Vermicomposting: Indoor Composting with Earthworms
Composting is a controlled process of decomposition used to transform organic material such as kitchen scraps, yard wastes and paper products into humus. Humus, or compost, is a dark, soil-like substance that enriches soil with nutrients, increases moisture retention, improves structure and provides a good environment for beneficial soil organisms. Composting is usually done outdoors, but the process can easily be adapted for indoor use. So you can compost even if you don’t have a yard, or if you don’t like going out to a compost bin in the snow, or if you want to produce the highest quality compost there is: vermicompost!
What is vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is simply composting with earthworms. Earthworms speed up the composting process, aerate the organic material in the bin, and enhance the finished compost with nutrients and enzymes from their digestive tracts. The best kind of earthworms to use are red worms, also known as “red wigglers” and “manure worms”. These worms thrive in decomposing organic matter such as leaf piles, compost heaps and old manure piles. They are smaller than nightcrawlers and are reddish brown in color. Red worms are native to Europe but have become naturalized throughout the U.S. Red worms are a good indicator of fertile soil because their presence indicates high organic matter content and a lack of toxic substances in soil.
Red worms make composting indoors feasible because they are very efficient processors of organic waste; they eat and expel their own weight every day. Even a small bin of red worms will yield pounds of rich compost, also known as worm castings. Finished compost can be harvested in as little as two to three months. Redworms are extremely prolific. It takes about three weeks for fertilized eggs to develop in a cocoon from which two or more young worms can hatch. In three months the worms become sexually mature and will start breeding. Within a year you’ll be able to give worms away to get a friend started! And you’ll never have to buy bait for trout fishing again!
Where can I get a worm bin?
Worms and bins are also available from Flowerfield Enterprises, Planet Natural, and Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. The least expensive way to obtain a worm bin is to make one from a plastic or wooden container by drilling air holes in the sides and top. Plastic containers can be purchased from a hardware or department store. Get one with a lid. Since worms do not like light, an opaque container is preferable to a translucent one, unless the bin is kept covered with a dark cloth. The larger the container, the more material you will be able to compost. A deep bin is preferable to a shallow one because it allows more room for layering and burying fresh material.
|number of people||quantity of worms||bin size|
|1 or 2||1 lb.||15″h x 1.5’w x 2’l|
|2 or 3||1 lb.||15″h x 2’w x 2’l|
|4 to 6||2 to 3 lbs.||15″h x 2’w x 3.5’l|
How do I convert the bin to a worm bin?
Drill holes approximately 3″ apart in the sides and cover of the bin. The holes should begin approximately 4″ from the bottom of the bin. The holes should not be wider than 1/8″. Some guides recommend drilling holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage, but this is optional. If you provide drainage holes, you will need a tray to catch excess moisture. If you do not provide drainage holes, you will need to add extra dry material if the bin starts to develop puddles in the bottom. Red worms thrive in a very damp environment (at least 50% moisture), but puddled water will eventually result in odor formation.
How do I prepare the bin for the worms?
First, you will need bedding for the worms. Red worms can survive and breed in many kinds of bedding materials. The worms eat the bedding as it decomposes, turning it to compost along with the kitchen scraps you add. The bedding should be a high carbon material, such as fall leaves (best if small or shredded), shredded paper (such as newspaper, paper towels, napkins, paper bags), ground cardboard or peat moss, or a combination of these materials. If you use peat moss, make sure to mix it with other bedding as it is too acidic to use alone. Dampen the bedding until the moisture content is 50% (as damp as a wrung out sponge). It is important to keep the bedding this damp or the worms will die. Mix a few handfuls of soil or finished compost with the bedding. The bedding should fill the bin about 3/4 full. Vegetative wastes are buried underneath the bedding, which filters out any odors from the decomposing material below. The whole mixture will turn to compost in about 3 months. Now it’s time to add the worms!
Where can I get Redworms?
See the suppliers noted above. You may also find a commercial source of redworms in your area by checking the Yellow Pages under the heading “Fishing Bait.” Be sure to ask for redworms or red wigglers.
In nature, redworms can be found in decaying leaves, manure piles or other organic material, such as compost piles. If you have access to such areas, you can collect your own redworms. A few handfuls are enough to start a bin, but add only small amounts of food scraps until the worm population increases enough to handle more (3-4 months).
What do I feed them?
Worms will eat just about any type of kitchen waste including vegetables, fruits, coffee grounds, tea bags and egg shells (crushed). Do not add meat or meat byproducts. Bury the food scraps completely, so that they are always covered by bedding; this prevents development of odors and fruit flies. Don’t add more food scraps than the worms eat in several days. The worms can’t eat the food until it starts to decompose, so it may take a few months for the bin to get up to speed. For fastest decomposition, chop the food scraps into small pieces.
Can worms live outside during colder months?
Worms prefer temperatures between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in an apartment building they can live quite happily out on the balcony until temperatures drop to 40 degrees. After that they should be taken indoors. Basements or garages that don’t freeze are good locations for worm bins.
How do I harvest the finished compost?
After about 3 months you’ll notice that the volume of materials has dropped substantially and the original bedding is no longer recognizable. At this point the finished compost and worms can be moved over to one side of the bin and new bedding added to the vacant side. Put new food wastes into the fresh bedding only, so the worms will move from the finished compost in search of new food. After two weeks or so remove the lid under a bright light source. The worms are sensitive to light and will burrow away from it. Scoop out the finished compost a few layers at a time and place in a plastic bag or container until you’re ready to use it. Latex gloves are very convenient for this task. Now add fresh bedding and the process begins again!
How can I use the finished compost?
Vermicompost, or worm castings, provides nutrients to your plants and helps the soil hold moisture. Growth trials indicate vermicompost has a more beneficial effect on plants than compost produced without worms, although the reasons for this are still not entirely understood. Vermicompost can be used in a number of different ways:
- Mix it into the seed row when planting.
- When transplanting, add a handful of vermicompost to the hole you have dug for the plant.
- Use as a top dressing, placing a layer of vermicompost around the base of plants (but not in contact with the stems).
- Mix with potting soil and sand (1/3rd each) for house plants.
- Give a quart away (with the worms still in it) to someone else who wants to start vermicomposting.
