sits under a large rhododendron bush. You would , however, be given occasional unwashed fresh equine apples.

My goal is to process horse manure into vermicompost with as little effort and water possible. I have found wigglers absolutely LOVE fresh horse manure. They can turn fresh apples to black, fluffy VC in a couple of weeks. I have a horse and know what it is fed, and when it has been given meds. I use pure manure picked up daily from the paddock. This manure is directly deposited into a bin, so it is moved/handled once only. It is also full of moisture, so you do not need to re-hydrate it. There is not any urine soaked "horse-stall bedding" used.

The cages I use are simple and work well. Escaping worms is the least of my worries. Why would they leave an environment built for them, with heating, air conditioning. dampness, darkness, protected from predators, and with lots of food and bedding?

Worm cages #9 and #10 were built recently, and set next to #8. They help shade each other, with straw tucked between the cages.

I wish I was able to post photos. I will attempt to describe it better.
Hardware cloth can be purchased by the lineal foot or in larger rolls at most hardware stores. It is galvanized wire mesh. The grid can be 1/8", 1/4", or 1/2", and the width of the roll is usually 3' or 4'. To make a worm cage you need a piece about 10'x3'. Attach the 2 ends together with cable ties or ? to form a cylinder. Stand the cylinder on its end, like a giant beer can. A 3'x3' piece can be cut for a floor if burrowing critters are a concern.

I use lots of straw because it helps hold in moisture, keep out light and solar heat, and is cheap And yes, the worms do eat straw, or any other bedding added to a worm-bin.
If I want heat in the cage, I layer manure and straw like a lasagna, adding water as I go. If it gets too hot, the worms stay below the heat or move toward the outside cooler parts of the cage. This really seems to increase reproduction.

It works for me!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 2:00PM
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I intend to follow this model as closely as I can. I do not have horse manure as readily available as mendopete does. I could make an effort to get it, but I want to try to use the large supply of goat bedding that I have available. I may make a request for "pure" goat manure from the goatherds, but they are TRYING to get rid of the bedding, not so much the "pure" manure.

I am impatiently awaiting weather suitable for outdoor worming.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 2:33PM
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Paul, have you tried to create heat with your goat manure/bedding mix? I would think if you fluffed it, wet it well, mix in a few leaves and piled it up you would be the maker of a "hot" compost pile. Maybe you could do this where your cage would be to warm the earth, and get the bed "worm-ready". It could also provide feedstock for your indoor worms in the winter.
I know you do not think one can compost in Alaska, but I am sure you can pre-compost and create heat if you tried. That is how the idea of the worm cage came about. I was messing around learning to hot compost Some folks on the soil, compost, and mulch forum were using these hardware- cloth cylinders to contain their compost piles. They are easy to turn as you "slip" the cylinder off, set it next to, and turn the compost into it, wetting well as you go. I did this with lots of aged horse manure, hay, leaves, cardboard and lots of used coffee grinds from sb. After heating up and being turned 3 times the pile cooled and the worms came....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Good luck Paul. You will be the first wormer, myself excluded, that I have heard/read about to try/test this method. I hope it works well for you. Please keep me updated on progress.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 3:07PM
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It's not that I don't think we CAN'T "hot compost" up here, it's just that it doesn't get as hot as it does Outside (the term Alaskans use to refer to everywhere but Alaska), and it takes longer. I will do exactly as you suggest, and take some temp readings (and pictures) at regular intervals.

I REALLY want to incorporate the birch leaves into my 'soil' making. I would like to use the wood shavings and sawdust too, but not as fervently as I do the leaves. Birch leaves (and alder and willow) are literally the organic 'stuff' of which our soil is primarily made. ANYTHING I can do to accelerate the metabolic process so that it even APPROACHES the process speed of what happens Outside is a something I am willing to try.

This afternoon, after I split the current indoor bin, (see the thread titled "More When There Is More"), I'll complete a couple of your worm 'cages'. One will be prepped for immediate 'occupancy'. The other will be a "hot compost bin" with a mixture of goat bedding, SHREDDED leaves (through the snow-blower/leaf shredder), and last-year's grass clippings. God willin' and the creek don't rise, I can generate some heat.


    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 7:35PM
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Here is a pic of 3 worm cages side by side by side. Egg factory in the background. These cages were all started 4-5 months back. Two cages have 36" hardware cloth while the one in the middle is 48".
Better late than never!

Good luck and happy wormin'


    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 10:01PM
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Whoopee !

What's a bedrun ?

    Bookmark   September 25, 2014 at 10:22PM
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Bedrun is the active part of a worm bed. It is usually the top 6" - 8" and may contain adult, juvenile. or baby worms, along with cocoons. Includes the bedding they are living in . Best way to start a new bed!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2014 at 12:23AM
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