Simple In-Ground Bucket – Late June Update

July 4, 2020

A few days ago I checked on my Super Simple In-Ground Bucket Worm Bin. Normally this would be a system I would leave in the ground for at least a couple of months, but I want to make this an educational project so I decided to yank it out of the ground and really see how things were coming along inside!

Firstly, I want to point out that taking an “easy” approach isn’t always best. In my case this involved using a bucket and lid that already had holes in them. The bucket holes are fine, but one of the lid holes is way too big and a fair bit of dirt has been getting knocked down into the system.

NOTE: This is probably a great spot to remind readers that any sort of dirt/soil is NOT actually something you should be adding to a worm composting system. I totally get the “worms and soil” connection – but please keep in mind these are composting worms, not your garden varieties!

Once the bucket was “yanked” I dumped it out into one of my trusty concrete mixing tubs for closer inspection. Right off the bat I was quite surprised by how many bigger, healthy looking Red Worms I was seeing. The “outdoor grade” Easy Worm Mix tends to have a lot of smaller worms – often not very obvious at all – since it is coming from very mature beds during some pretty warm/dry conditions.

Good conditions with some food, bedding and moisture can really help to pep them up.

Another good sign was finding quite a few cocoons. These are yellowish (when fairly new – transition to a brownish colour over time), tear-drop shaped capsules easily visible to the human eye (but can still be fairly well hidden).

Rather than just tossing everything back in the bin the way it was, I decided to separate out a lot of the rich material that could easily be used in the garden. I didn’t manage to get all the worms (or cocoons), though, so I ended up dumping it in one of my backyard composter (vermicomposting) systems.

In the bucket I put back all the habitat/food materials and most of the worms. Since I didn’t happen to have more kitchen scraps to add as food I just added some nicely aged grass clippings and bedding from another system.

NOTE: Grass clippings can be a great resource for outdoor worm composting systems (and even well-ventilated indoor systems), but this can be a tricky material to work with, due to potential for heating and ammonia release. When using the fresh green stuff I recommend thin layers up above your main “safe zone” (will aim to write a blog post about this).

As you can see below, the “nicely aged” stuff tends to have more of a brownish colour. It should have more of an earthy smell than anything pungent/unpleasant.

All that being said, I also like using clippings as a cover bedding material for open outdoor systems like vermicomposting trenches. It tends to dry out in the sun, becoming more of a light green or straw colour. This material is also a lot safer to use than the fresh stuff.

I grabbed some from my in-ground trench bins (mentioned near the end of my ‘Outdoor Grade” Easy Worm Mix Explained post) and added it in the upper zone of my little bucket system before putting the lid back on and mostly-burying it again.

As you can see, I am leaving the bucket partially visible and I have placed a rock directly over the big hole in the lid to help prevent more dirt from getting knocked down into it.

Overall, I am thrilled with how well this system is chugging along so far. It is a very small, enclosed plastic system sitting in a spot that gets direct sun for most of the day. These are several things you should normally avoid if you want to keep your worms alive outdoors – especially during the sort of brutal (heat wave) weather we’ve been seeing lately. Yet the worms are doing great.

Just goes to show how much protection the earth can provide – and helps to explain why I can get almost “pushy” about encouraging people to have some form of below-ground zone for the worms if at all possible. Whether it’s a small pit down below open-bottomed bins like backyard composters, or literally burying a “holey” bucket/bin down in the ground, it can make a world of difference.

On the flip-side, it is also a great way to protect worms during cold weather (in fact, you should be able to keep a colony of Red Worms alive over the winter in a below-ground system with plenty of bedding heaped over top).

Getting back to a small in-ground bucket system…

Just a reminder that: A) One bag of outdoor grade mix should probably be split between two or even 3 of these systems, B) You don’t need to (and likely shouldn’t) go too crazy with feeding – periodic, modest feeding and a habitat with lots of bulky, moist bedding (like shredded cardboard/newsprint) can work wonders, C) If you put these buckets close to plants you can help to boost growth directly (no need to harvest compost).

Stay tuned for more updates and let me know if you have any questions!