Worm Bin Homemade Heater

Many people have asked me how to keep their worm bin warm during the winter months which are setup in their garage or basement. So I finally purchased all the material to build a homemade worm bin heating system which can easily be built within an hour or so.

I set this up with an air temperature in the barn of 61 degrees Fahrenheit. Internal worm bin (4′ x 8′ x 1′ deep) temperature was 68 degrees. After running on high for 12 hours, the temperature in the buckets of water was 89 to 90 degrees. The internal bin temperature had risen to 73 degrees Fahrenheit, a total of 5 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of the exterior sides of the tubing was 78 degrees.

I was able to raise further by digging a hole in the worm bed since four foot by eight foot, and place the bucket in the center. One this acted as some insulation and two added additional heating area to the bedding. I was able to maintain approximately 75 degrees Fahrenheit this way. If using in a smaller worm bin, simply insulate around the exterior of the five gallon bucket to retain as much heat as possible.

Keep in mind this is not something that will work when temperatures fall down to the forties every night or colder, but great for a garage or basement area where you need to boost the heat for your worms a little!

First, the needed supplies are as follows:
1 – 5 Gallon Bucket
1 – 2 Gallon Bucket (Easily fits within the 5 Gallon Bucket)
50 Feet of 3/8 inch flexible tubing
1 – Fountain Pump (capable of pumping up at least 4 feet)
1 – Adjustable Thermostat Aquarium Heater… Submersible Pump Only Large with thermostat
2 –Dozen Wire Ties

Worm Bin Heater Materials
Worm Bin Heater Materials

These materials will run right around $75.00 to purchase.
First, drill a hole through the lid just large enough to pass the thermostat cord through in the center of the lid. You do not want to make this too large as you will lose too much water due to evaporation. Also drill two ¼ inch holes or so next to each other off to one side of the thermostat wire so as to secure the wire with a wire tie later on.

Drilling The Lid
Drilling The Lid

You need to drill two ¾ inch holes near the top of the five gallon bucket to thread your tubing through. Be sure to drill just below your lid once the lid is snapped securely in place. At the same time make a “U” cut in the top rim of the five gallon bucket large enough for your pump electrical wire to lay in. Be sure this also goes low enough that it will not interfere with the lid when you go to snap it down.

Drill Water Line Holes
Drill Water Line Holes

Next is to drill holes in the bottom of the 2 gallon bucket. I used a 3/8 inch bit for this.

Next you need to proceed by drilling holes in the side of the 2 gallon bucket making two of them close to the bottom so as to use a wire tie to anchor one end of the 3/8 inch tubing.

Holes in Bottom of 2 Gallon Bucket
Holes in Bottom of 2 Gallon Bucket

Once the holes are drilled you are ready to coil the tubing on the exterior of the 2 gallon bucket. Use a wire tie for the end of the tubing to secure it on the bottom of the 2 gallon bucket. Continue by coiling around the bucket and securing with ties about every three revolutions. You should end up coiling about 25 feet of the tubing around the 2 gallon bucket. Be sure to use a wire tie at the top of the 2 gallon bucket where you finish the coiling.

Tie Down Hose on 2 Gallon Bucket
Tie Down Hose on 2 Gallon Bucket
Wrapping 2 Gallon Bucket with Hose
Wrapping 2 Gallon Bucket with Hose

Take the other end of your tubing and feed it through from the inside of the 5 gallon bucket to the outside. Pull the tubing all through so as to be able to place the 2 gallon bucket inside the 5 gallon bucket.
Now you need to drill two ¾ inch holes near the top of your worm bin so as you can still place your lid on. Run the tubing through one of the holes, from the outside to the inside of your worm bin. Next begin coiling by running back and forth in the bottom of your worm bin. Using wire ties to secure the tubing on the bottom of your bin making use of your aeration holes drilled on the bottom. If needed drill and extra hole here and there to secure on the bottom of the bin.

Run the tubing through the second ¾ inch hole in your worm bin from inside to outside.

Now run the tubing from the outside to the inside of the second ¾ inch hole near the top of your five gallon bucket. Place the pump with suction cups to one side of the 2 gallon bucket, drape the power cord through the “U” slot near the top of the 5 gallon bucket and attach the end of the tube to the pump.

Pull your power cord for the heater through the bottom of the center hole in your 5 gallon bucket lid. Before snapping the lid in place, place on top of the 5 gallon bucket and run a wire tie to support the power cord of the heater so as the heater dangles just about ½ inch above the floor of the 2 gallon bucket.