Excerpted from: Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof
Other useful books:
The Rodale Guide to Composting (Rodale Press)
Let It Rot! (Storey Publishing)
There is also useful information at:
Franklin County Solid Waste Management District
50 Miles Street
Greenfield, MA 01301
Tel: (413) 772-2438
MA Relay for the hearing impaired: 711 or 1-800-439-2370 (TTY/TDD)
Fax: (413) 772-3786
Staff email addresses
This website is made possible through a grant from the
USDA Rural Utilities Service.
FCSWMD is an equal opportunity provider.
Full Equal Opportunity Disclosure Statement.
Composting with worms (a.k.a. vermicomposting) is the proverbial win-win situation. It gives you a convenient way to dispose of organic waste, such as vegetable peelings. It saves space in the county landfill, which is good for the environment. It gives worms a happy home and all the free “eats” that they could want. For those that have gardens or even potted plants, homegrown compost is a great way to feed and nurture plants.
Vermiculture, which some advocates have dubbed “the organic garbage disposal,” recycles food waste into a rich, dark, good-for-your-garden soil conditioner. It’s such great stuff that Planet Natural sells a variety of organic compost that ranges in price from $5.95 to $13.95 as well as potting soil that contains compost.
And despite its reputation, worm composting doesn’t need to be a smelly endeavor. If you take care to set things up correctly, your compost bin shouldn’t be stinky.
Vermicomposting is being seen more and more as a way to help our environment and reduce waste. The City of Oakland in California has a recycling program expressly for food waste. (It supplies the bin and you supply the organic garbage.) The City of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, supplies residents with worm bins and even has a hot-line you can call to find where to buy worms (see Urban Agriculture Notes). Spokane, Washington posts information on how to get started composting with worms to encourage residents to try this environmentally friendly way of disposing of garbage.
- What is vermicompost?
- What kind of worms are used for vermicomposting?
- What do worms need?
- What will worms eat?
- Where should you keep worms?
- How do you harvest worms and vermicompost?
- Will I need to buy more worms?
- What other organisms live with worms?
- Are vermicomposting facilities regulated?
- Where can I get more information on vermicomposting?
- How to Create and Maintain an Indoor Worm Composting Bin
- What You Need
- Preparing the Bins
- Preparing the Paper, Soil, Water Medium and Adding the Worms
- Feeding the Worms
- Maintaining the Bin
- RECEIVE 10% OFF LIVE BAIT ON YOUR FIRST ORDER
- Fishing with Worms
- Red Wiggler Worms For Sale
- 1000 Red Composting Worm Mix
- Species of Worms
- Combining Species of Worms
- Quantity of Worms
- Where to Buy Compost Worms
With the right composting equipment turning table scraps into valuable vermicompost is a cinch! Planet Natural supplies everything you need to get started: worms, a container and “bedding.” Plus books that tell you just how to do it. Let’s compost!
Don’t go out and dig out night crawlers that live in the soil by your home to populate your compost bin. Night crawlers need to tunnel through dirt to eat and survive and they can’t live on vegetable waste. Instead, you need redworms — Eisenia foetida (also known as red wiggler, brandling or manure worm) and Lumbricus rubellus (manure worm).
You can buy worms from sites like PlanetNatural.com. (We sell 1 pound of red worms — roughly 1,000 — for $35.50, shipping included.) If you’ve got the time and the access, you can also find a horse stable and recover worms from horse manure or ask a farmer to ransack his manure pile for worms.
Mary Appelhof, author of “Worms Eat My Garbage” recommends two pounds of worms — about 2,000 wigglers — for every pound per day of food waste. To figure out how much food waste your household generates, monitor it for a week and divide by seven.
Note: Some vermiculture experts advise starting out with a smaller amount of worms, which isn’t a bad idea if you are relatively new to all of this. Of course, you’ll have to reduce the amount of food scraps you put in the bin, until the population increases.
When populating your bin with worms, keep in mind that worms, provided you give them adequate food and a good home, can double their populations every 90 days. It’s probably best to start out with slightly fewer worms than you need and just expect that your worm population will increase to fill your demand for processing organic waste.
You’ll also need a container for the worms. We have a variety of worm bins on sale here including the 4-Tray Worm Farm and the Can O Worms.
If you prefer, you can also build your own worm bin. Size does matter when it comes to compost. You’ll want a container with depth of between eight and 12 inches. Wood is a great building material. If you don’t feel like building from scratch, you can even adapt a “Rubbermaid®” type tub and turn it into a composting bin. Books such as “Worms Eat My Garbage” give details on how to build your own compost bin. Just remember that worms like a dark, moist (not wet) environment and they hate light. Any container should be opaque.
As they feed, Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) swallow great quantities of organic material, digest it, extract its food value and expel the residue as worm castings which are very rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and many micronutrients. FREE SHIPPING!
Bins can be located anywhere from under the kitchen sink to outside or in your garage. One important consideration is temperature. Ideally a worm compost bin should be located in areas where the temperatures are between 40 to 80˚F. Red worms generally prefer temperatures in the 55 to 77 degree range. If you live in an area that has harsh winters, you’ll need to move your bin inside during the winter months or compost on a seasonal basis. Another consideration: worms are like people in that they do not like a lot of noise or vibrations. Keep them away from high traffic areas.
Once you’ve got the worms and the containers you’re ready to set up your “compost shop.”
First you’ll want to build a home for your worms and one which will make them happy and prolific. You’ll need bedding that will fill the bin from one-third to one-half full. To create bedding soak a large quantity of shredded newspapers or cardboard. Worms want an environment that is about 75 percent water. Newspapers should only take a few minutes to take up enough water to make proper bedding. Allow cardboard, such as toilet paper rolls and tissue boxes, to soak overnight. Don’t use garden soil or mix fresh cow, horse or chicken manure into the bedding. These emit gases and will raise the temperature of your compost bin. You could end up “cooking” your worms to death.
Once the bedding material has been soaked, wring it out until it is moist, but not dripping. Place it in the bin along with something gritty such as a bit of soil, fine sand, leaves, cornstarch, sawdust or ground egg shells. (Worms don’t have teeth so they need something gritty to help them grind up the paper and food.) Once your bin is up and running it will be self-sufficient and you won’t need to add additional grit until you harvest the worm castings and clean the bin.
