Instructables

Worm Cafe - Compost with earthworms right in your garden

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Picture of Worm Cafe  - Compost with earthworms right in your garden
Earthworms are fantastic for gardens because they aerate the soil and their castings improve soil fertility, water holding ability, and drainage.

I had seen this idea somewhere else but wanted to make some changes that would work better for my situation. I hope it helps someone else also.

This is installed in my Square Foot Garden bed but would work in other gardens also. For more information about Square Foot Gardening contact me.

Composting is a way to reduce what is thrown away while adding to the health of your garden soil. Although I compost otherwise I was excited about the idea of composting right in the garden. Compost should be ready much sooner this way with less work: no turning compost, and no moving compost to the garden.

If you are not able to have a traditional compost bin this may be a way you could still make compost.
 

 
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Step 1: Gather materials

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Find or purchase wood. 
I found four, 1"x5" pieces of 2' long lumber around my house - three cedar, and one Douglas Fir.  Any kind of wood should be fine, but I advise against using pressure treated, painted, or stained lumber.  You could use 2 1/2' or 3' long lumber instead of 2'.
You will also need a drill, bits and screws, about 2 cups of peat moss, kitchen scraps, a board or post cap for a cover, and a few earthworms.

Step 2: Prepare the boards

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Drill 1" holes within 6" of the end of each board. 
These openings will allow the worms to come and go - eating kitchen scraps in the cafe and then traveling through the garden leaving castings and aerating the soil.

Step 3: Put your Cafe together

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Fasten the boards together with screws – long sides together.  I used 4 screws per side.

Step 4: Choose a location

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Choose a place in your garden to place the "Cafe”.   It would be best if there is not landscape fabric or anything else which will prevent the worms from going deeper when the temperature drops or rises.
I chose this empty square in my Square Foot Garden.
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ratgirl138 months ago
So I made it. It was so easy and went together so fast. I used a flat rock for my top. Once again, Thanx!!!
ratgirl139 months ago
OMG! What a wonderful idea. I am going out and making myself one in the coming week and maybe one for a Christmas gift. Thanks for the great 'ible!

And to Kelser (and anyone else with an ant problem) try cinnamon. Sprinkle it around and that should repel your ants.
vmlocks11 year ago
Once you put the coconut or peat moss in initially, will you ever have to go back again and do this over? I live in central NC and am planning this but would like to make them more permanent since we have pretty mild winters.
arveyda1 year ago
I will be trying this in the rooftop garden my elementary students have planted. Very simple and efficient! Thanks.
AnnaLove1 year ago
One thing I've heard when researching this sort of composting... that there's no need to harvest compost from this. If the unit is placed near the center of the garden plot, the worms come in, eat the scraps, and leave, spreading the compost throughout your garden for you within the surrounding area. Is this correct or is it still useful to collect and manually spread the compost remaining inside? I'm going to give this a try in the spring for sure! Thanks!
Beuna (author)  AnnaLove1 year ago
There is no reason to harvest the compost. The worms will spread it around for you. Let me know how it works out!
undrline1 year ago
I found this trying to get ideas for building a compost bin. But, really, all I wanted to do was have a place to dump kitchen scraps, not to make my own fertilizer. This seems like the solution ... an easy, cheap, mess-free, low-maintenance, pest-resistant way of doing small-scale composting. Thank you.

Has anyone found size ratios that work particularly well?  I assume if it's too large, the worms will never leave the cafe, but I'd like to make mine big enough to put the occasional watermelon that my family just didn't like and refused to finish.

We tend to only have fruits and peelings in our kitchen scraps.  Did you find you had to watch your ratio of kitchen scraps to dry stuff (paper/yard waste)?
Beuna (author)  undrline1 year ago
Since this is not a typical compost bin I have not worried about having the correct ratio. Since the worms tend to break stuff down fairly quickly I would guess it is not a concern. You may want to begin with one and then add more one at a time until you seem to have what you need.
It's working! It's working! I built three of these for our smallish raised bed vegetable gardens, and they worked great! We kept them fairly full all summer long, and the reduction was amazing. I just pulled them out of the ground today for the winter (November 10) and what was at the bottom was a really nice compost mix with tons of red wiggler worms. We had put in a few earthworms just to get it started, but the reddies seemed to have taken over! Thanks for the great idea and clear instructions!
Beuna (author)  MechanicalDaddy1 year ago
Glad to hear how it worked out! Thanks for letting me know.
bruc33ef4 years ago
There is a basic flaw in this:   Earthworms are not composting worms!  You need red worms for that.  

All you are likely to get is a bigger and bigger pile of garbage.  

I've had something similar in my garden for the past few years (a small plastic garbage bucket with holes drilled below the soil line) and my wife and I cannot outpace the earthworms. We use it in the asparagus bed and it works just fine from early spring until hard freeze in the fall.

