Skip to main content

How to Make Worm Compost in Three Easy Steps

I'm a self-taught vermiculturist who can't say enough about the benefits of vermicomposting.

This article will show you how to start worm composting in three easy and simple steps.

This article will show you how to start worm composting in three easy and simple steps.

An Introduction to Keeping a Worm Bin

A worm bin is more than an indoor composter; it’s an educational microcosm for adults and children. Not only will a worm bin provide the most luscious crumbly black gold, but it also entertains. With the growing popularity of worm castings and worm casting-enriched products, there are many reasons to (and benefits from) doing it yourself.

Not only will your worm bin cut down on your household’s organic waste, but it is also a great way to make moisture-retentive, microorganism, and nutrient-rich compost, even if there’s no space to maintain a compost pile. And it’s easy! Here are the 3 steps to making worm compost:

  1. Buy worms and a worm bin.
  2. Feed the worms.
  3. Harvest and use castings.
Worm Egg Cocoon

Worm Egg Cocoon

1. Buying Worms and a Worm Bin

Like anything, you can spend as much as you want on a worm bin setup. Pre-manufactured, multi-tiered worm bins are offered by several brands, but a suitable home can be made from a plastic Rubbermaid storage tote for less than ten dollars. A twelve-gallon storage tote is ample for one to two pounds of worms. Red Wigglers, Eisenia foetida, are readily available from many online sources. They usually cost about $25 a pound.

Drill air holes in the sides and lid of your storage tote, then add the bedding material. Newspaper is a very popular choice because it is plentiful and also grows mold, which the worms will digest. Shred newspapers into one-inch strips and soak in tap water. Thoroughly wring it out and fluff it up before adding to the bin. Cornmeal is a favorite worm food that can be added to brand new setups to help the worms get acclimated.

Many worm owners prefer adding shredded coconut fibers, coir, or sterile, compressed soil. I believe a blend of coir and newspaper is best.

It's an excellent idea to set up your bind before your worms arrive. When worms are added to the bin, they can feel threatened and plan a grand escape. This can be managed by placing a bright light near the bin for the first few days. If you worms try to escape regularly, it could indicate underlying problems with conditions inside, such as too much moisture, not enough moisture, etc.

Rubbermaid Worm Bin

Rubbermaid Worm Bin

Coco Coir Bedding Materials

Coco coir made from shredded fibers from the coconut tree is ideal for worm bedding. It comes in tightly compressed blocks that expand dramatically when mixed with water. It is light, airy, sterile and a renewable alternative to peat moss.

Commercial Worm Bins

These engineered worm bins are designed to maximize your worm composting results year round.

2. Feeding the Worms

One pound of worms can consume a maximum of eight ounces of food per day. If the bin is full of food scraps, additional material may be saved in the freezer and used later. Freezing also kills pesky fly larvae. Worms will eat all fruits and vegetables except citrus. Worms can also consume natural fibers, like dryer lint, worn out socks or jeans. It will just take awhile. Things that should not be added include onions, meat, and dairy.

One of the most popular ways of feeding is the pocket method, which means the day's scraps are deposited in one small “pocket” and covered with bedding. Always cover food scraps with bedding to cut down on fruit flies, fungus gnats and odor. One of the best reasons for pocket feeding is the entire bin is not disturbed at once. If the worms' habitat is disturbed, they will feel threatened and look for a safer place to go by escaping from the bin. One of the fascinating things about the worms is they will adapt to the conditions in your bin. For example, if a filter of coffee grounds is added to the bin every day, eventually the subsequent generations will consume more coffee grounds than the worms who were not accustomed to that food.¤t=worms007.jpg

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Dengarden

3. Harvesting and Using Castings

A bin containing one pound of worms in a two-person household may yield approximately fifteen pounds of finished worm castings, or vermicompost, in a year. There are several ways to harvest the vermicompost. The idea is to let the remaining eggs hatch before removing the castings from the bin. An effective way is to separate the finished vermicompost from the active feeding area, so the hatchlings are forced to migrate to the food.

Finished and partially finished vermicompost can be used in several ways. It can be added to potting soil, potted plants, garden beds, or used to make "worm tea," a mixture of castings and water.