To make your worms feel at home, dig down until about the middle of the bedding and place your worms there. Don’t just put them on top. Then place the lid on the bin and keep it at a moderate temperature. Leave them alone for about a week to settle in. They will feed off the bedding.
After about a week, start feeding your worms food scraps such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds. Avoid meat scraps, bones, fish, leftover dairy products and oily foods since these will make your compost pile smell as well as attract flies and rodents. Experts are divided on whether pasta and grains should be tossed into the compost or thrown away in regular garbage. Your best bet is to experiment and let your worms tell you what they’ll eat or won’t eat.
Of course, there are certain things that worms won’t eat or shouldn’t eat. Do not dispose of glass, plastic or aluminum foil in your compost. Although paper can be used as bedding, don’t include paper with colored printing on it. Many colored inks are toxic to worms. Also avoid rubber bands and sponges.
It’s best to feed worms once a week in small amounts. If you feed them more than they can process you will end up with a stinking compost bin as the garbage literally backs up.
Compost actually doesn’t smell. The foul odor comes from rotting food that the worms haven’t eaten yet. If you give them appropriately sized meals — not supersized entrees — they will eat the food before it starts rotting (and smelling.)
COCO COIR BRICKS
An eco-friendly peat alternative! Made from compressed coconut fiber, ProCoir Coco Coir Bricks exhibits a very good balance of wetting and aeration and a resistance to bacteria and fungus growth. Use as a replacement for soil or as a soil conditioner… and worms love it!
If they are eating too slowly, chop up vegetable matter, which is easier for them to eat and gives new meaning to the term “fast food.” If the chopping doesn’t help enough, reduce the amount of organic matter you are feeding them.
When you feed your worms, check and see how things are going. If the bedding is wet, give some additional paper bedding to soak up the excess. (Remember that the bedding should be moist, not dripping.) If the bedding is too dry, use water from a spray bottle to moisten it.
Once your compost bin is up and running, it requires little maintenance until little or no original bedding is visible and the contents of the bin are reduced in bulk and mainly consist of worm compost, which is brown and “earthy” looking. Once your bin has reached that point, it’s time to harvest the worm castings and give your worms new bedding. Castings can be harvested anywhere from two and a half months to every six months, depending on how many worms you have and how much food you’re giving them.
There are several harvesting methods. For those with the time and patience or little kids, you dump the bin’s contents onto a large plastic sheet and then manually separate the worms from the compost. Children usually love helping out with harvesting worm compost. Remember that your helpers as well as yourself should wear gloves. Once all the worm casings are removed, keep aside some of the compost to mix in with the new bedding and then the cycle starts all over again.
A more common way to harvest is to move everything – worms, castings, bedding, food – to one side of the bin. Pick out partially decomposed materials and push to the other side. Place some food on top of the partially decomposed materials. Replace the lid and leave it alone for a couple weeks. During that time, the worms should migrate over to the new food. Once they’ve gone to the other side, put on a pair of gloves and harvest the castings. Make sure you don’t remove any worms in the process. Then give the worms new bedding mixed in with some residual compost.
Compost is useful whether you have an apartment adorned with potted plants or you have a backyard garden. Use compost for building soil and enriching potting mixes. It also makes great mulch. It’s relatively hassle-free and you’re not only helping your plants, but the environment as well.
Common Problems and Solutions
Problem: Fruit flies.
#1 SELLING TRAP
Eliminate troublesome fruit flies with the BioCare® Fruit Fly Trap. Includes a natural attractant that entices these flying pests into the decorative container where they become trapped and drown. Safe, effective and 100% pesticide free.
Solution: Avoid the problem in the first place by burying food waste and not overloading your worms with too much food. You can also try keeping a plastic sheet or a piece of old carpet or sacking on the surface of the compost bin. If flies persist, consider moving the compost bin to a location where the files will not be a problem. Also think about recruiting a few friendly spiders to take up residence near the compost bin.
Problem: Strong, unpleasant odors from the compost bin.
Solutions: Most likely the odor is from rotting food because you are giving your worms too much to eat and food is sitting around too much so it rots. The solution is to stop adding food waste until the worms have broken down what they have. (Also avoid meat and other greasy food which can cause odor problems.) If odor becomes a problem, also try stirring the contents of your compost pile. That will allow more air in, which can also reduce odors. At the same time you are exploring those solutions also check your bin’s drainage holes to ensure they are not blocked and drill more holes if necessary. Worms will drown if the bin’s contents are too wet.
Problem: Worms are crawling out of the bedding and onto the sides or lid of the bin.
Solution: The bedding may be too acidic which is forcing the worms to migrate. Bedding can become too acidic if you add too much acidic food scraps such as orange peels. Try reducing the amount of acidic organic matter that you’re putting into the bin.
- What is vermicompost?
- What kind of worms are used for vermicomposting?
- What do worms need?
- What will worms eat?
- Where should you keep worms?
- How do you harvest worms and vermicompost?
- Will I need to buy more worms?
- What other organisms live with worms?
- Are vermicomposting facilities regulated?
- Where can I get more information on vermicomposting?
Traditionally, worms have been raised for fishing bait as well as a protein and enzyme source for various products, including animal food and biodegradable cleansers. Worms have also been used to manage agricultural wastes such as dairy manure. They convert waste into worm manure (also known as worm castings), a nutrient-rich, biologically beneficial soil product.
Vermicomposting is the use of worms as a composting method to produce vermicompost. Vermiculture is worm farming for the production of worms. In recent years, worm farming has been practiced on both a small and large scale with three complementary goals in mind: waste diversion, vermicomposting, and vermiculture.
What is vermicompost?
Vermicompost, or castings, is worm manure. Worm castings are considered by many in horticulture to be one of the best soil amendments available. The nutrient content of castings is depends on the material fed to the worms–and worms commonly feed on highly nutritious materials, such as food waste and manures.
Worm castings provide a variety nutrients helpful to promote plant growth and in a form readily available for plant uptake. The biology of the worm’s gut facilitates the growth of fungus and bacteria that are beneficial to plant growth. In addition, many chemical compounds are found in castings that are thought to promote plant growth.
Much of the content of worm castings and their effects on plants are still being studied. Nonetheless, farmers and soils blenders know the benefits of worm castings from their actual effect on plants and product sales, even when the worms are fed low-nutrient materials such as paper fiber.
