Super Simple Shelving System

Back in August I decided to try my hand at indoor worm farming once again (i.e. raising worms to be sold – not to be confused with my usual indoor vermicomposting activities). As WFA members (who have been through some of the early Modern Worm Farming Videos) may recall, back when I first started my “real world” worm business, it didn’t take me long to realize that my plans to raise heaps of juicy worms in my basement were naive at best.

For one thing, I hadn’t yet come up with my “Red Worm Culture” and “Compost Ecosystem” concepts for selling worms – so it was basically necessary to pull “pounds of worms” from my indoor bins. I also just didn’t even have a real clue about how to keep a bunch of worms in a bin (let alone how to breed LOTS more). My shallow tubs (now used for my “Turbo Light Harvesting” method”) also weren’t the best choice as containers, largely because I couldn’t get very many of them on the heavy duty shelving unit I had set up for the task (only one per shelf).

In the end I gave up on the idea, and started working with a large-scale grower in my region who supplied me with worms to sell. I also started putting all my focus on outdoor systems. My big shelving unit then basically became my shipping supplies storage system!

Fast forward to this year – I ended up thinking about the stacking shelf approach again for a couple of reasons. For starters, I learned about (WFA member) Larry “The Garbage Guru” Duke’s shelving system he called “The Wall of Flame” (still curious how he came up with the name – lol). It is certainly more ingenious than a basic shelving unit with bins on the shelves – more like a custom-built tub rack that holds the tubs like drawers – but it was the overall idea of space-efficient vertical storage, combined with a systematic set-up and harvesting approach that really appealed to me. The other influence this year was a particularly hot, dry summer which really took a toll on my outdoor beds, making it much more difficult to easily collect sufficient worms for orders. As it turned out, I decided to shut down the “real world” biz for a month or more simply because it wasn’t worth the effort (thankfully, the first couple of years of my business taught me the incredible importance of putting a value on my time). It made more sense to shift my focus to other projects.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to set up some open Rubbermaid tub systems using aged horse manure, shredded cardboard and coffee grounds (with a small amount of rock dust for good measure), stock them with some worms and wormy material from my outdoor beds, and see what would happen. I decided to test out two different bin sizes – both with upper dimension of ~ 21″ x 15″, but one with a depth of ~ 8.5″, the other one ~ 12″. In theory, the deeper bins would allow me to hold a greater total volume of material in each bin, and thus potentially be able to maintain a larger supply of worms – but the question was whether or not this would actually be the case (still yet to be determined). At the time I was thinking that this could end up being a great way to ensure that I’d have plenty of worms for the fall (when orders tend to increase somewhat) – and maybe even enough worms to warrant staying “open for business” during the cold winter months.

NOTE: For the benefit of those who aren’t all that familiar with how I like to run my worm business, I should explain that my “real world” business tends to be treated as more of a “fun” (at times, experimental) side business (although the revenue generated is very important). I don’t like to “work too hard” at it since it tends to take me away from the stuff I REALLY love – my online vermicomposting education and web-based business projects. As such, rather than struggling with trying to fill orders during the winter, I’ve started simply shutting down for part of the year. What I’m going to do this year has yet to be decided – but I’m leaning towards shutting down since I have a lot of exciting online projects that need my time and attention.

Getting back to our regularly schedule programming…

Unfortunately, I didn’t end up writing down my mix ratios for the various materials being added – but needless to say, the mix contained mostly aged horse manure (and really, that’s likely ALL you would need! I just thought it might be fun to add in some other stuff as well). I added quite a bit of shredded corrugated cardboard, and relatively small amounts of coffee grounds and rock dust. Everything was soaked and mixed really well in a big tub before being added to the various bins

My original plan had been to stagger the set-up of various bins somewhat, so I would end up a reasonably stable (ongoing) supply of worms. For anyone planning to get serious with an approach like this, I definitely recommend doing so (staggering). As it turned out, I ended up setting up most of them all at once (for the sake of saving time, and also so I would have lots of worms available by early fall). The combination of a wet August – which helped my outdoor beds to bounce back – and a shift in my focus (to important online projects) resulted in me not bothering to set up any more of these bins, or do too much fiddling with the ones already set up.

