You read Part I, you have your bin, now what?
Time to assemble!
What you need to get started that was not in the box with your bin.
You’ll need to line the base of each tray with 3 or 4 sheets of dry newspaper. This keeps the contents of the tray in the bin while allowing excess moisture to drain. Since you’re likely starting out, you’ll only be working with one tray for now. Consider the amounts outlined in this post would be for that one tray.
Soak the coconut coir in about 3 quarts of water until it breaks apart and is moist. Wring out any excess water. You want it to be thoroughly wet but not leaking water when you squeeze a handful.
Mix the wet coir with 1 cup of finished compost or decayed leaf litter from beneath shrubs. You could also use worm castings from a working bin. Special note: No pine straw, what is visible in the photo are actually the stem component of the compound leaf structure on honey locust trees.
Add crushed eggshells. This is super important. It keeps the ph balance correct and provides fine bits of grit for the worms to use as teeth in their gizzard. Smaller bits are better but you are not powdering it. Just crush up dry eggshells with your hands and add to the mix.
Mix in the prepackaged shredded newspaper mix. Note that the mix had more than just newsprint but also cardboard and office paper. I will talk about this more in the next post where I give you an alternate method of creating the bedding mix, but for now, take note that the variety is beneficial. When this is thoroughly mixed it is time to check the moisture content. The bedding should be moist but you should not be able to squeeze excess water from a handful. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Too wet and the worms will drown. Too dry and the worms will be unhappy or even dehydrate.
Add your bedding mix to the tray.
The bedding should be several inches deep and cover the bottom of the tray.
Place 2 handfuls (about 2 cups) of food scraps in one corner. The more squishy and yucky the food, the more the worms will like it. Freezing and thawing the scraps will help break them down.
To avoid problems with pests and smells feed the worms a vegetarian diet: Avoid meat, oil, or dairy. To keep the worms happy: Avoid the onion family, citrus, or hot peppers.
Cover the food with some of the bedding.
Remove any glossy inserts from the newspaper, coloured inks on newsprint is fine, it is the ink used on the slick feeling pages that is a problem.
Holding the newspaper by the spine fold, tear strips about two fingers (an inch and a half) wide. If you tear in any other direction you will not get strips.
When you have several strips you can tear into squares by now tearing across the strips. If you have a chance to plan ahead, you can do this a bit at a time as it will tire your fingers if you are not used to it.
Add 2-3 inches of dry shredded newspaper to almost fill the bin. This will insulate, wick up excess moisture, and help prevent fruit flies and other pests.
Cover everything with 3 or 4 sheets of wet newspaper. Place the lid on your tray. You are now ready for worms.
Worms! You can find them online, your local garden shop, or bait shop. Your best bet is via craigslist or a friend who has an operating bin. Ideally, you want worms and castings from a mature bin.
If you are purchasing worms you want worms at all stages of the lifecycle: adults, juveniles as well as worm castings which contain the eggs. The best source is an active worm bin which is at the far end of the cycle and is almost completely castings and worms. Buying adults only from a bait shop will work, but will put you weeks or even months behind while waiting for the next generation to come along. You also have no idea what the bait shop worms have been exposed to in the way of pesticides and chemicals and in most cases, the owner of the shop doesn’t know either.
The worm supplier you buy from should offer a worm starter kit that includes bedding and castings. Buying from suppliers who are selling adults only by the pound will result in a slower start to your bin. Adults only may also result in dead or nearly dead worms if they are shipped when it is too cold or too hot. Bedding and castings will help ensure their survival by adding a certain amount of insulation.
Add the worms to the bin by lifting the lid and peeling back the moist newspaper, pull aside the dry shredded newspaper layer and add the worms to the center of the tray along with any bedding that came with them. Recover with the dry shredded newspaper and the wet sheets. Replace the lid.
Leave them alone for at least a week. When the worms have consumed most of the food you added to the corner of the tray you can add another 2 cups to another corner.
Be patient. The most common mistake with new worm bins is overfeeding. It will end in tears and a hell of a lot of fruit flies. Make sure the worms have consumed the majority of the previous feeding before adding more. This may take more than a week between feedings. As the worm population stabilizes you will be able to shorten this time. Freezing and fully thawing what you plan to feed them will help break it down and make it easier for the worms to process quickly. Food added to the bin should be room temperature.
You can add coffee grounds and crushed eggshells along with the food. Both help stabilize the environment in the bin. You should not need to add water to the bin. The food should bring in more than enough moisture.
There is lots of great stuff in the instruction booklet that comes with the bin. Take the time to read it before setting up the bin.
You will learn about alternate bedding mix, and more tips, and in Part III.