An Experience in (Mild) Communal Living
Overview History Meetings Cleaning Eating Food Shopping Recycling Worm Bin

In the Fall after we moved in, Pete built a worm bin in the back yard. A worm bin is used to hold food scraps for worms to eat. The worms eat, live and die inside this box. As they eat, their waste mixes with the decomposed food, and after some time it results in a sort of compost/fertilizer stuff.

This may remind you of composting. In fact, they are similar, but a worm bin is a little easier to set up. A compost heap relies on naturally occuring bacteria to help break the products down, as well as manual/mechanical action on a regular basis. That is, you have to go and turn the heap with a fork every few days to keep breaking it down into smaller pieces, and to mix new stuff in. Depending on conditions, like the size of your pile, materials in it, weather, etc., the pile will take from a few weeks to a couple of years to turn into compost which you can spread in your garden.

A worm bin works differently. In a worm bin, a type of red worm is introduced when the pile is first started. The worms have evolved in parallel with human communities so they are "bred" for eating your garbage. The nice thing about a worm bin is, you don't need to turn the bin--the worms do all the work. We do turn it a little near the top when we dump food in.

Pete's bin was pretty large, about 4' high by 5' wide by 2.5' deep. He constructed the bin from regular old plywood, nailed in a simple box form with reinforcement along the inner edges. The lid used to just lay on top. After two years, the lid showed some signs of warp, so I reinforced it with some 2x4s and added hinges to make it easier to open.

The bin sat outside, in a corner of the garden. It was out there in all weather--of course, this was San Francisco, so the weather's pretty mild. I always figured it had another six months in it, but somehow it lasted for years.

Pete took on the long-term duty to feed the worm bin with our garbage scraps. This was separate from our rotating chores. It worked like this. In the kitchen, next to the sink, we had a small bucket. I think it was a giant yogurt container once. It collected food scraps from our cooking and meals. It held maybe 3 or 4 pounds of stuff. When it was full, we emptied it into a larger five-gallon container on the back porch. That container gets pretty dirty-looking, but somehow never smelt too much. When that finally filled up--maybe every two or three weeks, Pete carried it out to the worm bin to empty it.

Over time, the five-gallon bucket got pretty dirty, so Pete would scrub it out using the garden hose and stuff.

Surprisingly, we didn't have much of a fly problem or a smell problem. Fruit flies, invaded the kitchen two or three times a year, but we just let them be and they leave after two or three weeks. We're not into pesticides much so we just lived with it, but try to keep the area really clean so they won't have food to nibble on.

The worm bin itself gets a little ripe sometimes, but I never smelt it in the garden--only when opening the heavy lid and feeding it.

We never had problems with rodents or other large pests, either.

Dan and I harvested the worm bin a couple of times. The first time, we pulled about a dozen loosely packed five-gallon buckets from their. Pretty good! Dan extracted and I spread it into the garden. It felt really nice, black and moist and crumbly, just like the ad says.

Harvest was a little tricky, since the worms are living in the stuff you're trying to pull out. The trick we followed depends on the worms' aversion to light. Basically, you push the compost to one side, and exposing some to light. The worms flee the light and go to the side of the bin with more compost, or they dig down. You wait a bit them pull out the top layer you exposed. You repeat this, working down one side and then the other. It worked pretty well; I didn't seem many worms thrown into our garden.

There's lots more information on worms on the WWW. Here's a couple of links (worm links? umm) you might like to follow