Step 1 - Prepare the container. Now everyone seems to agree you need a dark container (not clear) because worms like the dark. I got a big black storage tote. Some people suggest a lot of holes along the top and upper sides, some people say a few holes work fine. Some people think you need drainage holes in the bottom, some say not to do that. I do hope to get "worm tea" from this project, so I went ahead and drilled a couple small holes off in one corner where I can put a container underneath to catch any draining liquids. Apparently if you feed them sparingly you don't need drainage holes - but let's be honest, we are a family of seven - these worms are going to be working hard and likely be overfed. I went with lots of lid holes and three top edge holes on each side.
Step 2 - Add bedding. I've found a lot of differing opinions on bedding. Some say newspaper, some say dirt, some say coconut coir. What is coconut coir? I was thinking this would be something I'd have to attempt to track down at some garden center, probably for some crazy price... but it turns out I already had some on hand! It's marketed in pet stores as reptile bedding (Eco Earth bricks), and I happened to have a bin of it out by the garage from years ago having had a land turtle and bearded dragons. I was happy to use it all up so I didn't have to see the bin anymore. There was probably only about two or three bricks worth of bedding in there, but it was already expanded so that as one less step for me to deal with.
Step 3 - Add worms. I found several references in different places to buy your worms from one of two locations. Of those two locations, I found one had a defunct website, and the other charged about $20-$35 for 500-1000 worms - plus shipping of course. But why not just find my own? It turns out there's a lot of different kinds of worms - more than just earthworms and night crawlers (bait worms for fishing). From what I can tell, each kind has it's own good and bad qualities - some breed faster, some eat more, some tolerate more extreme conditions (heat or cold), and some are more likely to try to escape your worm bin. Aside from everyone seeming to agree that night crawlers make bad container compost worms, the only people worried about purity of stock are people who sell their worms. I guess it's completely OK for different varieties to coexist in one bin, each doing a different job, even if one species breeds faster or eats more of the food, or lives at a different soil level. So for two days the kids and I dug up the back shade garden, cleared leaves off the cement patio, moved stuff that had been sitting a while, and found ourselves some worms. We have earthworms, red wigglers, and yes, one night crawler that #4 was very excited to have found - even though we know it won't do much in the bin. I have no idea how many are in there, but I'm sure it's less than 200. I figure eventually they will stabilize their own population.
Step 4 - Feed. OK, so I haven't actually fed my worms yet. I'm told by #3 (who went on a school fieldtrip to see a lady who has a worm farm) that we absolutely cannot feed citrus. I know not to put in dairy, meat, or processed or cooked foods. I did add a little bit of rabbit manure to one corner as I did find a lot of worms in a rabbit manure pile at the edge of the cement so I can only assume that is a food source for them. I plan on adding some wilted celery today, and a piece of the last pumpkin when I break it down on Tuesday. I'm worried about the smell as the bin is indoors currently. We added a few sheets of newspaper, thoroughly moistened, to the top of the coconut soil to help keep the humidity and hopefully cover up some of the food smell that will likely come up. We'll see how this goes.
As we were digging for worms, little #5 would excitedly find a worm, drop it in the bin and exclaim something about that worm joining the "party." I figure the worms we worm-napped from their natural environment will be well fed, safe from predators, and kept in an environment free of temperature extremes. A nice life for a worm. Today it's raining. I ran outside briefly to fix a drain-pipe and noticed the areas we'd taken worms from are now underwater. The patio is pooling up, the shade garden has puddles. I'm glad we went worm-finding a few days ago when it was nicer out. All the patio worms would have drown today because they'd have nowhere to go to get out of the rain.
On a last note, we are on Day 3 of the worms being in the bin in the house. While I have heard a lot of accounts of worms attempting to escape, climbing out the air holes, or gathering at the seam of the lid, we have not yet seen any of this. Maybe it's just too soon. Other people suggested using a bright light to trick the worms into digging into the soil. We didn't do this either, as they naturally dug in as we dropped them in the bin as we found them. It may also be that we have largely left them alone. The kids want to dig up the soil to see the worms, but I remind them that in the wild they would be left to eat and dig. To a worm, the vibration of digging causes stress because they think something is coming to try to eat them. I figure we stressed them enough taking them from their hiding places, we can leave them to do their jobs now. If they do start attempting an escape, I'll take that to mean something about their environment isn't making them comfortable enough to stay... and I will re-evaluate then. I am curious to see if over-feeding and the extra moisture that produces will cause them to be uncomfortable enough to attempt escape.