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vermicompost - do the results justify the time and expense

 
pollinator
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Hi All,

I have been raising worms for about a year now and have gotten some really nice vermicompost.  Due to my start time earlt last year I did not get enough castings last growing season to make a significant test of the results.  My question to the forum is do the results from adding vermicompost to the garden soil justify the time, money and effort to create them compared to simply composting the organic material and adding it to the soil?  I am going on the assumption that there is a significant benefit to be had and thus have been investing aforesaid time and money to achieve these hoped for benefits.  My current operation is generating roughly 5 cu ft. of castings every 2-3 months..

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
pollinator
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Correct worm castings are a wonderful thing.

They offer your soil more benefits than just a one time thing.  Keep adding even if little by little and it will improve your soil in so many ways.

But also if you are not already.

Enure you put compost over the top of the soil.  This will help you to maximize its benefits.

For way to much information on vermicomposting: Vermicomposting part 1
 
pollinator
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I used to work diligently to maintain a separate worm bin. I ultimately found it to be a tremendous pain in the neck that didn't really return enough worm castings to make it worth while.
My current system involves a hard plastic compost bin and a drill  hole filled trashcan next to it that was started with some worms in the base. Now I toss the occasional bit of yard waste in the worm can and often move some partially composted stuff from the bottom of the compost bin into the worm can since the small compost bin doesn't really keep up with our compost production.
I haven't emptied anything out of the worm can in the 6 months I've had it but from some experimental probing I've done it appears that the 2/3 full can is almost fully vermicompost and I am planning to use some of the black gold in the spring.

Tl;Dr worm castings are wonderfully valuable, but its certainly worth it to find a low effort system to produce them because you can easily sink a ton of effort into a system
 
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Vermicompost is a great stuff for a garden and one can achieve it in a large ammount almost without any cost and work. I created my own garden vermicomposting system that works just perfect. It is simply a hole in the ground of rectangle shape, cca 4 x 2 meters/yards large and some 2-3 feet deep. Its walls are covered with some dense wire mesh as a protection against moles and mice. This hole is divided by several planks in two identical parts, gaps between them are essential.  I throw compostable material into one sector for a whole year. It is totally full at the end of the year. I have colonized this stuff with redworms in the beginning. In the second year, I am filling the second sector  letting the worms do their work in the first one. I also plant some squashes there.. I empty the first sector at the end of the second year - in October/November.  I get some cubic meter of vermicompost. There is not almost any redworm in it as all of them have already crowled into the fresh sector.. So only work is to dig the hole in the very beginning and then emptying one sector every autumn. No aditional cost and work. Just simple. Redworms are thriving there for whole year as the compost never freezes inside..
 
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Folk smarter than I could compare vermicomposting and other composting methods based on biology, chemistry and what not. Folk more fastidious than I might have yield comparisons they could share.

My 2 cents is, if like me you're committed to vermicomposting, leverage it to the greatest extent you can.

In my situation that was using vermicompost as the major component in my seed starting mix (along with charcoal and peat moss). It saved me an embarrassing amount of money, and it gave me the opportunity to start plants earlier, which expanded the types of vegetables and plants I could grow. My second major use was to make vermicompost teas--made me feel like a mad scientist, covered the cost of admission for me.

Using it like that made it seem like I had a lot more than what I actually did. Probably 30-40ish gallons a year. My system was also essentially stand alone--I transported vegetable scraps, during fall garden clean up and winter mainly, to 4 bins in my basement filled with worms.

When my situation changed and I no longer had time for management that system petered out, and I set the worms free in my garden. It was "brittle" so to speak.

So my advice is, if you can find a way, incorporate vermicomposting into other systems. Some ideas I'm curious to try;

--As a pre filter/grease trap for greywater from the kitchen sink (I suppose the pattern-type would be something like "biological filter, capable of withstanding concentrated fertility and occasional anaerobic conditions").

--As an ancillary component of chicken composting systems. (The youtube channel Edible Acres explores this).