Heater View Through Lid
Heater View Through Lid
Finished View Interior
Finished View Interior
Completed Heater Exterior View
Completed Heater Exterior View

Photo does not show the tubing ran in the worm bin

Now fill with water and plug the pump in only. Once the tubing fills with water, add additional water to fill the 5 gallon bucket just below the holes drilled for your tubing and pump cord on the side of the five gallon bucket. Be sure the heater is completely submerged under water. Plug heater in and adjust temperature on heater as needed.
Be sure to check the temperature of the worm bin daily and adjust your thermostat as needed. Also be sure to check the water level as the thermostat needs to be submerged under water at all times.
The Worm Guy

The Worm Guy
The Worm Guy

Purina Earthworm Chow To Change Feeding Directions After More Than 35 years!

As many may already know, The Worm Guy is a leader and the largest worm supplier in the continental USA! There are numerous reasons for this including the latest working with Purina on their directions for Purina Earthworm Chow.

Bruce the Worm Guy has been recognized as the Worm Expert, Master Wormologist (which is not even a word in the dictionary) via Outdoor Life Magazine and more. In fact with his other online businesses he has been written up in numerous magazines and newspaper articles!

When everyone else stated that Alabama Jumpers could NOT be grown in a controlled environment Bruce proved them all wrong!

“I have always had a pet peeve with the directions on the Purina Earthworm Chow label and have always told folks when shipping the worm chow, not to follow one part of the directions” states Bruce Galle.

There were several issues that arose from the directions to the Purina Earthworm Chow label for over 35 years that pursued Bruce to follow up and move up “the food chain” to finally talk with Dr. Troy Tollefson from the Company.

“I want to personally thank Dr. Troy Tollefson for taking the time publically to talk with me and take the time to understand why I was suggesting the changes in the directions for feeding Purina Earthworm Chow”.

There are several reasons the directions on the Purina Earthworm Chow needed to be modified from detrimental to worms as well as slowing the growth, reproduction rates and production of worm castings.

Once the worm beds are stirred if any Earthworm Chow is left behind this will sour the worm bedding. This in turn can kill your worms off due to protein poisoning! I personally get numerous inquiries over this throughout the year hence why we send separate instructions not to turn the worm bedding for one, but other reasons as well.

Should one stir the worm bedding material up, the worms go into a state of shock more or less for 24 hours or more, hence reducing the reproduction rate as well as food consumption rate which also results in a slower production rate of worm castings.

This change in Purina Worm Chow feeding instructions will take effect within the next few weeks. Being that the next batch will not hit the market place for a while it will take several months before it hits your store shelf.

Worm Tea Recipe from The Worm Guy

Being I often get asked about a good worm tea recipe, I decided to post it here along with some explanations. This recipe can also be used when brewing a compost tea since the same principles will apply. This is the same recipe The Worm Guy brews on a larger scale! If in search of quality worm castings, click here!

Since most people use a five gallon bucket for brewing worm castings tea, I will base the recipe on this.

First you need a five gallon bucket filled with water.

Next it is best to use a two line aquarium pump however a single line will also work. Air stones of 4” to 6” in length work best.

While not necessary I do recommend an aquarium heater to heat your water prior and during the brewing process to approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is that many of the beneficial microbes do very well at this temperature. If the water is too cool or too hot, it will kill off a variety of beneficial microbes, hence not giving your plants the full potential of a high quality worm tea.

Ingredients:

1 Pound – Worm Castings (vermicast)

1 – Strainer Bag (either reusable or paint strainer…)

2 – Tablespoons of Un-sulfured Molasses (good food for exponential growth of beneficial bacteria)

1 – Tablespoon of Liquid Kelp (good for beneficial fungi growth)

Worm castings and hence what you want in your worm tea contain both beneficial fungi and bacteria. The Un-sulfured Molasses will support and feed the bacteria which will explode in numbers exponentially. However the Molasses is not a good food source for the fungi, hence why the liquid kelp is added. The fungi will not reproduce while brewing, however will help to maintain a healthy population as well as grow them in size.

First step which will make the entire process much easier is to mix all your ingredients with the exception of the worm castings prior to even hooking up the air pump. The reason for this is that the air hoses, stones and bag of worm castings will get in the way as you thoroughly mix the rest of the ingredients. Also have your water temperature at the correct range of 70 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit, this is vital to insure an effective worm tea brew.

Once thoroughly mixed, add your air stones to the bottom of the bucket and start the pump.

Next add your worm castings or vermicast to the strainer bag. Tie off to the metal handle on the five gallon bucket to enable the bag to float while the air bubbles come up under the bag.

