“Outdoor Grade” Easy Worm Mix Explained

June 24, 2020

SHORTER VERSION – The “outdoor grade” Easy Worm Mix is a larger volume (~ 18 litres) of living material and worms harvested from outdoor beds. It tends to have a lower density of worms-per-unit-volume (the original mix was usually around 10-12 litres), including different kinds of worms, and a more diverse ecosystem.

It is far better suited for use in a backyard composter, vermicomposting trench or various other outdoor systems than in something like a plastic stacking worm bin. Even something as simple as a buried bucket with holes in it can work very well.

That said, it can still be used for indoor systems – here is a link to a article I wrote about an indoor bucket system I set up with it: Super Simple Breathable Bucket Worm Bin. You simply need to be aware that you will be dealing with a larger volume of material, there may be more small “critters” in your system, and just generally, you will likely need to be a bit more patient.

As I type this (late June 2020), the outdoor grade mix is available for pick-up only, in Waterloo Ontario. It must be pre-ordered and it’s important to realize that turn-around times are going to be slower than normal (likely 1-2 weeks, but under certain circumstances I don’t mind bumping orders up if there is a time-sensitive requirement of some sort).

As always, purchases include full support, and any virtual assistance you need – and guaranteed success if you are willing to follow my recommendations.

For quite a few years I have been selling Red Worms in the form of a starter culture known as “Easy Worm Mix”.

The product was inspired by the great results I’ve witnessed, starting new systems with worm-rich material from active systems over the years.

The idea is that you don’t just get a big gob of stressed out worms in a small amount of sterile bedding. You get a much larger quantity of rich, living habitat material that contains lots of worms of all sizes, often many cocoons as well, along with a diverse ecosystem of beneficial composting organisms.

Most people don’t realize it, but the living material itself is nearly as valuable as the composting worms, helping to balance things out and protect the worms early on (when newcomers can often make a lot of mistakes).

To learn more about Easy Worm Mix I highly recommend you read through these resources:
Easy Worm Mix FAQ Page
Easy Worm Mix Guide

This now brings us to…

“Outdoor Grade” Easy Worm Mix

Last season I rolled out a new indoor production approach for Easy Worm Mix. Batches of mix were prepared over time in a small indoor bins. It helped me to standardize the process a lot more, as well as helping me avoid bottlenecks during more challenging times of year (eg cold and hot/dry periods).

I am very happy with the approach, but the 2020 season brought with it a whole new set of challenges that made it much more difficult to continue setting up lots of these bins. I needed a simpler approach in order to continue selling Red Worm culture mixes. I still had older outdoor systems with plenty of worms in them, and I also saw a great opportunity to show people how to harness the “power” of composting worms in their own backyards.

Being largely home-bound early on, I’ve ended up re-booting multiple backyard composters and setting up other outdoor systems (with plenty of help from my son) this season with great results.

I am hoping to write more about this in other upcoming blog posts, but here are some articles on my other site you may want to check out in the meantime:

“Vermicomposting Trench Worm Bins” – this talks about a series of plastic tub systems I installed in an old vermicomposting trench.

“Backyard Vermi-Filtration, Fertilization System” – this is about an old leaky rain barrel that I’ve converted into a “vermi-filtration” system that will be used to convert greywater (etc) into a beneficial “tea”, used to hydrate/fertilize garden plants this summer.

[NOTE: If you are Canadian, please don’t order worms from the Red Worm Composting website – I have a largely US-based audience for that site and all those worm orders are actually fulfilled by a drop-shipper south of the border]

Hope this provides some clarification about the “outdoor grade” mix. If you have any questions about the product or about setting up outdoor systems with composting worms, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

If you are ready to place an order (for Waterloo ON pick-up), you can do so via this page: Pick-Up Order Pricing

Simple Breathable Bucket – 06-13-20

June 13, 2020

Back at the beginning of June I wrote about my “Super Simple Breathable Bucket Worm Bin”.

The idea was to demonstrate that a bag of “outdoor grade” Easy Worm Mix can in fact be used to start up an indoor system. I decided on a “breathable bucket” (instead of a more typical worm bin) because: 1) they are super cheap and easy to make, 2) the size is big enough to handle a full bag of the mix (plus bedding + food scraps), 3) they have excellent aeration yet are quite well sealed, and 4) I just happened to have some empty ones ready for use.

So far I’ve taken a very mellow approach, mostly leaving it alone (never a bad idea early on with a new system), and things seem to be chugging along nicely.

