Question: My children want to try worm composting. Can we just dig up some worms from my garden? How should we set up a worm composting bin?
Answer: Sorry, not just any old garden-variety worm will do. Although all earthworms are great workers, worms that are commonly known as red wigglers, red worms, and manure worms process far more organic matter than the worms you might turn up while digging in your garden.
Worms need shelter, food, and water to survive. Their container can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. You can purchase a high-tech worm bin shaped like a small whiskey barrel that has several "floors" and a siphon for draining off compost tea. A plastic dishpan or 5-gallon bucket will also work, but you may need to create drainage holes if the bedding becomes too wet.
Think about where you see worms in nature. They operate below ground where it's cool and moist and dark, but close enough to the surface to have organic matter to digest. They need only about 8 to 12 inches of depth to move around in.
HINT: If you use a clear plastic container, cover it with a dark cloth; worms don't like daylight. However, this is a fun way for kids to observe the worms. As you take off the cloth, you will usually see many worms against the side of the container. They will dart into the depths of the soil when the cover is removed.
Shredded newspaper is perfect for bedding. Tear it into thin strips. Fill one side of the kitchen sink with water. Dunk the newspaper strips in the water and saturate them. Lift them out and let them drain in the other side of the sink. (Don't squeeze them, because they'll dry out in hard chunks.) If you'd prefer to do this outdoors, use two buckets.
Generously fill most of the container with moistened newspaper. (It will settle fairly quickly.) Add a handful or two of any type of soil; worms need grit to digest their food. At this point, you can place the wigglers into their new home, gently covering them with more moist newspaper strips.
Worm bodies are composed mostly of water, and they'll literally dry out without adequate moisture. Much of this they'll obtain from their food, but it's essential for their bedding to remain moist. Use a mister to keep the newspaper moist or sprinkle small amounts of water in the bin.