Building a Home for Earthworms

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Compost helps the garden, but earthworm castings is the black gold for our vegetable beds. Creating a container is not that hard.

I have not been able to sit out in the yard with the children. The heat has been too much to take. The garden has not suffered too badly though. I do have some bare spots that I would love to fill, but the plants would need a good amount of water. The big project outside has been building a deck over the shed for a tree house with my son. The tree house is no longer in a living tree, yet this deck is beneath a wonderful canopy of branches, so you feel like you are in the tree. Katya wants this space to be her new bedroom. I thought that I should do something that is directed towards improving the garden. Working in the heat is not good for your health, so I am putting a hold on some garden plans. I was peeling vegetables for dinner, when the idea of a new compost bin came to mind. An earthworm composting system was what I needed for my garden.

    Why do I need a special compost container for earthworms? I use to have an elaborate earthworm composting center in place. I loved the castings for my vegetable beds. When I moved, I did not create a new one. I have been in this house for many years, so I do feel that I should have re-established this bin. In my defense, I had been encouraging earthworms in the garden beds. I had been putting kitchen scraps in my compost piles, but I discovered a problem: rodents. Larger mice came to my home when the small bayou was being excavated by the city. They thought that the compost piles made perfect homes. A possum took up residence under the shed. Eventually, I managed to rid my home by making life harder for these creatures (no poisons, because I was worried about the children and the dog). After that adventure, my neighbor decided to clean out his garage. He discovered that he had a colony of mice. With their home torn asunder, they found their way to the surrounding houses, mine included. During this time, I felt that the kitchen scraps may be offering them incentive, so I stopped putting them out. This meant that I was loosing good material for my compost. The appeal of having a special earthworm container arose in me, since their castings are so beneficial for the garden.
    I decided to make the simplest earthworm habitat. Have you seen those earthworm composting systems that you can purchase? Three levels for earthworm comfort, and you should be buying the superior earthworm for this condo. The idea is that the base is a collection container for the “tea”. Water running through the top two layers gathers nutrients which can then be used as a liquid fertilizer. The next layer up has an already composted matter, where you will find earthworms living. The top most layer has the paper bedding with your kitchen waste on top. This will become the new compost. Do we really need this habitat? Buying an earthworm home of this nature is worth the investment, but I did not feel that I needed to spend that money. I had a five gallon bucket that once had been a pickle barrel. I painted it to fit into the garden. Drilled weepholes in the bottom to let the moisture drain. I shredded newspaper to make a bed in the bottom. In went my kitchen peelings, and then I put the lid in place. You can buy these buckets at the building supply center with the lids (the lids fit on tight, so no rodent can get into the scraps).
    Where do the earthworms come from? I know that the research shows that a certain type of earthworm is the best (often called the red wiggler), but I simply take the worms from my garden. I could order the best species, or I could probably find them around town, but all earthworms make castings. I dig a few up, throwing them with some dirt into the bucket. I place the container in the shade of my galanga plants. These habitats do need shade. For me this is a good location. I can exit the side door which is near the kitchen, and the bed for the galanga is right there. With my last earthworm system, using these local worms turned out fine, so I do not think that I need any other worms.
    What if I wanted something a bit better as an earthworm bin? I will probably make this in the future, but that three bin idea is not that hard to make. Those large plastic containers can be used. For a two tiered system, you can have your some of your last compost remain in a bin, then you need a block to hold another container that fits inside that bin above the old worm castings (the idea being not to crush the old castings, but to have the top container touching that compost). The top container slides into the lower container, and that would have the paper bed with vegetable scraps. Holes are drilled into the bottom of both containers. You can add a third container with no holes to catch the liquid run-off if you wish. 
    Can I keep adding kitchen scraps? First, I am only adding my peelings. Cooked food is not dumped into these bins. The one exception for me is my coffee grounds. Next, the earthworm population has to grow to handle the scraps. I heard that feeding scraps in once a week is good for a new bin, then you can move to once a day when there are enough worms. The once a week schedule may encourage me to make more bins. How long does it take till you can add scraps in every day? That really depends on how your worms are doing. If you build up a large colony soon, then you can begin adding more to this container; however, you may have to be patient.
    My last step was to spread hair around the earthworm container. Human hair laying near the bin will discourage the rodents. The decomposing food waste does not have such a strong smell that the neighbors will complain. As long as there are air holes for air flow through the container. Rodents do like to eat these scraps, so I feared they may be attracted, particularly since I have had them around the house. The scent of the human hair is supposed to drive them away (sometimes I wonder if that works, because certain rodents do not seem to be bothered).  At least now, I have the beginnings of a new compost source for my garden.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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