--As a way to manage small amounts of ruminant manure, over winter in cold climates, if time and material a limited (the youtube channel Oxbow Farms gave me that idea).

--a stand alone system whose main output is childhood education. That would be personally worthwhile for me. Even if only 1 young person was inspired.


Maybe there's something useful to you here. I'd love to hear more about your system. You're generating so much! (To me.)


 
Jan Hrbek
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Kamaar Taliaferro wrote:
--As an ancillary component of chicken composting systems. (The youtube channel Edible Acres explores this).


Yes, my vermicomposting hole / trench is situated just next to the chicken coop, so I can empty the dirty bedding (woodchips+chicken poop) straight into the hole. My chickens also have access to the hole during the cold season (October - May = between squash harvest and sowing), so they can find some good stuff in a kitchen waste there. I turn the upper layer of the compost by a fork time to time for them to be able scratch it and find some redworms to eat..  Great example of cooperation of chickens and worms.
 
gardener
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I hope they will!
I am just now gearing up to convert a full sized fridge into a worm bin.
I find my chickens to be uninterested  consumers of scraps, they prefer bugs, so I am gonna try turning scraps into bugs.
I will probably put the food waste through a blender to aid the digestion.
A part of the appeal is the ability to allow the chickens into the bin,  but also exclude them.
 
Kamaar Taliaferro
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William!

The blender trick was key for me.
 
gardener
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Personally, I've found there's not a lot of time & expense involved to need justifying. I really enjoy raising worms, so I have a few bins I keep in the house for small amounts of scraps; but the vast majority of the worms are set up in beds under/near the rabbit cages, which supply them with an automatic source of food & bedding.
If I want to harvest castings from the indoor bins, it can take a little while to sort out the worms/cocoons, but it goes quickly once you get a system in place that works for you. For me, it's easier to just dig below the surface of the rabbit worm beds and get those castings.
Generally, the worms thrive on neglect. I usually toss some scraps in the indoor bins once a week or two, and shred up junk mail or anything with confidential info on it for bedding (which is also food). I may add a little water to the bins once a month (usually in the winter months when the house is drier). There's been times I've neglected them for over a month and they were fine (though breeding slows down if the food source gets too low).
The outdoor beds usually stay moist enough, though I'll use the hose to spray them down in summer for moisture and to lower the temperature.
Once you get the population high enough, you tend to stop worrying about them as much. When I first started I was protective of them and "babied" the bins, but now I'm realizing that, once they're there, they'll always come back when the conditions are right.
 
Ralph Kettell
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Hello All,

Thank you for all your great responses.  Many of them have echoed some of my own experiences with worms over the past year.  I want to answer Kamaar as to my production rate of vermicompost.

The amount that I quoted is based on 5 tubs of worms which I am only now scaling up to from 3 tubs.  So my existing production during warm months particularly has been about 3 cu.ft. every 3 months.  During the scaling up process, my production is reduced which will be self explanatory when I describe how I harvest and seed the new bin.  To summarize , however, if I am scaling up the number of bins the worm castings that would be harvested are used to seed the new bin and the number of worms are about half because they are split between the old and the new bin.  These two factors combined decimate the harvest and also slow production a bit as the worm density is recovering from the split.

My worm bins are standard 18 gallon (~2.2 cu ft.)  Rubbermaid type bins.  I am still improving my bin design to keep the worms healthy (year round) and growing but the biggest improvements to my vermicomposting system had to do with two factors, 1) using a particular type of bedding which is conducive to great aeration and 2)adding a "chimney" to the middle of the bin to improve aeration. The chimney is made out of 1/2" hardware cloth rolled into a 2"x12" or 14" roll and covering with an old sock.  This provides air to all levels of the bin.  The bedding I referred to is shredded cardboard.  I have a medium duty paper shredder and it is not happy about shredding the cardboard but it does it with a bit of complaining.  When my worm compost at the bottom of the bin are nearly 100% worm castings I mix in more carboard to allow for better air flow through the material.   The cardboard also becomes food as it decomposes.  I soak the cardboard in water and squeeze out the excess before adding it to the bin and mixing it in with the existing castings.  I alternate feeding from one end or the other to keep from getting too much organic material in one spot in the bin.  This along with good aeration keeps the system well oxygenated and avoids anaerobic situations.