It is actually a good idea to loosely place a lid on the five gallon bucket just to help with splashing from the air bubbles rising to the surface.

Allow your worm tea to brew 48 hours at which time you should have a nice froth on top. Should you decide to brew it longer additional food will be required to feed the beneficial microbes after the initial two days.

The completed worm tea batch should have just a hint of a sweat smell to it.

Do not dilute the worm tea when watering your plants. Diluting will only cut back on the ratio of microbes in the water you just generated. You can apply the worm tea directly to the leaves of the plants since the plants can also absorb the nutrients directly through the leaves. Just be sure when applying to the leaves that you do it early in the morning or early evening when the plants are not exposed to direct sunlight.

Order Your Worm Castings Now!

Good luck in your vermicomposting adventures….

Bruce

Difference Between Worm Tea And Leachate

To get the answer we need a basic understanding of how composting actually works. The Worm Guy has studied and one might say played around with microbes, not always with great results. The article below is from my readings on microbes as well as results from my own experiments!

Composting is actually trying to stabilize unstable organic matter and storing the nutrients for immediate or future use.

Usually in nature, organic matter is decomposed in thin layers such as leaves in the woods or the grass clippings in your lawn. Being the layer is thin, the organic matter is penetrable by oxygen and aerobic organisms come to play. These are the good guys hence usually a balanced compost for the environment.

When we compost, with or without worms, we tend to pile up the organic matter which makes it difficult for oxygen to penetrate hence anaerobic organisms take over. Yes these are the bad guys. Anaerobic organisms are what take over a landfill, hence why they must be lined to prevent harmful runoff to protect surrounding soil and water sources! A benefit to anaerobic composting such as in landfills is the production of methane gas which than be collected and sold as a byproduct.

When we manage decomposition, such as a worm bin or worm farm, decomposition takes place in three stages for the most active microorganisms.

Phsychrophilic bacteria begins to process at temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit

Mesophilic bacteria, the fastest decomposers process between 70 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit

Thermophilic bacteria come into play at temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit

When managing decomposition, we pay attention to the carbon (newspaper, cardboard…) to nitrogen (vegetable scraps, grass clippings…) ratio as well as moisture and oxygen.

Composting with worms is a more controlled method of basic composting as well as speeds up the process. You maintain a constant temperature which enables the most active bacteria, Mesophilic to take over. Worms move through the organic matter helping to aerate the decaying matter as well as making smaller particles of the decaying matter, hence leaving more surface area for beneficial microbes to work on.

If the moisture content gets to high, usually above 80%, the decaying matter becomes compacted, the same way the landfill does. This is when the worm bin can begin to change over to those nasty anaerobic organisms which can be harmful to your worms and even begin killing them off.

Once the moisture content begins to rise even more, the decaying matter releases a liquid called leachate. You will see many websites refer to this as worm tea, which it is not from a variety of worm farms sold online!

Worm tea is derived by brewing worm castings which are full of aerobic microorganisms. This process is done by aerating the worm castings, water and unsulphured molasses for approximately 48 hours in order to explode the aerobic microbe population. Adding liquid kelp also helps to provide food for beneficial fungi within your worm tea brew!

Leachate is usually the opposite, full of anaerobic organisms.

If you are getting a little leachate from your worm farm or worm bin, try adding several inches of dry shredded newspaper on top and place the lid on it. This will absorb a little of the moisture. If you are getting a lot of leachate, it might be time to remake the bedding for your friends!

Now that you understand the process you can probably understand why I have an issue with a few things.

First, all the websites selling worm farms with the little spigot on the bottom which they advertise as a worm tea dispenser, when in reality it is leachate which can be harmful to your worms and plants as well as you the end consumer. Put it this way, it is not doing your worms or plants any good if you are getting leachate from your worm farm.

Secondly, there are many websites as well as listings on eBay offering bottled worm tea and bagged worm castings in resealable plastic bags. As you might realize by now, cutting off the oxygen in either of these two sealed products kills off the aerobic microbes and produces anaerobic microbes. So in reality, you are spending your hard earned money on something which can be detrimental to your plants.

So to answer a number of emails I receive every week, this is why The Worm Guy does not sell the worm farms with the little spigot on the bottom, bottled worm tea or worm castings in resealable bags. They only offer worm castings which are shipped in breathable bags via Priority Mail or other ways for large quantities since you are dealing with live microbes.

