Organic compost is the stuff plants love and thrive on. If you want super nutrient rich organic compost, try vermicomposting (AKA worm composting). This is one of the best kinds of fertilizer you can give to your garden plants.
Benefits of composting:
You’re reducing your waste. You can finally put some use to the piles of junk mail and food scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash.
You’re giving your garden vegetables and fruits the best medium in which to flourish.
Adding worms to the mix (AKA vermicomposting) turbo charges the nutrients of your compost.
Step by Step Guide to Vermicomposting
Vermicomposting can be set up indoors or outdoors. If you have very cold winters, you could set it up indoors and just maintain your bin indoors year round.
You could always buy a vermicomposting set, but it’ll run you over $50 and I’ve seen some at around $100. You can create your own at the fraction of the cost and it’ll be a fun DIY project for the whole family. Kids love worms.
Let’s start small since this is a guide for beginners. You can go bigger as you learn more about the process.
Related: The Benefits of Organic Gardening
Step 1: Supplies
- A 10-15 gallon plastic bin/storage tub that has a cover. If you’re unfamiliar with storage bins, they look like the following image, but can come in a variety of sizes and colors.
A bin shouldn’t cost you more than $10. You could also search garage sales or Craigslist to see if you can find a used one for even cheaper. Just make sure it has a lid. Also make sure your bin isn’t taller than 18 inches deep. This is so the composting material doesn’t get too compacted and dense. Worms prefer a light and loose home.
- A tray big enough for the main bin to sit in or another bin
- A couple of bricks, rocks or blocks
- A drill
- Red wiggler worms
- Food scraps
Step 2: Drill holes
First drill 10 to 12 quarter inch holes in the bottom of the bin to allow for drainage. Next, drill a few half inch holes along the upper edge of the bin to allow for air circulation. Make sure these upper holes are on all sides.
This quick video shows how to drill holes in the bin.
Step 3: Make sure the bin has a tray under it or another bin to catch the drainage.
Take the tray (tray must be larger than the main bin so the bin can fit within the tray) and add a couple of blocks, bricks, or rocks to it.
Nest your main bin on to the tray so that it’s sitting on top of the blocks. This will give some separation from the holes in the bottom of the main bin and the tray. You can also take the main bin with the holes and nest it into another bin. Just make sure the bottom bin has the bricks/blocks in it so that the main bin can rest on top if it.
A bin using another bin (instead of a tray) to capture the drainage can look like the following image. The bottom bin just needs some blocks in it so that that top bin sits on top of the blocks.
Step 4: Add the bedding
Now that we have the main bin ready to go, we need to add the carbon-rich brown material known as the bedding. Bedding is the stuff the worms crawl around in and where you bury the food scraps for the worms. Items you can use for bedding could be shredded paper, shredded autumn leaves, shredded cardboard, peat moss, and wood shavings. You can also combine any of these items to make a bedding.
Frugal tip: You can get all this stuff for free. We all get junk mail and have paper products in the home, so you can shred that up and use for your bedding. If you do your own leaf raking in the fall, you can bag the leaves up and save them for all year round compost use. Also, you can contact local landscaping companies and see if they will give you their leaves or sell for a low price. Woodworkers and carpenters can provide you with wood shavings. Just call around to see what’s available.
Step 5: Add some water
After adding the bedding, add some water, not a lot; just enough to get the bedding moist, not soaked. Fill the bin up about two thirds the way up with this moistened bedding.
Step 6: Add the worms
Next, add your red wiggler worms. These are the ideal type of worms for worm composting because they’re small, process a lot of organic material and do well within bins. If you find worms in your garden that aren’t red wigglers, don’t add them to your compost bin. Those larger worms you find in your garden prefer soil and don’t do well in containers.
Red wigglers can be ordered online or bought at a bait shop.
To determine how many worms you’ll need, first figure out how much kitchen scraps you produce on a daily basis. Kitchen scraps include fruits and vegetables scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, grains, and tea bags. Do not include meat, dairy, bones, or fatty products. You can use a kitchen scale to weigh how many scraps you produce daily. Just weigh the scraps for a few days to get an average. If it’s determined that you generate 5 ounces of food scraps per day, you would need to add 10 ounces of red wiggler worms. This is because they eat half their weight in food per day.
Once you have the worms, sprinkle them on top of the moist bedding. Cover the bin to let the worms burrow down for a bit.
Step 7: Add the nitrogen-rich green material AKA food scraps
A little trick to make sure you’re distributing the food scraps evenly is to tape a piece of paper to the top of your lid and divide it into 8 equal sections. Each section represents a section of the compost within the bin. Each day when you feed the worms the scraps, you’ll put it into a different section, and on the paper, write the date in each box after feeding. Go in square order clockwise or counter clock wise and the worms will follow where the food is. After 8 days of feeding, the food shouldn’t be recognizable. If it is, don’t add more food until the worms have processed it.
Tip: Grind up the food scraps before adding to the bedding. Worms don’t have teeth and can process ground up food better than whole chunks. Adding a little sand to your bin can also help the worms grind up their food.
To add the food, go to section 1, pull a bit of bedding aside and add your 5 ounces of food scraps. Cover the food up by burying it with an inch or so of bedding. Make sure the bin is secure on blocks on it’s nesting tray. Each day, add more food to the next section.
Warning: Don’t overload your bin with food. This can cause bad smells and attract fruit flies. Take it slowly at the pace the worms can consume the food. Also, make sure the food scraps are completely covered with moist bedding. If the fruit flies can’t smell the food, they won’t infest the bin.
You will see mold and tiny harmless creatures in your bin from time to time. This is normal in a vermicomposting bin.
A worm composting bin that you’ve been operating for several months is going to look different from what it looked like in the beginning. The material will be much darker. As the worms process the food scraps, the bin will gradually fill up with nutrient-rich worm droppings (AKA worm castings). This nutrient-rich material is what you add to your garden.
Once every few months, you’ll want to harvest the castings/compost from the bin. To do this, you’ll have to separate the worms from the composted material.
To separate the worms from the composted material, get a large sheet and put it next to the bin. Scoop out a handful or two and put it on the sheet. From there, form the material into little piles. If there are any worms in the piles, they will begin to burrow down to the bottom because they don’t like to be exposed to dry air. You can speed up this process a bit by shining a light on the piles. Keep brushing the composted material aside and soon you’ll have two piles: One pile of worm-free composted material and another pile of worms.
Now that you have your worms separated out, you can use these worms to start the vermicomposting process all over again.
The pile of worm-free compost/worm castings can be added directly to your garden as fertilizer. You can also run it through a screen to get a finer material to add to your potting mixes.
Don’t worry about your worms escaping. If they have enough food, air holes for circulation and the bedding’s moist, they’ll be happy. If you do notice they’re escaping, check to make sure the bedding’s not too dry or not too wet.
Clean the vermicomposting bin every few months to keep things nice and tidy.
If you found this vermicomposting tutorial helpful and have followed it to start your own worm composting project, let us know in the comments below.
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