Composting With Worms

sustainability Nov 10, 2020
Although composting has many benefits, not everyone has an appropriate place for a compost bin. Additionally, some people like myself, live in a colder climate which can make composting more difficult. Not only that, I was hesitant to put together a large composing bin due to the local wildlife especially the bears. Consequently, for many years I never composted organic waste. But this all changed when some friends of mine introduced me too composting with worms.  

Benefits of Composting With Worms

Roughly 28% of what we throw away can be composted instead of ending up in a landfill. Most of this is comprised of food scraps and yard waste. These things take up a lot of space in the landfill and contribute to the production of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. However, if you have limitations due to climate and simply available space, composting with worms can provide an easy and efficient way to turn waste into valuable fertilizer. But, there are many other benefits. 

Can be done outside or indoors. For example, if you live in an apartment, composting with worms is easy, odor free, and takes up very little space.

Increases organic material in the soil. Worm compost is only one type of organic material that can be added to soil. Organic material improves soil structure, provides added nutrients, and produces better drainage. 

Increases the bioavailability of nutrients. The nutrients that are in organic material, such as vegetable scraps, are not typically available for uptake by plants. It must be broken down into another form first. This is easy done when composting with worms. A quick trip through their digestive tract releases many nutrients and makes them easily available for uptake and usage by plants.  

Adds beneficial microorganisms to the soil. Microorganisms, or microbes, in the soil can be both beneficial and harmful depending on the type. Worm compost not only loads the soil with beneficial microbes but also helps prevent the invasion of harmful microbes. 

Fast composting method. All you need is 500 or more red worms in a composting bin. If conditions are right, they can consume half of their body weight in vegetation every day. 

Odor free. A properly maintained worm composting bin will be odorless and pest free.

High quality compost. Studies have shown that worm compost has increased nitrogen-fixing bacteria than conventional compost. It also increases the availability or minerals in the soil that are important for plants.  

Uses for Worm Compost (Vermicompost)

Add worm compost to your garden. Most gardeners will turn the soil at the end of the growing season to prepare for the next season. This is a perfect time to add compost.  However, this will require a lot of worm compost.  You may not be able to produce that much. One way to solve this is to make a larger worm bin. 

Add worm compost to seed starter mix. Seed starter mix has added nutrients, retains moisture, and does not compact easily. These are the best conditions to start seeds. You valuable worm compost makes a great addition. 

Top Dress Your Plants with Worm Compost. This is simply adding a small amount of work compost on top of the soil around the stem of the plant.  

Make worm compost tea. This can be easily done by using a make-shift tea bag to hold worm compost then steeping it in a bucket of water over night. You can use an old t-shirt, cheese cloth, panty hose, or even an old rag as a “tea” bag. Place a couple of large scoops of worm compost, close it up and drop it in a 5 gallon bucket or water. Let it sit over night and then use it to water the garden. 

DIY Worm Composting Bin

Proper composing with worm requires a specific type of bin. The worm composting bin must provide aeration, drainage,  prevent invasion of pests, and of course be easily accessible. 

Commercially manufactured worm composting bins can cost upwards of $100. But, the good news is that you can make one for less than $30. This is what I did.  

Materials needed 

  1. Plastic container of your choice. For a small worm bin, you can use two 5 gallon buckets. For larger bins, simply purchase two identical plastic storage containers from your local hardware store. Just make sure they fit together and have a small space in the bottom for drainage. 
  2. Drill and bit to drill air and drainage holes. 
  3. Fine screen mesh
  4. Water proof glue of calking
  5. Shredded news paper. Use regular plain newspaper. You need to shred enough to cover the bottom of the bin with about two inches.  
  6. Soil. Add about twice as much soil as you did the newspaper.  
  7. Water. Add enough water to provide a nice moist feeling to the worm mix. 
  8. Red worms

Building a Worm Compost Bin

A DIY worm composting bin will take about one hour to build after you gather all the needed materials. Below I illustrate the step-by-step process. 

Two identical plastic containers that will fit together with a small space underneath the inside container.

I used a one inch drill bit to drill multiple holes through the bottom of the container for drainage.

After drilling the holes, I use a fine screen material to cover the holes. Cut small squares just large enough to cover the holes. This allows drainage and prevents the worms from dropping down into the lower container.

I then used an outdoor caulking material to glue to screens over the holes.

Then repeat this process for the lid. Holes in the lid allows for aeration/ventilation and prevents flies or other insects from entering the bin.

