How to Get Started with Worm Composting

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Here’s how you can easily get started with worm composting and go green this year with your own worm farm! Composting with worms is a great way to reduce food waste and produce THE BEST fertilizer for your gardens.

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

Contributor Honey Rowland talks us through how to start composting with worms for the health of our gardens and Planet Earth.

How to Get Started with Worm Composting

Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is an easy way to deal with kitchen waste all year round but especially during the winter.  Not only does it mean you don’t have to go outside in the cold to dump your kitchen scraps, it means you’ll have a huge supply of worm castings and worm tea to start your seedlings with and to improve your garden harvests.

Benefits of Worm Composting

Worm Composting has a lot of benefits. Unlike traditional composting, there’s no need for a big compost heap, no turning the compost, and no slogging out in bad weather to dump your food scraps. There is less work as the worms turn the compost as they move and eat through the bin.

Vermicomposting takes up very little space. You can keep your worms in a closet, garage, shed, or basement.  Your worm farm can be placed anywhere you’re comfortable having your bin sit.  The footprint is the size of a 15 gallon plastic bin or bigger if you choose. 

There is no odor nor does it attract pests if you manage it properly.  It will improve your garden soil, protect your plants from disease, keep food out of landfills and you never have to go out in freezing weather.

Want to start worm composting? Here’s how!

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

Buy or Make a Worm Composting Bin

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is a home for your worms. There are several types of worm composting bins you can buy, and it’s also very easy to make your own worm composting bin. We will show you an easy worm composting bin DIY in the next next few weeks!

If you don’t want to make your own, here are several worm bins you can buy pre-assembled and ready to go. One of the pre-made bins is the Hungry Bin which is as hands off as you can get. Check out its review by Growing Your Greens.

Buying Composting Worms

After you get your worm bin sorted, you’ll want to order worms. Lots of places have composting worms for sale but you will want to make sure you purchase native worms. Avoid Alabama Wigglers, Snake Worms, jumping Worms or Asian Jumping Worms. These are different names for the same invasive worm from Asia. It quickly consumes food native worms would eat and affects the soil structure which destroys native fauna.

There are a few thousand types of worms but only four worms are good for composting. They are the Red Wiggler, European, Malaysian and the African.

Red Wigglers Compost Worms

Red Wigglers are North American compost worms. They are smaller, reproduce quickly, eat a lot and tend to stay in the top 6-8 inches of the soil. They live in temperatures of 50-90* but they do best in the 60-70* range. Red Wiggler Compost Worms are the best worms for your worm composting operation.

European Compost Worms

European worms or Nightcrawlers are the Wigglers bigger cousin from Europe. It prefers cooler temps than the Red Wiggler and makes better fishing bait. While it will compost your scraps it is much slower and it takes longer to reproduce.

Malaysian Compost Worms

The Malaysian is a tropical worm which sound great if you live with hot muggy summers huh? An added benefit is they can be a great alarm if you get migraines from storms. These worms respond to barometric pressure. They will find a way to escape the bin at the first hint of a thunderstorm and you’ll walk in to worms everywhere. Don’t ask how I know…but it’s disgusting.

African Compost Worms

The African worms need hot temps. They thrive outside in the summer heat. These worms will die below 65* so if you keep them in cooler temps you must keep them climate controlled. They also prefer to have a deeper bin to work through as they drag their food deep to eat….over 8 ft.

How Many Compost Worms To Order

I recommend starting with 1000 or 2000 red wiggler worms. They are a good number for a family of 4. As they doubled in size our Red Wigglers eventually fed our chickens winter treats, our garden soil and us by growing nutrient rich vegetables.

Be aware there is a worm shortage and apparently there has been one since last year. You may need to preorder your worms. It should cost you around $30 per pound, which is approximately 1000 worms. Buying two or three pounds will give you a better deal and you could divide them up with some local friends or family members.

Where to Buy Compost Worms

It’s always better to support and order from someone local. Do a facebook search for worm farms near me or vermicomposting. If you’re unable to find someone local check out one of these farms.

If you are family of fewer than three people, you will appreciate A Vermi Farm as you can order as little as 1/4 pound of worms.

Memes Worms is currently preorder only and their prices are more than fair.

The Worm Farm offers everything from one to six pounds of worms. They seem perfect to order in bulk and save some money with a few friends or family members.

There are other places which are larger worm farms but they mix their worms and have a current reputation of poor customer service. Be sure to research reviews so you know what you’re getting into.

And, if all else fails head down to your local bait shop and pick you up some worms.