What kind of worms are used for vermicomposting?
Most worm farms raise two main types of earthworm: Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellis. These worms are commonly used to produce vermicompost, as well as for fish bait. Both are referred to by a variety of common names, including red worms, red wigglers, tiger worms, brandling worms, and manure worms. These two species are often raised together and are difficult to tell apart, though they are not believed to interbreed. While several other species have been successfully bred in recent years, this fact sheet focuses primarily on the use of these species.
The night crawler (Lumbricus terrestrius) is also harvested and sold for fishing bait. This species does not breed well in captivity and is generally harvested from wild stock.
What do worms need?
Worms can survive a wide variety of temperatures, but they thrive best at temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit (13–25 degrees Celsius). They need a moist, organic substrate or “bedding” in which to live. They will eat the bedding and convert it into castings along with other feed. Moisture and oxygen are vital and bedding should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. A worm’s skin is photosensitive and therefore they need a dark environment.
Because worms have no teeth, they need some type of grit in their bedding that they can swallow and use in their gizzard to grind food, much like birds do with small stones. A little soil or sand will work, but it should be sterile so that no foreign organisms are introduced. Common additives used include rock dust or oyster flour (ground up oyster shells).
Since oyster flour is basically calcium carbonate, adding too much will raise the pH in the worms’ environment. Worms prefer a slightly acidic pH level of about 6.5. For a typical worm bin, no more than a tablespoon of grit is needed, which should not significantly alter the pH.
What will worms eat?
Worms will eat a wide variety of organic materials such as paper, manure, fruit and vegetable waste, grains, coffee grounds, and ground yard wastes. While worms will eat meat and dairy products, it is best not to feed these materials or oily foods to worms, due to potential odor and pest problems. Worms will consume limited amounts of citrus scraps, but limonene, a chemical compound found in citrus, is toxic to worms, so it is best to limit or avoid feeding them this material.
Since worms have no teeth, any food they eat must be small enough to swallow, or soft enough for them to bite. Some foods may not be soft enough initially for them to consume, but they quickly degrade so that the worms can consume them.
Where should you keep worms?
Worms can be raised on a small or large scale, depending on your goals. If you are trying to manage food scraps for yourself or your family, a small 12-to 20-gallon worm bin should be adequate. The bin should be dark and opaque and should, have a lid, drainage, and aeration holes in the bottom. Small 1-inch legs and a tray underneath the bin are also helpful.
If you are trying to manage larger amounts of organic materials or produce large amounts of worms or vermicompost, worms can be managed in low-mounded rows called worm beds or “ricks,” or in large in-vessel continuous-flow systems available from suppliers. Worms burrow into the bedding to protect themselves, and they will not come out to sunlight unless bedding conditions are intolerable.
How do you harvest worms and vermicompost?
Large-scale worm farmers using worm beds generally use harvesting equipment to separate worms and castings. In-vessel “continuous flow” systems are generally designed to produce vermicompost. They rely on the surface-feeding tendency of red worms to incorporate a casting harvest mechanism on the bottom of the system, below the active feeding area. Food and additional bedding are added to the top, encouraging the worms to continue feeding upwards.
Smaller scale worm bins are harvested in a variety of ways. In all cases, harvesting should begin when the bedding and consumed food has turned a rich dark brown, with a consistency of coffee grounds. Waiting longer can result in a sludgy material that is difficult to harvest and may become anaerobic and odorous.
One commonly used method of harvesting is to dump the bin onto a tarp in bright light, allowing the worms to burrow down to escape the light. Castings can then be separated by slowly scraping them away, pausing periodically to let the worms burrow further. Eventually, you are left with a pile of worms.
Some will harvest by placing new bedding in one half of the bin, and feed exclusively on that side. Eventually (sometimes over a period of several weeks) most of the worms will move to the side with the new bedding, and the finished compost can be harvested.
One simple method is to place a large amount of food in one area of the bin. Within a few days to a week, this should become a writhing mass of feeding worms. By turning a plastic bag inside out over your hand, you can then “reverse harvest” the worms by simply grabbing the mass of worms and turning the bag right-side out. You then have enough worms to start your bin again. Some worms and egg cases will be left in the castings. This should be no problem if the castings are used soon for indoor potted plants. Castings should be cured before outdoor use.
Harvested castings can be mixed into potting soil soon after harvest for best effect on indoor plants. If they are to be stored or used for outdoor plants, they should be cured in an aerobic environment to dry, eliminate the potential to introduce new species and prevent mold.
Will I need to buy more worms?
Red worms are hermaphroditic, but they need two worms to procreate and exchange DNA. A small egg case, usually amber in color, is produced which can contain from 2 to 20 baby worms.
Worms will regulate their own population according to the conditions of their environment. These conditions include space, moisture, pH, temperature, bedding material, and amount of food available. A typical household worm bin might start out with one pound of worms (approximately 1,000 adults), which will soon multiply to 2,000–3,000 in favorable conditions. Conversely, if one or more of the above conditions are not provided, the worms may crawl out leaving the bin or die off.
What other organisms live with worms?
Worms do not live in isolation. In addition to microscopic organisms like bacteria and some fungi, you may notice several other creatures, such as springtails, mites, pot worms (small white worms often mistaken as baby red worms), and an occasional fungus gnat. These organisms generally stay in the bin, live in harmony with the worms and cause little problems. Consistently burying the food in the bedding will minimize the attraction of unwanted species.
Keeping the bin moist and stirring the castings and bedding periodically will minimize the growth of fungi and the potential of fungal spores. If the bin is not stirred, full-sized mushrooms can grow.
If a bin is kept outside, the number of organisms that find their way into a bin greatly increases. Slugs and snails, ants, spiders, soldier fly larvae, fruit flies, pill bugs, centipedes, even frogs, salamanders and some small rodents have found their way into outdoor worm bins. Rarely will more than three or four of these cohabitants occupy a bin. Most do not hinder the functioning of a bin, and they are not bothersome. It is best to keep outdoor bins outside to prevent the introduction of unwanted animals into your house.
The most common “pests” in worm bins are ants and fruit flies. Keeping the bin moist, stopping feeding for a week or two, and stirring the bin every day can eliminate ants. Fruit flies can be more problematic, and sometimes can only be eliminated by starting over. Short of that, stopping feeding for a couple weeks and using flypaper or other fly traps can work if the population of flies is not too high.