Once the entire bin has been converted to nearly finished castings, I harvest the material.  There are a few different methods I have used for separating out the worms from the castings and it would be rather extensive to describe all those processes here, but for sake of this discussion just suffice to say that I encourage the worms to go to one half of the bin and take castings out of the other half.  Due to the size of the bins when you get the bins 90% full and harvest half of the material means that each bin provides roughly 1 cu ft of finished castings, and another 1 cu ft of nearly finished castings with a lot of worms in it.  I then add enough shredded cardboard to the remaining 1 cu ft. of castings with the worms bring the bulk of the material back up to 2 cu. ft.  I am experimenting with adding other organic material along with the cardboard.  One of the material streams that I add to the bins is a pile of half composted wood chips mixed with and half well aged cow manure which was allowed to compost for nearly a year.  It is very rich soil and nearly 100% decomposed organic material.  I mix in enough of the composted soil to give the worms some food they can access immediately  but not so much as to make the material overly dense.  As the cardboard decomposes it will naturally get less aerated as it gets closer to being finished worm castings.  Due to my desire to keep the system well aerated, I am willing to have the finished castings with some percentage of not yet fully composted and consumed cardboard.  At this stage the small amount of shredded cardboard decomposes into the soil in a couple weeks.  This would not works so well if you were selling the worm castings, but as I am using them myself it is not a problem.

By maintaining good aeration and proper moisture with healthy bedding material and nutrition for the worms makes for happy and actively reproducing and growing worms.  I am still experimenting with different types of worms and different feed stocks.  As I complete the next two bins (in my current expansion) with all my new vent designs I will add a thread documenting the complete bin design with photos.

Depending on the temperature of your bins and how optimal all the conditions are for the worms, the bin will complete in 2 to 3 months.  As the shredded carboard breaks down and is consumed, the volume naturally contracts. Some of that volume is replaced by the food material which is gradually being added along incremental amounts of additional shredded cardboard.  Part of the reason that the material can be harvested every 2-3 months is that I am starting with 50% finished castings at the beginning for the process.  It is a lot quicker and easier to go from 50% concentration to 100% concentration than from .1% worm castings to 100%.  The 50% castings have a dense concentration of worms in a host material that is very pleasing to the worms and has lots of all the beneficial bacteria and fungi that are needed to assist the worms in breaking down the material and creating worm castings.

As to William's use of a blender, it certainly helps the worm consume the material more quickly.  Another similar technique is to freeze the food prior to putting it into the bin.  This also helps to break down the food albeit not quite as quickly as the blender method.  I have been focusing on maintaining optimal conditions for healthy worm reproduction and growth.  After a couple of major worm die offs, I have learned not to ever overfeed the worms.  Give the worms the conditions they need and they will do most of the work for you.

As an aside, I found that some of my bins had a fair number of blue worms in them.  I have heard that this is not a problem as the blue worms can also do a decent job of composting food material.  What I found with the blue worms is that they are far more migratory than the red worms, and would congregate in the walls and lids of the bins.  So I began collecting them from the lids of all the exiting bins and putting them into a new bin.  I am going to compare how well the blue worms compost relative to the red wigglers and the European night crawlers.  I will report back in on these things in 6 to 9 months time.

I hope this was somewhat informative if a bit rambling.

Sincerely,

Ralph



 
Kc Simmons
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I only have Euros & Reds, but I've heard the Blues are more prone to traveling outside the bins. Apparently there's a popular worm farm/vendor that has a reputation for including a larger number of Blues in their orders of Reds.
The reds, in my experience, tend to be more productive than the Euros; but I suspect that is because they reproduce faster. One of my most productive bins has a mix of reds & Euros; as the reds tend to stay near the surface to feed, while the Euros tend to prefer the bottom of the bin.

