Laverme's Worms Vermicomposting Laverme's Worms Vermicomposting

Green Barbarians–Ellen Sandbeck

A Buddha A Day–Ellen Sandbeck


Dear Ellen,

Three weeks ago I started a new worm bin, using worms from an inherited bin from a neighbor. The old bin was small and filled with dry garden dirt. I sifted through and rescued maybe 10 red worms. There were tons of tiny, sticky "baby" worms (and some little mites) so I felt confident that in a few months I'd have a fully-populated worm bin! Well, I keep checking and my food waste is breaking down (looks like black dirt) but I've only ever found one red worm (haven't looked that hard either) and discovered my babies are really just pot worms. I have stopped adding food, since I must only have a few worms and have developed fruit flies. The bin smells lovely, like deep, rich earth. When I dig to where the food is it does smell.

My question is this: How long for a few worms to populate a 3'x2' bin? And is there anything I can do to help them along? Should I remove the food that is in there? I have started keeping my scrap bucket in the freezer and grate larger food pieces prior to adding to the bucket. I might fill the bucket 1.2x per week. I keep the bin upstairs, 64 degrees during the day and 68 evening, 64 night. They have shredded newspaper and office paper, damp sponge consistency, a few handfuls of soil sprinkled about. Air holes on bottom and top. To be honest, I can't afford to buy any new worms (who knew worms could be so pricey?) so I'd really like to foster what I have now.

Do you have any suggestions of how to proceed? I really love this worm bin. I love that I have take some of my trash and give it back to the earth directly. Itís so hands on. Recycling is good for the earth, but it is a bit abstract, a concept. Changing food waste to compost at home, before your very eyes is so gratifying and tangible. It's beautiful. And a perfect lesson for my little daughters to witness. I would appreciate any info you could share on how to grow my population. Thank you very much! And I hope to meet you one day!

Emily, Duluth, MN

Dear Emily,

I'm glad you're interested in vermicomposting. Unfortunately, your population of 10 red worms in a bin is the worm-ecology is somewhat the equivalent of this scenario: there are only 10 human beings left alive in the entire state of Minnesota, and none in neighboring states. These 10 survivors are spread hundreds of miles apart all over the state, without electronics or any means of communication. How long would it take these ten people to repopulate Minnesota?

I'm afraid you're going to have to add at least half a pound of red worms to your bin in order to make it work.

Incidentally, using newspaper in a bin is the surest route to producing a thriving fruit fly population. Newsprint has clay in it in order to prevent the ink from bleeding when the newspaper is printed. The clay builds up in the bin as the organic portion of the paper breaks down, and as your compost gets clayier and clayier, and stickier and stickier, the fruit fly population will explode. I can't recommend office paper either, because of the dioxins left behind by the bleaching process, as well as the chemicals in inks and toners. Dry leaves are the best bedding. Other acceptable beddings, in descending order of acceptability are: damp peat moss; sphagnum moss; unbleached paper towels (used); and, in a pinch, unbleached, uncoated, unprinted shredded cardboard.

Environmentally yours,



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