Worms raised in worm beds can also attract predators such as birds and moles. Birds can be deterred in traditional ways such as placing scarecrows near the beds, or the beds can be covered with cardboard or other material. Moles can breed quickly and can eat a lot of worms. They can be deterred either by raising the worms in an in-vessel system, on a cement pad, or placing a wooden or plastic barrier several inches into the soil around the beds. The barrier should stick out of the soil an inch or two to prevent the moles from finding a way over it.
Are vermicomposting facilities regulated?
Vermicomposting is defined as an “excluded activity” from California solid waste regulation. However, an “exclusion” recognizes that a given activity is involved in solid waste handling and therefore must comply with fundamental health and safety codes.
According to California food and agriculture regulations, worms can be considered livestock, much as cows are livestock in a ranching or dairy operation. Within reason, certain organic wastes can be viewed as feed. However, the handling of compostable material prior to and after use as a growth medium is subject to regulation under solid waste regulations.
If a large worm operation becomes a nuisance by taking in more waste than can be effectively fed to and processed by the worms (resulting in odors, for instance), the activity could be viewed as a solid waste facility. Concerns about a particular circumstance should be directed to a community’s environmental health department.
Where can I get more information on vermicomposting?
Individuals interested in pursuing more information on vermicomposting or vermiculture, as well as worm and soil market issues, can contact an existing worm farm, soil blender, or organic waste processor to discuss the present and future possibilities of worm enterprises. for more information on worms.
Our Wormery Starter Kit includes everything you need to start (or restart) a Wormery and give you a great end result Vermicompost.
- 1 x 250g pouch of Tiger Worms
- 1 x 650g Coir Block Bedding
- 1 x 1.5kg Lime Mix
Keep your worms thriving with our environmentally friendly soft lime mix. This mix will ensure that the environment in the Wormery is stable and non-acidic. Simply add a handful every month, or more if you use lots of acidic fruits. Typically one bag (1.5kg) should last you 6 months or more!
Tiger Worms are the best worms you can use in your wormery for worm composting. They’re supplied in breathable pouches and sent by secure delivery already in soil to make sure they arrive in a healthy condition.
Approx 650 grams in weight. Coconut Coir is extracted from the husk on the outer shell of a coconut, because of its superior water holding capacity, excellent air space and drainage, coir is a useful soil amendment for potted plants, containers, gardens and as wormery bedding.
Just gradually add water until the coir is damp to the touch. It can also be added dry and broken up to soak up extra moisture in wormeries, to help you produce the best vermicompost you can.
For further information on setting up your wormery, click here!
How to Create and Maintain an Indoor Worm Composting Bin
A worm composting bin, known as a vermicomposter, can be fairly inexpensive and easy to maintain. There are several ways to vermicompost. Below are instructions on how to build one kind of worm composting bin designed to be used inside. It is also possible to purchase worm composting bins. You will want to put your bin in an indoor space as you do not want the worms to freeze in the winter or get too warm in the summer. Additionally, you may want to put the bin in a basement or other out-of-the-way space since you will be producing compost and worm “tea” in the composter.
On this page:
- What You Need
- Preparing the Bins
- Preparing the Paper, Soil, Water Medium and Adding the Worms
- Feeding the Worms
- Maintaining the Bin
What You Need
First, buy, borrow or repurpose the following items that you will need to start worm composting:
1. Two plastic bins – one must be taller and rest inside the other, shorter bin.
- The shorter, bottom bin does not need a top. A bin made of rubber or plastic and that is approximately 15 inches deep, 25 inches wide and 5 inches high works great. The extra length allows you to scoop out the extra liquid or “worm tea” for use elsewhere (e.g., in the garden, for plants, shrubs, etc.).
- The top tub should have a top to keep the worms from finding their way outside the box. It also needs to be somewhat flexible so you can drill holes into it. An 18 gallon tub that is roughly 15 inches deep, 20 inches wide and 15 inches tall works well.
2. A drill – A drill with a one inch diameter and a one-eighth inch diameter drill bit is needed to drill the holes mentioned above.
3. Screening material – The type used for window screens is fine – just be sure NOT to use metal which will rust over time when exposed to the moisture in the bin. You only need about four 4 inch by 4 inch scraps of screen. Why use screening? If you don’t cover the holes, the worms may escape.
4. Waterproof glue – To keep the screens in place, even after they get wet.
5. Shredded paper – Enough to fill your bin three inches deep and extra to add each time you feed the worms once a week. Almost any kind of paper works, but avoid heavy, shiny paper and colored paper.
6. A little bit of dirt – A pound will be enough. Just make sure it does not have harmful chemicals in it. If all goes well, the worms will be producing their own dirt (compost) soon.
7. A little bit of water – Some water is needed to moisten the paper and dirt to create a comfortable medium for the worms to thrive. Soak the paper and then drain it before using.
8. Worms – A pound of red wrigglers are recommended because they consume waste quickly, but earthworms also work. Red wrigglers are available online, from your U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) extension office or from another worm bin owner. Be careful of worms that are invasive species, such as the Asian Jumping Worm, which can be sold as the Alabama Jumper or Georgia Jumper. Worm bins produce more worms as well as great compost.
9. A trowel – Needed to move the compost as needed in the bin.
10. Food scraps container – Use a small container with a tightly fitting top to collect vegetable and fruit scraps.
Why not just put the food straight into the worm bin? Worms do best left alone, so it is best to feed them only once a week. Use the food scraps container to collect scraps for a week and then feed the worms weekly.
Top of Page
Preparing the Bins
Below are the steps to take to prepare the bins:
- Drill a 1-inch hole about two inches from the top of the taller bin on one side. Drill another hole on the opposite side. Drill four 1/8-inch holes near the bottom near the corners of the bin.
- Cover each of the holes with vinyl screening and glue the screening in place with the waterproof glue. Be sure the glue is completely dry before continuing to the next step.
- Place the tall bin inside the short bin. Do NOT drill any holes in the short bin.
Top of Page
Preparing the Paper, Soil, Water Medium and Adding the Worms
Combine shredded paper, soil and just enough water to dampen everything. Put the mixture into the tall bin and fill the bin about three inches deep. Add your worms to the mixture and let them get used to it for a day before feeding them. Make sure the mixture is very moist, but not forming puddles of water.
