Harvesting Castings, Sorting Worms

In an ideal situation, harvesting castings and removing your worms is a relatively easy task. At one end of the bin you place their favorite food, cantaloupe, on the top of the castings. Over a few days in which you don’t add additional water to the bin, the worms will all migrate to the single source of yummy food. You then shovel out the castings for your plants, grab the worms, and you’re done! This was not the case in our situation. 

worms in hand

Hundreds of worms were picked out by hand.

We had multiple different worm homes going–the old worm bin, the small but established indoor bin, and the incomplete bin by the garden where the worms from the two previous bins would eventually call home. Arriving at the old worm bin on moving day when the worms would be put in temporary plastic bins inside, we saw they had just been watered and fed that morning, making our job much more difficult. We carefully shoveled the worms, castings, food, water, and leaves into our bins to later be sorted. The sorting was the really difficult part.


Thankfully we had helpers!

Sifting with the screen.

Sifting with the screen.

Using screens on top of bins, we scooped the mixture out of the bins to be sorted. We then picked out each individual worm, dropping it into a cup of water for it to wait (they really like being in water). Debris such as rocks, uncomposted leaves, food bits, and sticks were separated into a different bucket to be thrown into our thermo piles. The castings then fell through the screen and into the bin. It’s straightforward enough, but very time consuming. In future harvests we will definitely use the cantaloupe method described above. 

Sorting worms and paper

Adding wet paper


Sorting worms and paper

After we sorted all the worms from the old bin, we prepped the new worm bin for them. We first placed a layer of thick, wet cardboard so they wouldn’t quickly escape. Newt went a layer of wet shredded paper, then a layer of leaves, then another layer of paper, then some soil (or “grit”), and finally the worms. When making a worm bin, you want it to simulate a forest floor, so on top of the worms we put more shredded paper and leaves. We then fed them processed, frozen then thawed carrots, placed under the layer of leaves and paper. Worms like a dark, wet, environment, so we watered the bin even more, and closed the lid to let them get accustomed to their new home!

Finally adding the worms!

Finally adding the worms!

Creating a layered, forest floor feeling with soggy shredded paper

Creating a layered, forest floor feeling with soggy shredded paper

Multiple separate layers of paper were used--worms both play in it and eat it.

Multiple separate layers of paper were used–worms both play in it and eat it.



3 thoughts on “Harvesting Castings, Sorting Worms

  1. First, I would like to say that I really appreciated how tenacious you were in constructing your worm bins. While I thoroughly enjoyed the images you provided, I feel as if the process of having three separate worm bins is a bit muddled. You mention that, “We had multiple different worm homes going–the old worm bin, the small but established indoor bin, and the incomplete bin by the garden.” Why was it so important to have three different bins in the first place? Also, I found it interesting how you chose to forgo the cantaloupe method in favor of recreating a forest floor. What led you to do this? Did this have anything to do with sustainability? Was it just for design or out of necessity? I think that it would also be useful to say what ultimately made the worm bins a success after such a struggle. Overall, I really enjoyed hearing about your project, just be careful of proofreading!

  2. Maggie, thank you for your comment. I guess the reason we had three bins is a little unclear. We were making the new bin at the DOT garden so it would be more accessible. The old bin was too low, and by a huge pile of horse manure and therefore was a bad location. We ended up removing all the worms and castings from this old bin, eventually placing the worms in our new bin. In addition to these two bins, we had a third bin purely to give us more worms for the new bin. It only existed because we had to have a place for our worms to wait as we finished the new bin. Usually, these steps are unnecessary in creating a worm bin, and our situation was special.
    We did not use the cantaloupe method because on moving day they had already been watered and fed, and had been taken care of by someone else the week before so it was out of our control. We also wanted to save as many worms for the new worm bin as possible, and with the cantaloupe method losing some is unavoidable. In the future we will, but it was a combination of bad timing and the strange situation of creating an entirely new worm bin.

  3. Allison – my only suggestion would be to include some links to provide the reader with more in-depth understanding – for example, why do worms need grit? Why do they like cantelope? Who is the expert that has taught you so well?

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