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The Lazy Way to Harvest Worm Poo

August 14, 2010

Last year, I got worms for Mother’s Day, red wigglers. They’re the only pets we’ve had in the new house, but a kitten may be joining them soon. The worms make the best fertilizer for the garden. I also use it in my homemade seed starting mix – peat moss or coconut coir, perlite, and worm poo. The seedlings love it.

At first, I tried the different harvesting methods described in various sources. I tried sorting through the bin by hand. I tried dumping it all in a pile under a light and sorting through it. I tried letting it go a couple of weeks without feeding, then putting a melon rind in one spot for the worms to gather in. All of these were very time consuming, tedious, and dirty. The castings might be worth it, but still, there must be a better way. So, the last couple of harvests, I’ve tried something new.

My worm bin is a plastic storage bucket with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage and around the top for air circulation. There are  layers of composting materials inside. On the top is the cleaner shredded newspaper that provides a barrier between the composting materials and the house. This prevents fruit flies and soaks up excess moisture in the bin. When the shredded paper gets damp and the worms start working their way up into it, I add more fresh, dry, shredded newspaper.

compost worm bin

Under that is the layer where the new food scraps are added and the worms live and do their composting work.

compost worm bin

Under that is the more finished compost, the worm castings, and a whole lot of worms.

compost worm bin

To start the harvesting, I remove each of the top two layers, putting them onto old pizza boxes or bin lids.

compost worm bin

The bottom layer, I move into a bin without holes. Then, I put the middle layer into the bottom of the working bin with holes and the top layer back on top. If the top layer is too damp or there are food scraps mixed in, I’ll mist it and add fresh, dry, shredded newspaper on top.

The fresh bin with holes goes into the bin with the mostly composted materials and worms from the bottom layer of the original bin. I have holes drilled all over the lid. As the worms in the bottom bin finish off the last bits of food scraps, they migrate up through the holes in the bottom of the top bin, looking for food. The longer I wait, the fewer worms there are in the bottom bin at harvest time.

compost worm bin

The closed bin underneath is where the finished, mostly worm-free compost stays until I need it. Hopefully, by the time I use it up, the upper bins will be ready to harvest.

compost worm bin

In the summer, I keep the worm bins at the bottom of the basement stairs. Last winter, they were upstairs, where it was warmer and would keep them composting more. The basement doesn’t get cold enough to harm them in winter, but they do slow down at lower temperatures.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2010 3:39 pm

    This is an awesome tip! It looks really easy, but I know it’s not. I do composting, but I have never tried it with worms. I’ll have to give this a try.

    • Kate permalink*
      August 14, 2010 5:38 pm

      Thanks, Meems. I’ve done it this way twice now, and this is definitely the easiest and least dirty. This probably takes me about 20 minutes compared to a couple of hours sifting through it by hand with the other methods.

  2. August 14, 2010 4:50 pm

    Wow. It never occurred to me that you could have an inside worm farm. It would take so much more work. Ours sits under a bench in the shade house (to keep the rain out and sun off them) all year round. The layered set-up you’ve devised is similar to the ones sold in Australia. I can do a post amd show you if you like. It makes it easy to look after and to use the liquid and castings.

    • Kate permalink*
      August 14, 2010 5:45 pm

      Missy, I don’t remember if I’ve seen your blog. I’ll have to check it out. I always enjoy seeing how other gardeners do things. I’m pretty sure I could buy a layered worm bin, but they are all over $100 and smaller. My three bins were less than $20 total. That leaves more in the garden budget for plants. 🙂

      Also, I don’t know what the climate is like in Australia, but the red wigglers can’t survive the winters outside, here. They’d freeze to death.

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