I recently discovered some "wild" composting worms on the property. Not sure what species they are, but they are tiny compared to the cultivated species (like tiny pieces of thread). They seem to be pretty effective at breaking down manure and dried leaves.
 
pollinator
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In the right setting, it can be astonishing how much worms can decrease the volume of what's being eaten. We have a flemish giant rabbit who uses wadded paper bedding in her extra-large cat box. She produces a prodigious amount of poop, and I was astonished at what a little tub full of red wigglers did to the completely full black plastic composter outside last spring. Not only that, but after the thaw, I noticed that they had migrated to the adjacent raised bed, which was handling my bunny overflow.

It's funny that you can see the textural changes between weathered soil and worm castings. I especially appreciate it after noticing that all my lush growth and miracle survival plants occurred in those places where the texure of worm castings was to be found.

What I really want to do, although we haven't the space inside right now, is to have a dedicated, climate-controlled worm bin just for my rabbit's litter and for food scraps, kind of a worm bioreactor, if you will.

Yes, the results are justified, though admittedly much more so if you take the laissez les vers faire route as I have done.

-CK
 
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since I've had my chickens, when i start a new bin i cover the bottom with 6in. of uncomposted chicken coop littler then the rest coir mixed with shredded newspaper. heat from the composting manure turbo charges the worms in there. theres a huge worm explosion and anything put on the surface the 1st. month is almost always  gone in 24 hrs. the castings since I've been doing this is crazy black . the extra hot nutrients  produce a much fluffier castings. much better than when i was feeding just food scraps i find..maybe its the straw/ wood chips in the bedding that contribute to this. seems to hold its water better as well.
 
William Bronson
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Chris,  I have two house rabbits and their bedding/food is orchard grass hay.
I have been just using their bedding/poop as is,with seemingly good results.
Are you feeding the worms your rabbit waste for the worms sake, or do you find the strait bunny poop is lacking as a fertilizer?
 
pollinator
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Hi 👋 I would like to add my 2 cents on vermicomposting and what works for me.
I have an indoor and outdoor set up. My indoor set up is 2 plastic filing boxes nested to provide an area to collect the run-off.
The outdoor set up is just a 37 gallon bin.

My biggest source of vermicompost is the by far the outdoor bin. I was able to collect a 3/4 full bin of it which I then used to make succulent potting soil for my succulent hanging baskets. It saves me money to make my own mix since the succulent potting soil is only sold in small bags. And the quality of my stuff is tons better, so there’s no question it is cost effective for me.

I live in SE Florida, so the temperature comes with its own set of challenges. I also have 2 bunnies and a bearded dragon. And 2 composting bins and 1 tumbler

I also have 2 bins with bsfl. The bsfl get fed all the kitchen scraps and left over food as well as coffee grounds. They are voracious eaters and only around in the summer. The bsfl are fed to my bearded dragon and hopefully chickens/ducks in the future (I hope to get 2 each but I have to perfect the self harvesting system first) Their frass then gets transferred to the outdoor worm bin which has wood chips and shredded paper. I also add coffee grounds and home made worm chow. They proliferate and process everything really fast but in the heat of summer they evacuate the bin. I collect a good bundle of them and add them to my indoor bin so I have ready stock in the spring. The compost bins get the bunny litter, which is made up off horse pine bedding pellets, yard waste, coffee grounds, old spent soil and anything green extra I have. If I’m short on greens I might add a cup or two of soaked alfalfa pellets. I also do drunk composting (Coke+beer+ammonia) and urine if needed.

The vermicompost is mostly reserved for my hanging baskets. Here in Florida in summer you have to water almost every day, thus leaching the nutrients off of the soil fast. The regular compost (w/ whatever vermicompost is left over) I use to top dress yard landscaping/ fruit trees.

