Frequently Asked Questions
Additional information is available on my blog.
It has been a long winter and my worm bin is REALLY FULL.. what do I do?
Until soil temps warm up, you cannot take your worms to your outside compost pile and garden, so you have several choices. I think the best is to start a worm bin for a friend or local school. Make a bin as shown on my bin page for them and give them a bunch of you rbin contents. You can also stop feeding for a month (freeze your scraps or try to dig them into your outdoor pile). Again the best is to give a friend a spring gift.
If I use shredded paper, will toxins in ink (newsprint or laser printer) hurt my worms?
I have been using shredded newspaper and office paper for years withut problems. I did call my local paper and learned that the ink is non-toxic. I don't use glossy pages. I ahve never had any problems.
How do I keep my worms happy?
Worms love food scraps and plant waste. Worms also need bedding like shredded newspaper (¼ inch strips).
No meat, no oils, no dairy, no bones; no metal items (e.g., staples)
Does it attract bugs? Does it smell?
No and no. If you cover the newly added food with bedding and keep your bin from getting too wet inside (add extra bedding to absorb excess moisture) your worm bin will not attract bugs or smell.
Will my worms get loose?
No. Your worms will be happy in the bin and won’t escape if you use a bin with screens (see Worm Bins) and follow dos and don’ts.
Is it hard?
No. Worm composting is EASY! If you follow the dos and don’ts, all you have to do is feed them and provide bedding.
Why aren't the worms eating the food I put in my bin yesterday?
Worms don't eat the food directly (they don't have teeth). Instead they eat the mold and fungi that breakdown the food as it decomposes. You'll eventually notice that worms come to the part of your bin where the food has been aging for a few days. You won't usually find them in food scraps that you placed in the bin last night.
Can I leave them outside? What about in the garage? (Also see my blog entry on this topic.)
This depends on how cold it gets where you are (soil temps in the bin). Vermicomposting workw best at around 72°F. Your worms will be fine down to about 40°F. The decomposition process slows as temperature decreases and this means less food (see above about what they eat). Worms are simple creatures, so they breed according to space and food supply. Short spells of cold weather are OK, but sustained cold like we have in Maine will kill them. Some cocoons may survive, but you'll have a SLOW start in the spring.
How many worms do I need? How big of a bin do I need?
For a family of 3-5, I recommend that you use a 20-25 gallon worm bin. Start with 1-2 pounds of worms, and eventually your bin will be full of worms and compost. Start with small additions of food. Soon you can put in several pounds of food scraps per week.
How do I get started?(Also see my blog entry on this topic.)
How do you ship redworms?(Buy worms.)
All worms are shipped bedrun. This means that your shipment contains worms of all ages & worm cocoons in worm compost and castings scooped right out of one of my bins. 1 pound orders are packed to be more than 1 pound. I have found that redworms ship better this way and establish in new bin more quickly. In addition to adolescents and adult breeders, the worm compost in your order will contain lots of young worms and cocoons that will quickly colonize your bin.
There is variability between orders (some have more adults and some have more cocoons). Worm farming is FARMING, and as such subject to the natural variations in life cycle and seasonality of the worms. This is not an industrial process (I literally scoop right out of one of my bins to fill orders), so I cannot guarantee that you will receive a certain number of adults or cocoons in any order. I can guarantee that your redworm order will colonize your bin. I have testimonials from previous purchasers that I can provide upon request. The worms I ship should not be compared to what you would get if you purchased worms for fishing bait. The worms I ship are for colonizing worm bins.
How do I prepare for my worm delivery?(Also see my blog entry on getting started.)
To get your bin ready, add moist (not dripping wet) shredded newspaper (no glossy pages, torn 1/4 inch wide or less) and go ahead and add some mashed up fruit and veggies to one corner (the older and more crushed the better). I do not recommend adding any soil to your bin, instead add some coffee grounds and crushed egg shells to the same corner where you add the food.
What do redworm cocoons look like?
Here is a photo of redworms (several ages) and coocoons in worm compost.
Here is a photo of redworm coocoons.
What can I do with the worm compost?(Also see my blog entry on this topic.)
Worm compost is great fertilizer for indoors and outdoors. Use worm compost directly as soil amendment, side dressing, or to make liquid vermicompost tea (worm tea). Worm compost tea is a filtered solution of your finished vermicompost. If you have worms, you can make your own worm compost and tea or you can buy everything you need from me.Also see: http://wormmainea.blogspot.com/2008/06/seasonality-of-worm-compost-tea.html#links
How do I harvest worm compost from a bin?
Harvesting castings from your bin is pretty simple and there are many ways to do it. Generally the goal is to separate the worms and cocoons (these go back into your bin) from the big bits of decomposing matter (these also go back into your bin) from the castings (which can be used to make worm tea or soil amendment). Here's my process:
First collect everything you need to harvest: plastic tarp, shovel, sieve, bucket for worms and castings. Then go outside (or inside under bright lights) with your bin and put the worm compost that you want to harvest onto plastic tarp or trash bag. Just dump the whole thing out or scoop from the section. Now pile it up to look like a pyramid.
Note that any worms exposed to the light will hide in the compost. You're going to take advantage of that to harvest the topmost layer of castings!