When you order it is also better to have your worms picked up at the post office. Picking them up will save you some headache and the risk of loosing all your worms.

Prepare for Compost Worms to Arrive

Choose bedding material and place into the compost bin. Preferred bedding materials include:

  • 1” wide shredded paper strips. (remove glossy ads or print or staples)
  • Crush dried leaves
  • Shredded paper or cardboard (I love sending strips of waste paper through the paper shredder as the small pieces are easier on the worms)

Next, make sure you have food ready to feed them once they arrive. Collect two pounds of vegetable scraps (for each 1000 worms) to feed your worms the day they arrive. If you start with 2000 worms, you’ll need four pounds of food scraps.

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

When Your Worms Arrive

Your worms will do better if you get them into their bin as soon as possible so don’t wait around.  

  1. Wet bedding so it is like a wrung out sponge/washrag. 
  2. Sprinkle a few handfuls of sand amongst the bedding.
  3. Place all but a few handfuls of bedding into the bin
  4. Place vegetable scraps into bedding on the left side of bin.
  5. Sprinkle worms on top of bedding  
  6. Cover worms with rest of moistened bedding
  7. Snap bin lid securely in place

Where to Keep Your Worm Compost Bin

Keeping your worms comfortable is going to keep them active and processing food scraps.  They need 50F to 80F temperatures but prefer to be in the 60’s range.  They often do very well in a basement or a heated garage. 

Some people keep their worm bins in the garden during warmer months of summer (but do be cognizant of summer heat as too hot of temperatures can roast the poor worms), and then bring them inside a warmer spot during the cold winter months. But the best place for them is where they are comfortable, their bin fits, and it makes it easy for you to use.  

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

How to Feed Your Composting Worms

Mentally divide the bin into 4 rows.  Every week you will place your veggie scraps in one of the rows. I go left to right so it is easy to track and the worms aren’t going everywhere to find food. Make sure to cover the food with a top layer of bedding so it is all buried.      

For example:  Week 1 will be in row 1, moving to the right for each subsequent week’s feeding. In week 6, you’ll feed in row 2 (continuing to move to the right). By Week 11 will be in row 3.

Worms don’t enjoy being disturbed so it’s best to only feed them once a week.  We found it easiest to collect our vegetable scraps in a plastic container we kept in the fridge.   

Do not feed your worms more than they can eat each week as it will cause odor or fruit fly issues.  1000 worms will eat two pounds of kitchen waste each week.  If you ordered 2000 worms feeding them four pounds a week will prevent anyone escaping to look for food.

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

What to Feed Your Worms

Your worms will eat all your veggie scraps, coffee grounds, loose tea leaves, and biodegradable tea bags (be sure to remove any staples).  Sprinkling ¼ cup of sand or crushed/powdered eggshell to every 2lbs of food in/on the scraps will help their gizzards break it all down and make you those beautiful worm castings to add to your garden soil.  

What Not to Feed Your Worms 

While worms will eat a lot of different types of food, here are a few things to avoid feeding them

  • NO fruit scraps
  • avocado pits
  • large seeds
  • wood chunks (popsicle sticks etc)
  • citrus peels

Avoid feeding these items to minimize fruit flies, and to keep your worms healthy happy. Remember, these little wiggly worms don’t have teeth. 

What Will Your Worms Provide 

Your worms will provide you with wonderful worm castings in as few as 6 weeks. Worm castings are a type of natural fertilizer – prized by gardeners and called black gold for your garden. You can buy worm castings, but they’re very expensive so you may as well make your own!

The amount of worm castings you will get depends on so much: what the worms are fed and the quality of the scraps, how big your worm bin is, how many worms you started with, the temperature they’re working in, etc.. 

They will also provide you with more worms as they double in number about every 6 months.  With all those worm castings you may want to order more seeds for fall. Your garden is going to love you so much when you start feeding it worm castings. An extra benefit is worm castings make your veggies taste better.

How to Make a Worm Composting Bin

How to Separate Worms from their Castings

To separate the worms from their castings, simply dump and sift or pick them out before removing your worm castings from the bin.  Place all the castings directly in your garden or let them dry and store them in another bin so you can add it to your finished compost. 

Add fresh bedding and set up your bin again.  If you notice you have had more food waste than you were able to  feed to them, make another bin or give the worms to a friend or a local school.  

Finally, if you don’t enjoy having a worm farm you can simply start your own compost system outside during winter or summer.

Sounds pretty easy, right? Let’s do a bit more for the Earth this year and get started worm composting!

Do you have any questions or concerns about worm composting? Please leave them in the comments!

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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