Still, I’m really glad I decided to test out this approach since it makes me realize it likely wouldn’t take too much time and effort to get a set of these systems up and running, and to keep them working effectively. Even if I don’t end up staying open for the winter, I have little doubt that this indoor supply of worms will come in handy for late fall and early spring orders, when I more than likely won’t really feel like trudging outside to round up worms.

It’s important to mention that these systems – the way I’ve set them up and maintained them – are much better suited for “worm mix” types of products than “pounds of worms”. I seem to have lots and lots of smaller worms and cocoons (perhaps due to the fact that these bins tend to be somewhat dry). Works great for me – but some of you may want to tweak the systems so as to grow a good supply of bigger worms.

I definitely plan to continue experimenting with these bins in coming months. I’d like to try adding poultry feed and coffee grounds in an effort to boost the available nutrition – perhaps I will compare this approach to only adding coffee grounds and more cardboard (or just cardboard). I also want to see how the deeper systems compare to the shallower systems in terms of the quantity of worms they contain.

Anyway – should be fun! I’ll make sure to keep everyone posted!

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    • jean kruse
    • October 14, 2011

    I have a duplicate of Larry’s wall of flame in my basement, started it last winter – his method of heating it with rope lites didn’t work for me but the trays produced a lot of small worms-smaller than my other systems produce. I did have issues with keeping the trays watered, esp the ones at the top. This year I’m only using 5 slots – the 2 on the top are too hard to reach. Mine are filled with cardbrd and horse manure and topped with lots of shredded paper which has solved the moisture issue. I also feed some food scraps from time to time. The worms are active and good sized but I don’t know how the cool temps[56-58 degrees F] in my basement during winter will effect them

    • jean kruse
    • October 14, 2011

    I really like to use the mortar trays because of the large surface area but I also have Bentley tubs[isn’t it great to have a plastic bin named for you], a Worm Inn and a 65 gal. ft. The ft is the best producer and the easiest to maintain. But for ease of harvesting the trays and bins are best.

    • Bentley
    • October 15, 2011

    That’s awesome, Jean – thanks for sharing!
    Those mortar trays are one of my all-around favorite vermicomposting tools, but I’m still not big on using them for worm beds. They just seem to take up too much space (maybe I need to build a “REAL” wall of flame – haha).
    I’m honored that a bin is named after me – as long as it WORKS WELL!! hahaha

  1. It has been awhile since anyone has contributed to this blog, however, i have a set up of using the wire and post rack set up. It is the type where the spacing is determined by the moveable conical two part shims. I have about 70 mortar pans set up on them. I find them superior to totes, stackables, buckets (i have about fifty of those), and FT’s for size and production of worms. I had to take a break from GM’s propagation system; can’t keep up with bins and space! 🙂
    To maintaing proper moisture, i place a shhet of 4mil plastic over the tray.
    A five foot by two foot rack system with five shelves will hold fifteen mortat trays. (there is a small amount of over hang each end) but it is cheaper then the six foot.
    I have one rack system with three shelves the bottom tray shelf at 24″ a second shelf trays on top four foot light attached underneath and a third shelf with four foot light underneath and storage above. I can light harvest six trays at a time.

    • jean kruse
    • October 18, 2012

    Rich, would you be able to post a picture of your set up-i’m having a hard time picturing it.

  2. i will attempt to get photos up this weekend, the tray light set-up is really quite simple.

    Every time i try to follow the instructions for posting photos my eyes glaze over.

    • Maggie lutfy
    • November 14, 2015

    My son did vermicomposting indoors this summer. I now have his 3-tier farm because he is gone all winter. I live in Montreal, Canada and would like to know if the worms will hibernate or die if I put them out for the winter. I would transfer them to a large toy bin and cover it with two feet of soil. Thank you for any advise you provide me with.

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