Hope this helps you understand the basics a little better and why it is important to avoid leachate from draining out of your bin. Should you have additional questions you can try finding answers at The Worm Expert discussion forum or go for a one on one telephone conversation with The Worm Guy Himself!

The Worm Guy

Problems With Worm Farm by The Worm Guy

There are many reasons for worms trying to escape and or dying off in your worm farm or worm composting bin. I am only touching on a few here as a basic outline since these are the issues that most experience.

Before I began writing this post I decided to have a look at other websites and see what they had to say on the subject. To my amazement many gave wrong advice which inevitably would make matters worse and even kill off all of ones worms. The problem arises as most people selling worms online don’t even and have never raised worms or have raised in a single worm bin one species of worm but have no idea on raising other types. Each worm requires some small to extreme habitats, climate conditions etc. I have personally raised five types of worms successfully, mainly by trial and error over the past 35 years!

When I was informed that no one could raise Alabama Jumpers in a controlled environment, well to put it bluntly, I love a challenge. Don’t get me wrong, it took a number of months to figure it all out and I did lose a number of them from the start as I was learning and teaching myself simultaneously.

There are five main components to why worms try to escape and or begin dying off. Air flow throughout the worm bin, pH level, moisture level, bedding material and temperature of the bedding material.

Starting with air flow, remember you want to create aerobic microbes the good microbes) as well as the worms all need oxygen to survive. But limiting the air flow, one first off has the probability of creating anaerobic microbes as well as suffocates your worms. The air flow also helps in maintaining a constant bedding temperature of your worm farm. Your worms will begin to try and escape to find fresh oxygen as well as try to get away of anaerobic bedding. One way to tell at times is if you begin to get a foul smell similar to a stagnant swamp type of smell. If you do find this to be an issue, separate your worms and place in a new bedding.

This leads me to the next issue of the type of bedding material used. Not all worms will exist in the same materials. Take for instance, African nightcrawlers, European nightcrawlers and Red wigglers. These three common types of composting and fishing worms will do great in sphagnum peat moss, shredded newspapers and even shredded corrugated brown boxes. However these are not going to fare well in plain dirt. On the other hand, the Alabama Jumpers will do great in sand, clay and black top soils however will continuously try to escape from sphagnum peat moss, shredded newspapers and corrugated brown cardboard. The Alabama jumper can tolerate approximately 20% – 25% mixture of these materials with clay, sandy and black soils.

Temperature is another factor and one most do not understand with different types of worms. I read for instance one site that mentioned about European nightcrawlers dying off in the summer and some state protein poisoning. This one site states to simply mix the bedding material up well. This would make matter worse as with either top feeding or using vegetable scraps by mixing you will sour the bedding. If using protein based foods with European nightcrawlers in the summer, yes good chance protein poisoning. Another factor most are unaware of is that Europeans grow in a cool environment. A hot summer time worm bed will kill them off especially the larger mature worms before the younger worms.

African nightcrawlers on the other hand, are on the other side of the spectrum as they require warmer temperatures in order to survive. I know from firsthand experience that you will begin to lose them if the temperature in the bins falls below 65 degrees. However there are websites that claim they can survive at temperatures as low as 55 degrees and one even states at 32 degrees. To prove this wrong I ran an experiment a couple years ago and placed a few African nightcrawlers in a refrigerator at 48 degrees. Within twelve hours they were about all dead and a couple hours later they were lifeless!

Red wigglers can tolerate a low end above freezing to a warmer 80-85 degrees comfortably. Alabama Jumpers on the other hand can take very cool temperatures however do not begin to become active much until the soil reaches about 60 degrees but can tolerate very warm temperatures as well.

pH is probably the simplest to discuss as all worms need to be at least neutral to a bit on the acidic side. Basically you want your pH range to be anywhere between 6-7 reading on a pH meter. Too acidic or too alkaline will begin to have worms trying to escape and if too far either way, will begin killing off your worm farm. If your worm farm is to alkaline, try adding slowly as not to overdo to the other extreme, some tomato scraps as well as spent coffee grinds. If to acidic, add some pulverized garden lime, not the pellets on top and immediately water to allow the lime to work down into the worm bed a little. Adding ground eggshells works however will take longer to adjust your worm bin if a quick adjustment is needed.

Moisture is another variable from worm to worm. Some are more tolerant than others as far as how high or low they can survive. Red wigglers and European are best around 60% – 70% moisture or so. Alabama Jumpers and African nightcrawlers should be a little less in most circumstance at about 50% – 60%.

This should give you some guidelines as what to check and where your readings should be in the event your worms are trying to escape and or dying off.