We throw garbage in. And then we throw garbage in. And then we throw more garbage in ... and that little pail never gets much over half full. I don't think it would get even half full if the earthworms didn't have to wait until the bacteria had a chance to get things broken down somewhat.

This guy posted an instructable of a working system. Ergo: no basic flaw.
Beuna (author)  Just Bill1 year ago
Thanks for letting me know of your success!
Beuna (author)  bruc33ef4 years ago
There are earthworms that live only in composting materials and earthworms that compost kitchen scraps but live in the soil.  Since the worms are not living in the compost but using it as a food supply there should not be a problem with using worms from your garden.
BonifaceJ2 years ago
Note: Wood Boxes seemed to be a non-permanent solution, as my garden was too wet most of the spring and they started rotting. This year I'm going to trade out for some PVC pipes - I'll let you know how it goes! I think as long as I make the holes big enough (and sand them a bit to keep the edges smooth) the worms won't mind. Also, I can use black pipe to keep the heat up in the tube, which will encourage our Alaskan worms to hang out there. :)
Beuna (author)  BonifaceJ1 year ago
Black pipe may work in Alaska but I would reluctant to try it anywhere warmer (although it gets pretty warm in Anchorage).
What kind of wood did you use? Cedar and redwood are naturally rot resistant. I used cedar fencing for some of the sides. It was leftover from another project.
I would like to hear how it went!
kelser2 years ago
I love this idea... thanks Buena! I have four square foot gardens and installed my first worm cafe in one today. A few hours later, there was an ARMY of ants (we live in a very sandy area, so they are everywhere) making a path to and from the worm cafe.

Has anyone else had a similar ant problem? If so, is there a trick to keeping ants away? (I grow everything organically, so I don't want to use any chemical insecticides.)

I know diatomaceous earth will help control ants... but is it truly safe for the worms, even in large quantities? If so, how much DE is necessary, and where do I put it... in with the compost scraps? Thanks!
Beuna (author)  kelser1 year ago
Mint repels ants. Don't plant it there but if you grow it somewhere else you could put a few leaves there from time to time or place some mint essential oil or extract on a cotton ball and place them in or around the worm cafe.
Tangle Trap is a product used to prevent insects from climbing trees so if they are climbing the sides you could put a line of it around the base. You can usually find it at garden centers.
Just put a thick layer of petroleum jelly anywhere you don't want ants going. Yes, large amounts of DE WILL kill worms because it works by drying out the organism and as worms breathe through their skin, this is bad news for them! Hope this helps!
cptdragn2 years ago
Nice alternative to a 5" PVC pipe. One thing I see that could be improved on would be to place the box on the outside and drill your access holes though the box itself. This way you don't lose out on any planting area and the result should be the same.
imglo cptdragn2 years ago
I was thinking about that to. But if you put the box on the outside won't the worms get out because there is no bottom to the box or tube. I do understand though I am always trying to cram more stuff into the box then it should hold.
imglo2 years ago
here are the pictures of the ones I made using 8" Sono Tubes. I tried to put my sprinkler on the top of one but it didnt sit to well. If this works I will make the wooden ones next year.
worm cafe.JPGworm cafe2.JPG
imglo2 years ago
I wanted to try this so bad. But didnt want to do the wood thing until I knew it worked. Plus we have weed block fabric on the bottom of our gardens so Im thinking I will just (if they do not survive) replace the worms yearly. Anyways. I am trying it with Sono Tubing. one 8" tube cut in half will do two of my garden boxes. LOL I purchased a 2$ flat dish from walmart to block the top and put my sprinkler ontop of it so when it waters im not watering on the tube. its easy enough just to pick up the dish&sprinkler and throw scraps in..the whole thing coast $10.00 and change. $5 for the sono tube. $3:49 for 20 worms. $2. for the dish.. You cant beet it. I know the tubing won't be perminent but like I said I just wanted to see if it works and it should last the summer. Il update and put pictures latter.
Congrats on your win. I have done vermicomposting off and on for several years but, I have never used regular earthworms. Furthermore, every instruction I have ever read says not to use regular earthworms but to use red wigglers ((Lumbricus rubellus) or brandling worms (Eisenia foetida) in vermicompost bins. Regular earthworms live in the soil and red wigglers live in the "compost." The vermicompost process not only produces worm castings but also "tea" which is liquid gold for plants. So, when I saw your project I thought it seemed a neat idea but had a major flaw, not in construction but in function...at least for use in my part of the country. What is the flaw? Well red wiggler worms can only survive in temps between 40-80°F and will only compost and breed between 55-77°F. Vegetable gardens require full sun for several hours a day. In Texas, if you were to place your worms in a full sun garden they would bake in minutes! In fact, I was only able to keep my worms outside in the late Spring and early Summer if I kept them in a cool, shady spot, like under my fig tree. In mid-summer I even had to hose down their bin to keep them from overheating. I can't imagine having them smack in the middle of the garden! As I said, they would have cooked. As for composting in full sun, yes, compost itself will break down better in full sun heat--it will speed the process in fact. But you don't need worms for that. So, if you have managed to find a way to overcome the heat problem in your worm cafe, I would love to hear about it.
I use nightcrawlers from the sporting goods store. Having them, Is like having your own herd of pigs, That devour everything in site. I put everything from dead waste, To still living weeds in there, That have gone to seed, And they leave nothing behind. I built two of these composters, And placed them in pure sand, Now after One summer of operation, I have sand with a small layer of black dirt on top of it, About 1/4 in thick, And my grass has turned from brown, To a dark green color. Yes I put them in the yard too. My gardening area was a mish mash of grey looking sandy soil, But now the area with the composter has a complete layer of black dirt on it, And the soil under that is about one third black now, with a lot of grey still in it. The big question is, Will it create a hotspot of nurtients? The answer is... yes it will. But the hotspot is huge, In my garden I can clearly define the area of travel that my worms use, And its a circle of 25 feet in diameter. Around the edges, The black dirt is thin enough that i cant measure it. But in the center, next to the composter, Its as deep as six inches or more, but only because thats how deep i planted the composter. So will it work?....Absolutely! This is the best use of a composter that I have ever seen, Not only did it cure my garden and lawn problems, But I can move them after a month or two to a new location, And the hole it leaves behind, Is already full of high grade compost, So the lawn actually repaired itself in just a couple weeks. Once again, This is a great idea, Good job.
kelser eyerobot2 years ago
I have a similar sandy soil problem. Did you have any ant issues (i.e. invasions) with your worm cafe in the yard? If so , what did you do about it?

