So, before the Ortho rant I had promised worms... Well here they are, my cheapo homemade worm bins :)
Just two 99 cent plastic (#2) shoebox container nestled inside each other. The top one has the bottom cut out to about 3/4" in from the sides. Two strips cut lengthwise from the removed plastic rectangle bridge the opening in the short direction for a bit of support. A piece of 1/4" metal mesh (hardware cloth - $12.99 and the leftovers made a screen for my regular compost bin) with the cut ends folded over cover the opening in the bottom. (sorry, don't have a pic of the bottom of the top container)
Here's the top container so you can see them better. The bottom container is to catch the worm leachate (pee) and other moisture dripping out. It can be used to fertilize plants too. I think I spent total about $15 buying the materials for these two containers (and part of the leftover is in use for the other composting bin) which sure as hell beats even the subsidized $60 commercial worms bins.
the two bits of broken terra cotta help keep the mesh from the container above from sagging onto the bottom
Originally there were layers of newspaper strips over the mesh to keep everything from falling into the bottom box. But my wonderful know-it-all worms ate it up and now their castings (poo) has been spilling from their feeding container above to the bottom one where I can easily scoop it up as needed. I put most of the worms back in the feeding container, but sometimes I put some of the big ones into my flower pots.
If the worms thrive and reproduce enough I may have to build larger bins at some point, but knowing how easy it is I think it will still be super cheap. For now I have a third container prepped to add whenever it's needed, and still have enough materials to build a fourth and maybe a fifth one of this size. I could have myself a deluxe worm penthouse :)
Originally I got a handful of worms from a gardener in Gardena (of all places) in summer 2010. The first few days they were just in a bucket with some dirt until I built the worms bins. I didn't really know what I was doing and at one point forgot to tend them for over a month. When I looked inside it was fairly dry and I thought for sure I'd killed them. So I let it all sit another month before I opened it up to use whatever castings there were and was astounded to find some worms still alive!
Well, that immediately got me to tending them properly. If those suckers had the will to live through my neglect I was gonna make an effort to keep them alive. And since then checking on them every day or so has become a fun habit and they still live. However, since I started with such a small batch of worms it would take a very long time for them to eat through any food. I got in the habit of putting scraps in the blender to make it easier for them. When I sorted through my regular compost bin or dug in the flower beds I'd save any red worms I found and add them to the worm bins. But there still weren't enough...
Recently I got a super boost to my worms when Archie's Garden gave me almost a full shoe box container full of worms & dirt from their vermicomposing setup. There were plenty of worms in there and they have made friends with my first worms (I hope) and now the bin colony is thriving! I've been giving them a good sized feeding about every two weeks, with a few little scraps in between. They seem to be keeping up with it.
Last Friday I collected a full cup of castings at once and made worm tea for my container garden :) The young seedlings and eager transplants really seemed to like it. When I was picking the worms out of the castings there were quite a few really tiny ones which I think means.... my worms have breeding!