How To Set Up A Worm Bin
Image of European nightcrawlers, courtesy of Ethical Axolotls.
Earthworms are the most nutritionally complete staple diet for your axolotl, however constantly having to purchase new worm containers can be expensive and time consuming. Keeping a worm bin is an effective way for axolotl owners to keep a consistent supply of food for their pet.
A worm bin gets rid of the need to frequently buy new containers of food from bait shops, and allows owners to place orders less often. This article will detail what a worm bin is and how to create one.
The products listed below include Amazon links for your convenience, however you can also find many of the supplies at home improvement stores, or even around your home.
Repurposing items such as old plastic bins and newspapers can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, which benefits the environment and the endangered species who live in nearby habitats.
Plastic storage tote with lid (at least 12 qt)
Bedding (shredded newspaper/cardboard)
Bioactive substrate (fertilizer-free top soil, coconut coir, peat)
'Vegan' food scraps
Worms (red wigglers or nightcrawlers)
A plastic bin of 12 quarts or larger is ideal to house your worms. This size allows an adequate microbial biome to develop. Carefully drill, or otherwise puncture, several rows of ⅛ inch holes into the lid of the container.
Optionally, you may use window screening or similar mesh material as a lid, which will improve airflow in the bin. The amount of light the bin receives determines if the worms remain in the bed; the bin should be opaque with the top of the bin ideally receiving some light to deter escaping worms.
There are multiple types of bedding that can be used in a worm bin. Some great options for bedding are shredded cardboard, shredded newspaper, straw, or manure from herbivorous animals.
Bedding gives the worms a place to live and hide. It also assists worms in their mechanical digestion. Shredded beddings should be soaked in dechlorinated water and then squeezed until most of the water has been removed. The bedding should be moist, but not dripping wet. No matter the size of the bin, you should have approximately 15 cm (6") of bedding in the bin.
The next necessary component of a worm bin is bio-substrate. This is a type of substrate that assists in the worms' bacterial digestion. If it's alive or has been alive, it likely has a microbial system that worms will love.
Leaf litter, fertilizer-free soil, coconut coir, peat moss, and manure from herbivorous animals (manure is both a bedding and a substrate!) are all excellent biological substrates. Add at a 1:1 ratio to the bedding. Make sure to sterilize any substrates that you collected outdoors. Boiling works best for this.
Worms can be fed with food scraps so long as they are not animal products, with the exception of eggshells with the membrane removed. Citrus, spicy foods, or foods from the allum family (such as garlic and onions) should also not be fed.
Do not overfeed your worms, as this will create a nitrogen spike in the soil, which acidifies it. This in turn causes the worms to attempt to escape, or eventually die.
Putting it all together
1. Prepare your supplies. Start with 1 cup of food, adding more as needed. Wash the bin with warm soapy water, being sure to rinse well.
2. Carefully puncture air holes into the lid. A box cutter or sharp scissors are good tools to use. Affix mesh onto larger holes as desired. Super glue is an excellent adhesive to use for the screening.
3. Add the damp bedding to the bin, making sure to distribute it well. Be sure that any bedding collected outside is properly sterilized, as mentioned earlier.
4. Mix in the bio-substrate until the bedding is mostly covered.
5. Add around a cup of food to the bin, covering with the bedding to prevent any pest insects from being attracted to the bin.
6. Add worms! They'll burrow down, so there is no need to cover them up.
7. Place the lid back on your worm bin. Your worm bin is now complete! To feed worms to your axolotl, simply dig out a worm with your desired tool, rinse the dirt off in water without soap, and prepare the worm according to the axolotl's preference. Some axolotls prefer worms that have been blanched - this is common with red wigglers feedings, as the worms produce a bitter slime coat when stressed.
Common names for red wigglers include redworms, wigglers, bait worms, compost worms, and Indian Blues.
1 pound equals approximately 1,000 red wigglers or 400 nightcrawlers.
Stir the soil weekly. This will prevent dangerous anaerobic bacteria from building up at the bottom of the bin. This will also prevent foul odors.
Unwanted pests can be prevented by burying worm feed beneath bedding and leaving a sheet of cardboard on top of the soil. Only add more food once the previous food is gone or the bedding becomes dry.
Keep your bin between 15°-26°C (60°-80°F) in a cool and dry place. Under the aquarium stand is usually a great location, if a garage is unavailable.
Although all earthworms have a positive calcium phosphate ratio, gut-loading worms with leafy greens, eggshells (with membrane removed), and calcium powders is a safe way to improve the nutritional value of earthworms and prevent calcium deficiency in your axolotl.
Freeze your grocery scraps so you do not have to waste or overfeed your worms - just toss a block of frozen scraps right in! No need to thaw.
Paper or cardboard shredders make bedding production a lot easier.
Other Great Resources
Peach Creek Nursery: Worms sold in bulk
Uncle Jim's Worm Farm: Worms sold in bulk
O'Connor, Carolyn. 2012: Building A Worm Bin.
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