The end product is two containers where one fits inside the other. These containers are now ready for the the addition of the worms, shredded news paper and water. Worm “tea” collects in the bottom of the outside container through the drainage holes.

Our worm bin sits in the corner of the cabin between the table and the front door. It has absolutely no odor and I even tend to forget it is there.

Proper Bedding for Composting With Worms

The addition of some type of organic material is key.  You can use leaves or straw but you run the risk of introducing insects. It is best to start with shredded newspaper.  Use just plain newspaper. Stay away from pages with heavy ink or a glossy finish.  Shred enough newspaper to create a one to two inch thick bed without packing it down.  Add enough garden soil so that the newspaper mixes well. There needs to be more dirt that paper. Lastly,  add just enough water to make the soil moist to the touch. If you add too much water, then add a little more dirt.

Purchasing Your Worms

You need at least 500 worms to start, preferably 1000.  In particular, you need the red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) or red worms (Lumbricus rubellus). These types of worm prefer a compost environment over plain soil. Unlike your typical garden worm, they will not try to burrow deeper into the soil.

Worms can easily be ordered online. A one pound bag is about 1000 worms and should be approximately two big handfuls.

Maintaining the Worm Bin

Maintaining the bin is easy and requires very little time. When adding food waste, be sure to stir the material into the bin so that it does not sit on top and rot.  Worms will eat most fruit and vegetable waste. You can also add coffee grounds, tea bags, shredded paper. Avoid any animal products such as fat, meat, bones, and dairy. Also be cautious about adding too many onions, citrus products such as orange peels, or tough vegetable stems that are difficult to break down. It is also better to chop the food waste into smaller pieces.

Remember that the worms are going to eat about half their body weight every day. So one pound of worms will consume approximately 1/2 pound of food every single day. On average that equals about 3 pounds of waste per week and 12 pounds per month.  

Worms can live four to five years. However, they may not last this long inside your bin. They will start to reproduce at about 2 months of age, which is important to keeping up your population. Keep in mind that your worm population is going to double in the first few months.  This is not a problem as long as there is enough food.

Collecting Your Harvest

Worm “tea” is the fluid that collects in the bottom container. This is easily collected by removing the top container and pouring out the liquid. This liquid is very strong and should be diluted in water to about one part worm tea to 10 parts water.  As stated above, you can also make your own worm compost tea which is already dilute.

The easiest way to collect the worm compost from the bin is to dump the contents onto a tarp. The top layer of the bin will now be on the bottom which tends to be material that is not yet composted. The worms will have a tendency to crawl down to this layer. You can now scoop off the top layer of material which was of course the bottom layer that was in the bin. This is a perfect time to clean out the bottom of the bin.

Then place your worms back in their bin, add a little news paper and dirt as needed.

Troubleshooting Your Worm Bin

As with most animals, proper husbandry, maintenance,  and availability of food waste will prevent most problems.  However, you may still encounter occasional issues.

Composter odor

As a general rule, your worms should be eating most anything you add to the bin. If you notice an odor, look through your bin and remove any waste that is starting to rot.

The worms may sometimes let waste material sit and soften before attempting to eat it.  It is helpful to chop up vegetable scraps into smaller pieces that soften up sooner.

If you add too much food waste at once, the worm bin may collect too much moisture. If this is the case, then add a small amount of newspaper or cardboard.

Fruit fly infestation

In this case, prevention is the best course of action. If you have a food waste bin on your counter, make certain it is well sealed.  When adding food waste to the worm bin, be sure to cover it with plenty of dirt.  Again, chopping the food into smaller bits will help to prevent fruit fly problems.

Invasion from other creatures

If your worm bin gets invaded by other insect you will likely have to take the bin outside, dump the contents, collect any compost, and start fresh. Afterwards, check the screening over all the holes to make sure all is intact.

If your bin is getting invade by rodents, secure the lid with a heavy object or a bungie cord.

Other Amendments to the Worm Bin

The addition of pumice or coconut coir will improve water retention, prevent matting, enhance air circulation, and add nutrients. It will also help to balance the soil due to the constant addition of nitrogen rich food waste.

Final Thoughts

I did not compost for years due to the cold climate where I live and the local wildlife would usually have so much fun invading the compost bin.  Composting with worms changed all of that for me. Now I have an indoor composting bin that is odor free and regularly provides a natural fertilizer for my green house. Additionally, it is so easy to set up and is very versatile. I hope you will find it to be as useful as I do.

Other Posts of Interest

Sustainability on the Homestead
How to Get Started with Chickens
58 Ways to Make Money on the Homestead

Go off grid and live well,


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