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Building a Worm Farm at an Elementary School


September 25, 2014

I went to a Master Composter’s meeting at the Open Space Visitor Center one Saturday last spring and found it very informative regarding worm composting.  The Master Composter showed us how to keep bins in our home for raising worms and compost for the garden.

I’m a landscape architect working on a Kindergarten playground for and APS school – ___ Elementary located on the west side of Albuquerque.  In the playground, we have designated a raised planter (approx. 344 sqft) to be used for a worm farm / composting area, shown highlighted in green in photo (30) and (4).  However, the space also has an area basin inlet with a “beehive” drain cover.  We would like to segregate the areas for the worms so that they don’t get washed down the drain, but also allow the kindergarten classes to use the planter as a teaching tool.  The planter wall is 12” tall. See photo (14).

Do you have any recommendations on depth of soil for the planter?  From what I learned from the Master Composter, the worms need very little to start with – wet shredded newspaper and maybe some wet leaves.  Can this just be added on top of the dirt in the planter?  Or should we add some nice soil to 4” or 6” first?

Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated.


Answer by JH: Most importantly you want to put worms in an outside location that will provide protection from freezing in winter and from excessive heat in summer. Red worms do best in a temperature range of 55-77, they slow down in temps below 50, and freezing temps and those above 84 are harmful if not fatal. Prior to constructing the worm bed I would verify that the temperature needs will be met.

You are correct that a soil depth of 12" is unnecessary. Moist bedding material and appropriate food scraps are sufficient to start the worm composting process. With that said, we don't teach worm farming and I am wondering whether you might obtain better information by researching that subject. To that end I've included a link below that may be helpful.

Resonse from Questioner: Thank you so much!   The bed would be located on the north side of the building on the south side of the patio.  So the high temps won’t be a problem.  The low temps might.  Should we plan to provide a cover for the area?

Answer by JZ: Here's another response.   Thanks for the fine pictures - you have a beautiful space to work with! I note that you have west side soil - sand!  So I'll suggest that you add copious amounts of finished compost to the beds. The eventual depth could be 8 -12" - for a vegetable garden. The first time you add you could till it in to existing soil, then after that just

add compost on the top of the bed in spring and fall.  The red worms will get some nutrition from the compost.

Moisten the bed well before adding the worms.  Then once the worms have been added, put

down a 3-4" layer of mulch on top of the bed.  This could be straw and shredded leaves and paper and vegetarian animal manures-or any combination thereof. The worms will eventually ingest the mulch as it decomposes on the surface, converting it to humus.  The mulch will maintain moisture in the bed and some insulation during cooler months.  You may have to add some water occasionally.  Red worms really like moisture.  They move to where the soil is moist and there is some food to ingest.

Composting worms ( red worms ) are surface dwellers- the top 6 - 12" of soil.   They seems to do just fine in our mild winters.  Just keep mulching and moisturizing the bed.  If you plant in the spring, just add any organic mulch around the plants.  I do not see any problem with the drain.

You are doing a something fine!   Let us know, if you need more info..

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