Worm tea is very easy to brew. Fill a one-quart container with water. Add a small amount of worm castings, up to one tablespoon. Add an equal amount of sugar source for the microorganisms to consume, so they will multiply. Molasses, which is a microorganism supplement on its own, is great for this. When the tea no longer smells like molasses, the microorganisms have consumed the sugar source and the worm tea is ready. Fruit juice, feed hay, or cornmeal can also be used as sugar sources. Kelp, comfrey, alfalfa and anything else that is beneficial can also be added. It can take anywhere from 4-24 hours depending on the temperature. Always leave the container uncovered and stir the water several times to add oxygen.

Troubleshooting Problems

Controlling the moisture can be tricky, especially in new setups where the worms are living in nearly 100% bedding. Your bin can go from water-logged to parched in no time. The key is to balance moisture levels. Both problems can be corrected by adding more newspaper. It the bin becomes dry, add wet newspaper. If it is wet, mix in some dry bedding and crack the cover, but be careful, this can dry out the bin very rapidly.

Leachate, anaerobic water from the bottom of the bin, is sometimes sold as worm tea. Leachate is a purported phytotoxin and should not be applied to plants. A healthy bin with the proper moisture balance will not collect leachate. Typically a worm bin smells less than a garbage can. If there is excessive odor detectable outside the bin, try adding extra bedding, or breaking up pockets of anaerobic material in the bottom of the bin.

Why Use Worms?

In many ways, worms are ideal pets. They don’t make noise. They don’t require a lot of care or attention. It’s simple and cheap to set up a worm bin. They stay in their bin when their owners go on vacation. And, of course, they make nutritious compost. As you get familiar with your worms, you’ll see them differently—more like pets. They are tame, cute worms, not gross outside worms. They work with you to create microorganism-rich vermicompost that your plants will love.

Further Information on Vermicomposting

This comprehensive book, "Worms Eat My Garbage," is a complete guide to worm composting for anyone interested in the subject. The 162-page book covers everything you need to know. Learn about the sex life of a worm, how to prepare bedding, how to set up and maintain a small-scale worm farm.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 QuiltFinger

Have You Maintained a Worm Bin? Do You Want to After Reading This Article?

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on July 31, 2012:

@anonymous: That's so cool. Yes, I do make quilts and quilted items. It is a bit addictive, especially the fabric buying part. I was watching one of these James Bond marathons when I came up with the name.

anonymous on July 31, 2012:

@QuiltFinger: why QuiltFinger do you make Quilts . my wife makes them

QuiltFinger (author) from Tennessee on July 31, 2012:

@anonymous: Hi there Red, you can put it directly on top of the food scraps. The manufacturers recommend watering it each time you feed to keep conditions dark, moist and aerated. You probably don't need to use a lot of water. Just enough to keep it damp/moist. Thanks for stopping by!

anonymous on July 31, 2012:

how do you use worm blanket . do you wet it or just lay it on top . do you need paper with it .

Itaya Lightbourne from Topeka, KS on April 13, 2012:

Great article! :)

jed78 on April 12, 2012:

Nice lens, love that worm compost, its like magic!

Geeve on April 09, 2012:

A nice addition to the "other gardening" neighbourhood. Blessed :)

AJ from Australia on April 07, 2012:

I just love worms in my garden. Spring Blessings to you.

justDawn1 on April 06, 2012:

Have been interested in this for a few years...Maybe it's time to give it a try! Thanks for creating this lens. It's very informative! :)

anonymous on April 03, 2012:

Congratulations for being featured on Squidoo's 2012 Spring Gardening Showcase and Blessed by a fellow Gardener and Squidoo Angel

Jules Corriere from Jonesborough TN on April 02, 2012:

I gathered a story from Mr. Baggs, of Begg's Grocery in Sanford, Florida. His produce stand has stood at the same spot for 50 years, and among his offerings were worm casting. He told me all about the worm farm he had. It was so interesting! Congratulations on making the Squidoo Best of Gardening 2012 Lenses. Blessed.

Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 02, 2012:

I've wanted to grow worms for a long time. I have built up my garden soil to contain a lot of worms though. I might give your homemade bin a try. Thanks

Stephanie Tietjen from Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 02, 2012:

I've wanted to grow worms for a long time. I have built up my garden soil to contain a lot of worms though. I might give your homemade bin a try. Thanks

Related Articles