One interesting new development I wanted to share is the discovery of a much better way to secure the fabric lid. I’ve been using large elastics up until now. They can be a challenge to get on at times, and also break . That’s exactly what happened in this case, along with the next one I tried to get on – so I decided enough was enough.

Thankfully, it finally occurred me that I had some bungee cords lying around.

Yep, I’m kicking myself for not thinking of this earlier! They are much easier to get on and off, and they will certainly last a lot longer.

It’s worth mentioning that some gnats/flies have appeared in the system. Nothing to be overly concerned about – but this is another good reason for not adding too much food early on, and also highlights the value of completely closed (yet breathable) system like this. If it wasn’t for the check-up I wouldn’t have even realized the flies had appeared.

Anyway – will leave it at that for now. Should be interesting to see how things develop from here, and I’ll be sure to post more updates along the way.

Super Simple In-Ground Bucket Worm Bin

June 12, 2020

I recently wrote about a simple “breathable bucket system” that is very easy and inexpensive to set up for indoor use. I wanted to illustrate that you can use a bag of my “outdoor grade” Easy Worm Mix for an indoor system – and I’m happy to report that the bucket bin is chugging along nicely in my basement as I type this.

In this post I want to tell you about an even easier bucket system you can put out in your yard. Aside from being a great way to grow a nice population of Red Worms and turn your kitchen scraps into “black gold”, these little units can serve as integrated fertilizer (and moisture) stations when you install them close to growing plants.

I’ll be the first to admit that outdoor vermicomposting can be more challenging than indoor vermicomposting due to various factors (eg climatic conditions, wildlife etc), but with in-ground systems – especially those using an actual container – your changes of success can be much greater.

On that note, let’s now look how I set up my basic bucket system today (in about 15 minutes).

Site selection is an important first step with any sort of system like this. Some considerations can include: 1) aesthetics (although, as I will show you, a bin like this can me hidden completely), 2) ease of access, 3) overall gameplan (eg. if you want to fertilize plants directly it should be close to growing plants).

In the case of this particular bin I decided to put it in a garden bed directly below a big honeysuckle bush (which has certainly benefited from all the nearby vermicomposting activities over the years, that’s for sure).

For the sake of getting the system set up as quickly as possible I grabbed a small bucket (pretty sure it is 3 gal) that already had some holes drilled in it. Bins like this absolutely need drainage holes so they don’t end up flooded, and I recommend holes in the side to allow the worms to move in and out (also very important if you plan to use them for garden fertilization). If you are using a larger bucket or bin, don’t hesitate to drill a lot more holes than what you see below (I normally would). Not a big deal with a bucket this small, as long as it has good drainage.

I wouldn’t say a lid is critical – but it is highly recomended in a lot of cases. It really helps to moderate moisture levels, and will keep bigger critters out. I do recommend having some holes in the top, however, so some rain water can get in. Once again, this just happened to be a lid I had on hand – I likely would have drilled more holes with a smaller bit. I’m certainly not concerned.

The pit should be deep enough that the top of the lid will be just below or at soil level.

I always like creating a “false bottom” with paper-based bedding materials. In this case, I added some shredded corrugated cardboard in the bottom of the pit itself and also in the bottom of the bucket. This will become an important “safe zone” for the worms – helping to protect and sustain them for extended periods even if they end up a bit neglected.

I next added a layer kitchen scraps. Normally I like to freeze and then thaw them since it helps to start the breakdown process (and with indoor systems it can kill fruit fly eggs in fruit peels as well).

Since the bedding was added dry, I decided to add some water at this point. One of the great things about these free-draining outdoor systems (unlike typical indoor bin) is that you don’t really need to worry about how much you add.

Before adding the worm mix I decided to add another layer of bedding. It’s nice to have a bit of a buffer zone between the worms and the food materials, but I also wanted to showcase some “scrunched” paper – another great bedding option, especially since most people will have good access to waste paper. Obviously if you happen to have a shredder, shredded paper is great as well.

As a sidenote, I always recommend avoiding glossy paper and cardboard as much as possible.

If setting up smaller buckets like the one I used, I recommend splitting a bag of worm mix between two. With a larger bucket (like one I used for my “breathable bucket system”) one bag may be fine – although there are definitely advantages to setting up multiple systems. These worms are very much adapted for taking advantage of favourable resources and conditions – in other words, when split into two separate bucket systems you might find that you end up with twice the size of population by the end of the season that you would have had you simply opted for one. It’s also great to have multiple buckets if you want to use them as fertilizer stations!

I brought the level of worm mix up close to the top of the bucket, leaving just enough room for some cover bedding.