Since the worms evac the outdoor bin after processing it, I don’t sort it. I just mix it with the vermiculite/ perlite and everything else. The indoor bin is always wetter/stickier so I found putting it in a cardboard box with cardboard paper and adding a bit of coconut coir dries it up perfectly.

So there you have it. It’s a pretty organized self contained system and the only thing I have to do is collect shredded paper and coffee grounds from work and coffee grounds from Starbucks on Saturday when I drive by.

I hope this helps.
 
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Hello all you worm farmers!  I'm new at worm farming, and I'm watching every you tube video on the subject!  I googled " how many worms should be in a 20 gal. bin?" and found this site, which has so much great info!  I ordered 1,250 worms ( who's counting?)  And used coconut coir, cardboard, egg shells ground up, etc along with kitchen scraps, coffee.  Im wondering if the bin has too many worms!  They are crawling up the walls of the bin and into the crevasses of the lid! But I notice it seems to be the smallest worms doing this! And one...slug!  Im thinking of dividing the worms to another bin.  Does anyone know how to know when there are too many in a bin? And I have no idea yet, how you separate the worms from their poo! Altho I've seen all the ways im a bit nervous about that, or how to even know when there is enough castings to harvest?  It all just look like dirt!  Im dreaming of the most beautiful garden ever, which mine is really pretty to look at here in the PNW im switching from ornamental trees and perennial flowers to stuff we can eat! apparently thats gonna a thing now. Im trying to incorporate vegetables all around everywhere like the food forest idea in the front yard as thats the sunniest.  Like cabbages growing under fruit trees and peas up against a fence. Thanks in advance for any advice!
 
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Welcome to Permies, Donna!

Usually worms only try to flee the bin if they are unhappy - for me, it usually is a sign the bin is too wet. I would open up the lid and leave it off, and maybe add more bedding material.  Worms don't like light so that will help keep them in the bin for now and speed up the drying out. A  second bin night be a good idea if you have a lot of food scraps, more than a single bin can handle.  

There are many ways to seperate worms from the castings. I often start a new bin with half of the material in my original bin, then let the remaining half sit for a month or two while the worms finish digesting everything. Then I use it on my garden. You end up with a lot of worms in the finished compost, but I think they are helpful in my heavily mulched outdoor beds too.
 
Donna Sawyer
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Tank you!  What a great idea they won't come out if there is light!  I'll just have to set them under a light at night.  Thanks for the info. Soooo much to know!   What have I been doing all my life!  I've missed all the fun.
 
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I’m getting ready to build my new rabbit pen enclosure (hanging) and plan to have worms below them. I also want to add wire “Buckets” every 3’ in the ground in my gardens so worms can work their magic right where I need it.
I found an old concrete block foundation about 3’ high in one corner of the property when we bought the place, it looks like an old shower room set up with what was a pit pooper next to it. I’m going to use that foundation with a lid added for nightcrawlers. Several fishing ponds and rivers very close to me.
 
pollinator
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I have a worm bin that gives me about 7 buckets of compost a year. I don't manage it actively at all so it could give a lot more but hey, I'm a busy man!

Anyways, I didn't put castings into my transplant holes as I have always done in the past. I had so many plants die within days of transplanting that it was unreal. Most of my direct seeding where I did not (as I usually do) spread a lil vermicompost  was a failure too.

So yeah, in my mind it is totally justified. I bet I spend 3-5 hours a year on worms.

(A bear had gotten into my worm bin and ate most of them so I was trying to get them going again this spring. That's why I went ahead without the castings. The population is fine now...)  
 
pollinator
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Vermicomposting is something I am interested in, but I have done it in my house, and I don't want to.  I don't know if there is a good way to overwinter composting worn in my climate.  If someone has a low maintenance way to do that, I would be very interested.  "in my climate" means able to withstand short amounts of time at -35 or -40F, and a week or two of -20F at a stretch.
 
Ralph Kettell
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I would suggest you dig a decent sized hole say a foot deep and as big in the X and Y direction as you like. Fill it with peat moss or coco coir.  Also add food scraps for the worms to eat.   They will be largely dornant so not too much food is necessary.  