Top of Page
Feeding the Worms
Collect food scraps, such as vegetables and fruit scraps, bread, tea bags, coffee grounds, and cereal in your food scrap container as you prepare and clean up after meals. Do not include any animal by-products (fat, bone, dairy, meat, waste). Also, it may take the worms longer to process woody or dry items like stems or the outer layer of onions. Worms will eat paper as long as it is thin or cut into small pieces, but they will not eat plastic or fabric tea bags, coffee filters or the labels placed on produce by grocery stores.
Once a week, do the following:
- Take the scraps to the worm bin.
- Gently use a trowel to create a hole to put the scraps into.
- Throw in a small handful of shredded paper.
- Add all the food scraps on top of the paper.
- Cover ALL of the food scraps with dirt and moist paper. Exposed food attracts fruit flies, but covered food scraps don’t. Add dirt and moist paper to the bin until the worms have made enough compost to use to cover the food scraps.
- Notice what the worms are eating and what they are not. Remove any scraps that your worms have not eaten for a while as they may not like that type of food (e.g., some worms will not tackle a whole potato or citrus rind, but may eat them if they are cut up).
- Put the lid back on the worm bin.
- Wash out the food scraps container for the coming week.
Top of Page
Maintaining the Bin
Once every few months, scoop the liquid out of the lower container and use it as fertilizer outside on soil near plants, or water it down to use on indoor plants. When the worm bin is full (i.e., when the compost reaches the bottom of the top holes you drilled), do the following:
- Feed the worms on one side of the bin for a couple of weeks in order to draw the worms to that side.
- Once all the worms are on one side, harvest the compost on the other side and use it in pots, your garden, or sprinkle it across your yard. You can also scoop compost and worms onto a newspaper and sort them out, but this is a bit messier. Be sure to harvest compost at the end of the week, before you feed the worms again.
- If there are too many worms in the worm bin, share extras with friends and family or release some with the dirt in your yard.
Top of Page
Professor Rot says:
Worm composting is the fastest and easiest way to recycle household food waste.
It takes some planning and periodic involvement to sort out the usable compost.
But the rewards are plenty!
Worm composting is an easy, efficient way to recycle food wastes into a fine, high-quality compost (worm castings) for your houseplants or garden. It is very popular with children, teachers in grade schools, and anyone who wants the option of a year-round, indoor/outdoor system that requires very little space or effort.
Worm compost is made in a container filled with moistened bedding and redworms. The bedding may consist of moistened shredded newspaper and leaves. Added to that is food waste from the household. Vermicomposting is a natural method for recycling nutrient-rich food scraps without any resulting odor. The worms go crazy over such an ideal living habitat, both eating and reproducing plentifully. The resulting compost, called worm castings, is an excellent soil conditioner for house plants, patio containers and gardens.
Worm composting reduces the amount of household garbage that goes to the landfill. The bins are entirely rodent-proof. If done properly, whether indoors or outdoors, there will be little or no fruit flies, gnats or odor. Caution should be given to capturing a liquid by-product or leachate, called compost tea, beneath the bin if housed inside. You can ruin a good floor if you don’t!
WHAT YOU NEED TO GET STARTED
Worm composting is simple and inexpensive. All you need are five basic things:
Purchase a commercially made worm bin, mostly made from plastic. Or, create your own from a plastic storage container easily found at most stores. You may also build one out of wood, or create a worm compost bin out of bricks in your garden. All these types of containers are shown below.
The ideal bedding for worms, believe it or not, is shredded wet newspaper, leaves and moist cardboard. Actually, worms are “night owls” and they don’t mind reading the news in small bits! They are the only creatures known to live, eat and poop in their own bed.
A killer for worms is to not have a moist environment. Don’t give them moisture and they’re out of there! Or else, they will shrivel and die, looking like contorted pretzel sticks.
Give them too much moisture, however, and they will slow down production. Who wants to live in a dark squishy home?
Obviously, you cannot vermicompost without worms, duh! Redworms (also known as red wiggler, brandling or manure worms) are best suited to worm composting because they thrive on organic material, such as food waste. They are often found in aged manure, compost heaps, and piles of leaves. Their official names are Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Dew-worms (you know, the suicidal kind seen on streets or sidewalks after a rainfall), on the other hand, are better suited to life in the soil and shouldn’t be used in a worm bin. By the way, about 500-2,000 redworms will do to get your worm bin going in high production.
- Kitchen Scraps
Besides the newspaper, leaves, and cardboard, the worms are really crazy over your food scraps. Don’t give them any and they become sad, depressed and sulky. They may even go on strike and refuse to live anymore. So, give them quality food scraps. DON’T give them anything fatty, meaty or the like: nothing you would want to throw into your regular compost pile. They are vegetarians to the max!
|WORMS LOVE!||WORMS HATE!|
|Meat or fish
Cheese (any form)
Greasy, oily foods
A “Don’t Care” attitude
HOW TO DO IT
STEP 1: GET YOURSELF A CONTAINER
Get a wooden, plastic, or metal bin with tight-fitting lid. A bin sized 2’Wx4’Lx1’H is good for a 2-3 person household disposing about 8 lbs/3.6kg of food scraps per week. The recommendation is that a container should provide one square foot of surface area for every pound of food waste per week. (Some experts suggest the height to be 8-12 inches, and the length as little as 3-feet.) The bin should have drainage holes on bottom, a bottom catch tray, and air vents on top and sides.
Worms like a moist, dark environment. Their bodies are 75 to 90 per cent water so their body surfaces must be moist for them to breathe. Cover the bin to conserve moisture and provide darkness. Indoors, place a sheet of cardboard, dark plastic or burlap sacking on top of the bedding. Outdoors, use a solid lid to keep out unwanted scavengers and rain.
Worm bins can be located in the basement, shed, garage, balcony or kitchen counter. They need to be kept out of the hot sun, heavy rain and cold. Worms enjoy temperatures between 40°F/4.4°C and 80°F/27°C, with temperatures in the 70s(F) perfect. When temperatures drop below 40°F/4.4°C, bins should be indoors, heated or well-insulated. Additionally, worms like low-traffic and low-noise; so keep that in mind for your indoor location.