Pick out any cocoons that you see. After you don't see any worms on the top, scoop off the topmost layer of castings and place on your sieve.
Continue scrape to topmost layer onto your sieve and to pick out any worms or cocoons that you see and place them in your bucket. Worms will move away from the light and dig deeper into the remaining soil.
Keep doing this until you get down to the bottom of the pile where you'll find some worms. Mound up any remaining worm compost and repeat until you're finished.
Processing the harvested castings is equally easy. I sieve by placing a metal screen over my wheelbarrow. If you're using worm castings for gardening only you can skip this (you're just making nice small castings by sieving). You might find stray worms and cocoons in this step, too. Big pieces that won't fit through sieve can be placed back into the worm bin or outdoor compost pile.
CONGRATULATIONS! You've completed your harvest. Your worm castings will be a beautiful dark brown to black and can be used to make wonderful soil, top dressing, or worm tea. Whole process takes some time, but the end product is worth the effort.
How can I transfer worms to a friend?
An efficient way to accomplish this is to fast your worms for a few weeks and then feed them a sugary treat (bananas, strawberries, melon, etc.) in a mesh citrus bag. After a few days, your bag will be teaming with worms for you to transfer.
Are redworms native to New England and will they harm natural environments?
Like many things in nature, nothing is as simple as all good or all bad: earthworms can harm some environments. The earthworm's ability to tunnel through the soil and make passageways for air and water, to decompose organic material and release its nutrients, and essentially "till" the soil is good news for farmers and gardeners who are growing crops that are continually replanted, and where the soil is continually amended. Earthworms essentially prepare the soil for us. However, in forest ecosystems earthworms rapidly decompose the spongy layer of leaves and plant matter that makes up the forest floor. This duff layer is essential to understory development (tree seedlings, wildflowers, ferns, etc.). Earthworms consume the duff faster than nature can replace it, leaving little to support and nourish the rich native plant life. Invasive plants, being opportunists, are moving in.
The underlying (no pun intended) problem is that earthworms are not native to most northern parts of the country, including New England. Earthworms in this area were killed by the last ice age. The earthworms in your garden are species from Europe that may have arrived with the Colonists (in soil used as ship ballast or with plants) or may have been introduced more recently by fishermen dumping their bait in the woods or gardeners spreading compost or mulch, especially worm castings on the edge of their property abutting woods.
Redworms or red wigglers, commonly used for worm composting, are not native; however, they are not hardy in northern climes and probably won't survive our long Maine winter. Nevertheless, we should use good worm management to limit the potential for a problem. The University of Minnesota, which has been a leader in researching and spreading awareness of the problem, has some recommendations (and lots of helpful info) in their Great Lakes Worm Watch.
What can I use for bedding?(Also see my blog entry on this topic.)
Anything that you have on hand that is organic and absorbs moisture will work. Some that I've tried and work well are shredded newspaper, cocoa husks, coconut coir, and peat. I understand that using peat is controversial (see alternatives to peat), but I'm listing it here because it does work.
What can I do about fruit flies? (Also see my blog entry on this topic.)
“I bought some worms from you back in the Fall. The worms are great, multiplied in great numbers BUT I have a huge fruit fly problem. I tried basically starting over - taking nearly everything out minus worms - and putting them in fresh newspaper bedding with some organic material - the worms survived this but so did the fruit flies! I finally got to Spring time when I could move the worms out to the back porch...the fruit flies are still going but at least they are not in the kitchen! Do you have any advice? I would be grateful for any advice you have on this problem!! Thanks! Jenn”
Fruit Flies can be a real problem in the worm bin (not that they're bad for composting), but they are annoying to have in your home.
1. Make sure your compost scraps are covered (especially in the summer). This is especially important if your scraps are kept near a window.
2. Bury all food deep in your worm bin and keep the bedding layer at least 3” deep.
3. If you have fruit flies in the kitchen or where you keep your compost scraps, assume they are laying eggs on the compost scraps. Either freeze the compost scraps or take them to your outside compost pile.
Dealing with an infestation
**First know that fruit flies have a life cycle and there is an end to the problem.**
The quickest way I’ve found to deal with fruit flies is as follows:
1. Remove adult fruit flies from your worm bin and nearby area. You can do this by vacuuming them, using sticky traps, or vinegar traps. You’ll need to vacuum them at least twice a day for 2 weeks to be sure you get all the adults from the eggs of the generation you first removed. Sticky and vinegar traps should be monitored and replaced when needed.
2. Make your worm bin less attractive to the flies. This means not adding more food to your bin until your infestation is under control. Your worms can go without food for a few weeks. Fruit flies cannot.
3. Make your bin more dry. Slightly dry bins are less prone to develop flies (addresses a potential pH problem). You are not looking to make a BIG change here only a slight change in dampness. Adding freshly shredded newspaper to the BOTTOM layer of your bin will do the trick. Alternatively, you can upend the contents of your bin and add more bedding over the former bottom contents.
If you follow these steps you will be free of fruit flies in a few weeks.
Who is WormMainea?
WormMainea is a small hobbyist venture (certainly not a business!). WormMainea is located in Scarborough, Maine. My mission is to educate people about the benefits of worm composting and provide information and resources to get people off to a good start with their own bin.