Put a 6 inch layer of insulating brown material extending a foot or more all around larger than the peat moss hole with worms added.  Also be sure to wet the peat moss well before adding worms.  Finally build a hot compost pile on the whole thing.   Throw some insulating material on top so it holds the heat.   The worms are insulated from the heat and they can borrow down if it gets too hot.  I would set up the worms first and before it gets too cold build the hit pile on top of it.

Happy composting.

Ralph
 
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So, Ralph, it's been 2 years since your original post in this thread. How are your worms doing? Do you have a better idea now if results justify the time and expense? Are you still using the same strategies you posted about before, or have you made any changes as time went by?

I just started my first worm bin a month ago in a 14 gallon rubbermaid tub and 250 worms, and, after getting really excited about what the worm castings could do for my garden, I ordered another 1,000 worms and started 3 more bins with them. I know I could have just waited for the original worms to multiply, but gardening is almost year-round here in central Texas, so I want as much product as I can get, as soon as I can. I don't really expect them to be very expensive or time-consuming to maintain, after the initial investment of the worms themselves, the tubs, and some coco coir to get started. I hope to use mostly free material for bedding in the future, and their food (mainly goat manure) comes for free from my goats.

I know harvesting the castings can be time-consuming, but it seems it can be made a whole lot less time-consuming if you are just harvesting them for your own garden and don't care if the occasional worm or un-composted bit of material gets in there. I've read of a lot of strategies to get out the bulk of the worms; my favorite, and one I want to try, is to just put a half a ripe banana into the worm bin, with the skin on. Pick it up in a few days, and the worms will have hollowed out a good chunk the banana fruit and be filling the skin. Put that in your new worm bin and put in another half a banana to the old bin for a few days to catch any stragglers. This doesn't, of course, catch the cocoons, but if I wanted to keep those to increase the population, I could of course wait a few weeks for the babies to hatch out, and then repeat the banana trick a few times. Or just add the worm castings to the garden with any cocoons and remaining stragglers.  

 
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I also wonder weather I should start a wormfarm or not. We are in zone 10. We have a little garden at our house which is nearly pure sand and a bigger one which is a terrible clay and in rain it's waterlogged. I am mostly interested to turn the clay around, because that is the bigger piece of land.
I really liked Jan's method. Also there is the problem to feed the worms. We have loads of big coarse weeds but we don't have loads of kitchen scraps. What else do they eat? Coffee grounds?
I would probably need heaps of feeding material for our 3/4 acre. I might have to ask in a restaurant. Does worm compost do anything about the clay?
 
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Angelika Maier wrote:I also wonder weather I should start a wormfarm or not. We are in zone 10. We have a little garden at our house which is nearly pure sand and a bigger one which is a terrible clay and in rain it's waterlogged. I am mostly interested to turn the clay around, because that is the bigger piece of land.
I really liked Jan's method. Also there is the problem to feed the worms. We have loads of big coarse weeds but we don't have loads of kitchen scraps. What else do they eat? Coffee grounds?
I would probably need heaps of feeding material for our 3/4 acre. I might have to ask in a restaurant. Does worm compost do anything about the clay?

any manure will help with the clay. gypsum will also. if you want something cheap to feed your worms, alfalfa pellets from feed stores, soaked in warm water works well. i also grow comfrey and they like that as well.
 
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Hello,
I also posted this question in another thread before  found this one. Do you think it possible to make a worm bin from wine boxes that I have?
I'd like a wooden wormery, rather than a plastic one and it would be great to repurpose things I already have.
I've searched the internet for an answer and haven't seen wine crates used for much besides storage shelves and stools.
Would wine boxes be be large enough ?
I know I'd have to drill holes for ventilation,
If I stack a few, do I put wire mesh between them, and if so, how big would the openings need to be?

I used to have a local source of work castings but the company went out of business.

Thank you for any suggestions or pictures you might have!
 
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