Commercially made bins are made out of durable, often recycled plastic. They should have holes in the bottom for drainage of the leachate by-product, as well as screened air vents on top and sides.
You can make your own from a store-bought storage container.
The pictured bin is available at:
A wooden bin can be built out of plywood and 2x4s or 2x2s. Size should be around 2’Wx4’Lx1’H. Drill holes at bottom and set on top of drainage lid to catch leachate.
Some commerical worm bins are round or square towers consisting of trays.
The leachate collects in a lower tray and is poured off. Use it like Compost Tea to fertilize plants.
An effective outdoor worm bin can be easily and quickly made from foundation bricks. This is for serious worm composting of copious amounts of food waste.
Caution: keep well-covered for rodent and scavenger protection.
A tower tray worm bin sitting outside in the garden or on a deck is effective.
Caution: Worms like ambient air temperatures above 40°F/4.4°C. Bring the bin indoors during winter.
STEP 2: ADD MOIST, DRAINED BEDDING TO BIN
The bedding for a worm bin must be able to retain both moisture and air while providing a place for the worms to live. Consider these materials for bedding, and vary the bedding to give the worms more nutrients:
- Shredded newspaper (shredded in strips by hand) and corrugated cardboard (any ink is not a problem)
- Shredded fall leaves (or small whole ones)
- Dried grass clippings
- Chopped-up straw and other dead plants
- Aged manure
- Peat moss (Caution: peat moss is very acidic and should be well-soaked and combined with other bedding material)
- Commerically prepared worm bedding, available at some sporting goods stores
- MOISTEN THE BEDDING
Moisten any bedding with water. This is best done by putting it in a large container, covering it with water so that the bedding material absorbs as much water as possible. Let it soak for several hours or more.
- SQUEEZE WATER OUT OF BEDDING
The resulting consistency of the bedding material should that of a well-wrung sponge.
- FILL THE WORM BIN 2/3 FULL WITH THE PREPARED BEDDING
A 2X3 foot bin will need about 10-15 lbs of bedding. Extra bedding can be stored.
- FLUFF THE BEDDING
Fluffing (lifting) the bedding is important to create air spaces for aerobic activity, odor control, and to give worms free movement inside the bin.
- MOISTEN BEDDING AGAIN IF NEEDED
Check your worm bin now and then to determine if it needs more moisture. Moisten with a spray bottle or hose nozzle.
- 6. PLACE A COUPLE HANDFULS OF SAND AND SOIL AMONGST THE BEDDING
Sand and soil provide grit for the worm’s digestion of food.
STEP 3: ADD RED WORMS TO BIN
The worms used in vermicomposting are called redworms (Eisenia foetida), also know as red wigglers, manure worms, red hybrid or tiger worms. Worms enjoy temperatures between 55°F/13°C and 80°F/27°C, with temperatures in the 70’s(F) perfect.
Don’t make the mistake of using night crawlers out of your yard or compost bin. Wrong kind! These lovely creatures need to tunnel through dirt to eat and survive. They love the cooler temperatures deep in the soil.
WHERE TO GET RED WORMS
- Two good internet sources:
Planet Natural and Gardens Alive
- From a farmer’s stable or manure pile
- Lawn and garden catalogs
- A local bait store (often the fastest and cheapest way to get some while supporting local business!)
HOW MANY WORMS TO GET
Mary Appelhof, author of most popular worm composting guide, Worms Eat My Garbage, recommends two pounds of red worms (about 1,000 wigglers) for every pound per day of food waste. Other experts recommend a one-to-one ratio, or about one pound of worms (500 worms) for one pound of garbage. To figure out how much food waste your household generates, monitor it for a week and divide by seven.
If you start out with less than one pound of red worms, don’t worry, they multiply very quickly. Just adjust the amount that you feed them for your worm population you estimate you have.
Worms multiply quickly! Keep in mind that worms, provided you give them adequate food and a good home, can double their populations every 90 days. It’s probably best to start out with slightly fewer worms than you need and just expect that your worm population will increase to fill your demand for processing organic waste.
To add worms to the bin, simply scatter them over the top. The skin on a worm reacts to light and it will immediately work its way down into the bedding to get away from the light.
STEP 4: BURY FOOD SCRAPS IN BIN
- Easiest Method
Spread food scraps in a thin layer on top of the moist bedding. The red worms will come to the surface from inside the bedding and eat the scraps or pull them down into the bedding.
- Orderly Method
Divide the bin into several imaginary sections. You will bury successive loads of food scraps in each section, most likely over a period of weeks. Simply pull back a small amount of bedding and dump in the scraps. Then cover the scraps with an inch of bedding. Start at one corner of the bin and work your way across the bin. By the time you get back to your first burying location, worms will have composted most of the food scraps.
TIP: Worm composting takes a little practice and planning at first. Remember that your bin should provide one square foot of surface area for every pound of food waste per week. For example, a bin 2 feet in width, 4 feet in length, and 1 foot in height would have 8 different sections. If each section gets a pound of food, as recommended, then you will need two pounds of red worms. A common mistake among beginners is having too few worms. One soon discovers that the food scraps in each section are not being eaten fully before additional scraps are put into that section 8-9 days later. Eventually, the worms will multiply and be plentiful for all sections.
- ODOR CONTROL
If you notice odors, cut back on the amount of food or try chopping the food up into smaller pieces. Citrus has a noticeable odor and the peelings are not eaten quickly. In general, worms eat vegetables faster than fruit scraps.
STEP 5: HARVEST
THE AMAZING QUALITY OF WORM CASTINGS
Happy worms in a good home will digest kitchen scraps and bedding faster than any other compost method. The material will pass through the worms’ bodies and become worm castings. In about 12-16 weeks, the worms will have digested nearly all the garbage and bedding and the bin will be filled with a rich, black natural fertilizer and soil amendment.
- Worm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium than garden soil
- Worm castings are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil
- Worm castings are excellent for potted plants
WORM COMPOST TEA
A natural by-product of worm composting is the production of a liquid leachate, better called Compost Tea. This liquid is nutrient-rich and makes an excellent balanced fertilizer for plants. Make sure your bin has bottom holes (or a spigot on some commercial worm bins), so that the liquid can drain into a drip pan beneath the bin. Otherwise, you could pernanently stain a floor beneath the bin. Raise the bin above the drip pan on small wooden blocks.