Next, I secured the lid. As you can see, it’s not the most aesthetically appealing composter – but the good news is that you can easily cover it with mulch or even a thin layer of soil. Just make sure you remember where it is! 😉

Maintenance for a system like this can be pretty minimal. I recommend checking on it periodically and adding more food and bedding as the level drops down. It should stay pretty moist, but adding a little water each time isn’t a bad idea either.

These little buckets probaly aren’t going to be waste processing powerhouses for you, but they do offer a very cheap, easy and effective way to get started with outdoor vermicomposting and “vermigardening”.

UPDATE: Be sure to also check out “Simple In-Ground Bucket – Late June Update

Super Simple Breathable Bucket Worm Bin

June 1, 2020

This season (2020) I am putting most of my focus on helping people harness the “power” of composting worms in outdoor systems. I am selling an “outdoor grade” version of Easy Worm Mix – something I will write more about in another blog post.

But I still want to help those interested in starting up indoor systems. I am a huge proponent of indoor vermicomposting, especially during colder months of the year, and especially in cases where outdoor worm composting isn’t even an option.

In light of this, and as a way to help some people use the outdoor grade mix for indoor systems, I want to share a super simple indoor start up approach that I began testing in the fall of 2019 – involving the use of “breathable” buckets”.

I have written about this quite a bit on the Red Worm Composting blog (one of my other websites, in case you weren’t aware) so I won’t go too deep into the backstory. But here is a YouTube video I created that will help to lay some important groundwork.

The long and the short of it is that regular buckets are NOT usually a good choice for use as a worm bin, but when you add (very easy-to-intall) bottle cap vents – or something comparable – they can work really really well. They don’t take up much room and are very easy to move around as well – so I highly recommend you give them a try, especially if you are looking to reduce your vermicomposting start-up costs.

My outdoor grade Easy Worm Mix is a larger volume (~ 18 litres) of rich, “living” habitat material, containing not only Red Worms, but a handful of other worm species. Just generally, there is a very rich ecosystem of composting organisms – and this is partially why I suggest an outdoor set-up. Things like gnats, which may or may not gain a foothold, can certainly be more annoying indoors. And the sheer volume of the mix makes it less well suited for something like a smaller stacking bin.

One of the great things about the bucket system we are looking at here is that it keeps things contained (yet still provides great air flow) – we’ll touch on this again a bit further down.

On that note – let’s now look at how I set up one of these buckets with a single bag of the outdoor mix.

Step #1 with most of my worm composting systems is creating some form of “false bottom” with cardboard/paper. It just so happens that each bag of the mix has a decent amount of shredded newsprint down in the bottom, so this is what I put down in the bottom of my bucket.

From there on up it was just a matter of adding thin, alternating layers of material. First some of the Easy Worm Mix…

…then a thin layer of bedding (note: flat sheets of paper aren’t ideal since they can impede worm and air movement – I recommend either shredding or “scrunching”).

Next I added my first layer of kitchen scraps. I keep a bucket under the sink for these wastes and once the bucket is filled it is usually frozen and thawed before use. Chopping + aging + freezing/thawing greatly assists the microbes (and the worms) so these optimized waste mixes will tend to get processed more quickly than fresh scraps.

I then continued with these alternating layers all the way up (you really only need 1-3 layers of the food, however – it’s the bedding and the mix that are the most important during the start-up phase).

I always recommend ending with a thick cover layer of bedding.

I actually left the bin as-is for a number of days in the basement before adding my covers. As you can see, the activity of the worms had already led to a drop in the overall level of material in the system.

Because I use a very breathable fabric lid on these buckets I also lay a loose plastic bag over the surface of the composting zone. This helps to retain a bit more moisture. The fabric (cut from an old bed sheet) is secured with a large elastic band.

What’s great about a simple system like this is:

1) I had no problem using the entire bag of mix – plus bedding and food materials
2) In a climate controlled location (eg this one is sitting in my basement) this could sit for extended periods without any further attention
3) If any sort of gnat (etc) outbreak does happen to materialize, the lid and vents will keep it fully contained.
4) In a shady location, a bin like his could even do fine outside – my only (major) caveat would be to make sure it gets moved indoors during heavy rainfall so it doesn’t end up flooded. (I will be writing a blog about another type of bucket system that is actually a better choice for those of you who have some yard space to work with)

If this system looks like something you would like to try, please be sure to watch the video above since the vents are a very important feature (i.e. don’t just try this with a regular bucket).

Let me know if you have any questions!