Thanks!
Beuna (author)  eyerobot3 years ago
Thanks for the update! I am happy to hear you had such success.
I dont know what kind of worms are natural to texas, But the solution to the problem in michigan was to use actual nightcrawlers. They are capable of hibernating in winter, And can travel quite a distance in the summer to avoid heat, But then we dont have any deserts either. So find out whats indiginous to your area, And go with that. I had no problem getting the nightcrawlers to eat their way through all of my compost, And I have a lot.
Beuna (author)  sparkleponytx4 years ago
The worms are able to travel through the garden bed and into lower areas of the soil to escape the heat. Red wigglers are not necessary because in the Worm Cafe they are not living in compost or manure. The earthworms are living in the soil and come into the box to feed.
karenlemp2 years ago
Thank you so much Beuna! I'm definately going to install one of these for each of my beds!
Beuna (author)  karenlemp2 years ago
Karen, Glad you like it. I would start with just one for now and then add more later.
kenoconnor3 years ago
Does the cafe have a bottom piece? Nice instructable!
Beuna (author)  kenoconnor3 years ago
There is no bottom and no need for one. Just the four sides and a top to keep out the rain and sun. Glad you enjoyed it!
BonifaceJ3 years ago
This looks like a great plan. The worms will naturally spread their casings, so in theory you shouldn't ever have to empty it unless you put too much material in there for them to keep up on. I'm going to make one for each of my raised beds in my garden - see if I can get a whole production line going.
Thanks for posting. I made one out of a 1 gallon plastic jar using your instructables. http://www.flickr.com/photos/missfina/sets/72157626968943062/

thanks for the help
bikeboy3 years ago
Nice! I wonder if anyone's tried yet to incorporate this into an "earthbox? I just made one and I'm definitely going to give your idea a go. Seems so much nicer than adding a strip of granulated fertilizer to the soil. And them wormzies will keep it all nice and fluffy. And I don't have to buy worms, just pullin' them out of the ground!
Beuna (author)  bikeboy3 years ago
The Earthbox I have has a water reservoir in the bottom which would drown the worms. Otherwise it sounds like it could be a good idea. You could still add compost (and make it yourself) instead of granular fertilizer. For information about composting check my blog
bikeboy Beuna3 years ago
My E.B. doesn't have a grate but uses wicking cups with holes too small for worms. I never flood the main soil volume. I guess the worms will avoid the wicking area and never be drowned by surprise or fall into the water tank. But I'll keep your remark in the back of my head.

I'm now thinking of replacing my mulch plastic by layers of kitchen scrappings, brown mulch and worms. I'll cover it with perforated cardboard. Do you think such a vermiculture mulch layer would keep the worms happy and active?
Beuna (author)  bikeboy3 years ago
As long as it doesn't attract other varmints it would not hurt to try it.
bikeboy Beuna3 years ago
Will give it a try.
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