GATHERING THE WORM CASTINGS
To keep your bin going, you will need to remove the castings from time to time and there are several ways to go about it.
- GATHER CASTINGS OFF THE TOP
Shine a bright light into the bin; worms are sensitive to light and will move to the lower layers of the bin. Remove the top layer of casting with your hands. As you remove layers of bedding the worms will keep moving to the bottom of the bin. From the removed bedding, pick out any worms or worm eggs (small, opaque cocoons) and return them to the bin. Refill the bin with fresh layers of moist bedding and scraps to begin the composting process again.
- PUSH CASTINGS TO THE SIDE
Push the black, decomposed material to one side of the bin, and fill the other side with new, moist bedding and kitchen scraps. Wait several days; the worms will migrate to the freshly filled side of the bin and you can just scoop out the finished compost. Pick out any red worms or worm eggs from the removed material and return them to the bin.
- SORT THROUGH CASTINGS ON A TARP
Dump the contents of the worm bin onto a tarp. Sort through the pile, pushing the castings into their own pile. Place the worms in another pile with some leftover castings and undigested bedding and food scraps. Then place the worms and remaining material back into the bin, add moist bedding and start the whole composting process over again.
Vermicomposting: Composting with Worms
by Soni Cochran, Extension Associate
email this page to a friend
NOTE: The following information is for the home vermicomposting enthusiast. This resource is not intended to be a reference for commercial bins or bins located in businesses, schools, and/or government agencies.
Many gardeners compost both yard waste and kitchen waste with compost piles, sheet composting or some other method during the growing season. Fortunately, very little yard waste is generated during winter months when cold temperatures make composting difficult. However, usable kitchen waste is constantly being generated and must be disposed of. Vermicomposting is the process of using worms and micro-organisms to turn kitchen waste into a black, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich humus.
You Need 5 Basic Ingredients to Start Vermicomposting:
- a container
- nonfatty kitchen scraps.
In the book, Worms Eat My Garbage, writer *Mary Appelhof suggests weighing your household food waste for one week (in pounds), and then provide one square foot of surface area per pound. The container depth should be between eight and twelve inches. Bins need to be shallow because the worms feed in the top layers of the bedding. A bin that is too deep is not as efficient and could potentially become an odor problem.
Worm boxes can be purchased or made. Plastic storage containers are convenient and come in a variety of sizes. These containers are easily transported and are a nice alternative to heavier wood bins. Many people choose to have several small bins as opposed to one heavier, large wood bin. Small bins work best in homes, apartments and school classrooms. They are easy to tuck under desks, place below kitchen sinks and keep out of the way in laundry rooms.
TIP: If you make a worm bin out of a plastic storage container, never snap the lid shut tight. The lid should lay loosely on the bin.
The large worm bin below (figure 1) is heavier, but is desirable in situations where a bin is going to be outdoors part of the year or in a heated garage. Wood bins allow for a better air movement and a bin this size (figure 1) will take care of food scraps from a family of four.
TIP: If you are truly going to make this an “environmental experience”, try making your bin out of an old dresser drawer.
1-2-3 Portable Worm Bin
Depending on the size of the container, drill 8 to 12 holes (1/4 – l/2 inches) in the bottom for aeration and drainage. A plastic bin may need more drainage — if contents get too wet, drill more holes. Raise the bin on bricks or wooden blocks, and place a tray underneath to capture excess liquid which can be used as liquid plant fertilizer.
The bin needs a cover to conserve moisture and provide darkness for the worms. If the bin is indoors, a sheet of dark plastic or burlap sacking placed loosely on top of the bedding is sufficient as a cover. For outdoor bins, a solid lid is preferable, to keep out unwanted scavengers and rain. Like us, worms need air to live, so be sure to have your bin sufficiently ventilated.
Mary Appelhof’s 1-2-3 Portable Worm Bin (1′ deep, 2- wide and 3 long). This bin has a bottom so it can be moved and used in a heated garage or basement during cold weather. When a worm box is used outside, it does not need to have a bottom. You may want to line the bottom with rocks or boards to keep rodents and other worm-loving creatures from tunneling in. Wooden boxes will typically last for 2 or 3 years.
The bedding for vermicomposting systems must be able to retain both moisture and air while providing a place for the worms to live. Bedding does not have to be purchased and most of us have plenty of bedding resources in our home, office or school. Here are some suitable sources of bedding.
**Shredded corrugated cardboard is an excellent bedding, but is difficult to find.
**Shredded paper like newspaper and computer paper is easy to find, but may dry out quicker than corrugated cardboard. There is not a problem with the ink from the paper.
**Peat moss has a low pH level that may cause a problem for the worms and it is more expensive.
**Commercial worm bedding is available in sporting goods stores, but it is also more expensive.
The amount of bedding depends on the size of the box. A 2-by-2 foot box will need between 4 and 6 pounds of dry bedding, a 2-by-3 foot box will take 9 to 14 pounds. No matter what the size, the bin should be 2/3 filled with “fluffed” prepared bedding (see below). For smaller bins, experiment–if you prepare excess bedding, it can be dried, stored and used another time.
Prepare the Bedding:
Water is needed to moisten the bedding. Place the dry, shredded bedding in a large container and add water until it covers the bedding. Allow the bedding to absorb as much water as possible before putting it in the worm bin. This could take from two to 24 hours, depending on the bedding used.
Before putting the bedding in your bin, squeeze the water out from the bedding as much as possible. The bedding should feel like a well-wrung washcloth. Place the bedding in the bin and fluff.
Your bedding needs to remain moist. If it is drying out, mist the paper with water from a spray bottle and dampen the bedding again.
The worms used in vermicomposting are called redworms (Eisenia foetida), also know as red wigglers, manure worms, red hybrid or tiger worms.
- You can order them through lawn and garden catalogs
- There are commercial web sites
- You may be able to find them in a bait store
- If you know someone who has an established supply, they may be willing to sell you some of their worms.
What About Nightcrawlers? Do not try to use nightcrawlers or other worms native to Nebraska to stock your worm bin. These worms depend on cooler temperatures and an extensive tunneling system to survive. They will die in your worm bin
Why Redworms? Redworms prefer temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit and are suited to living in a worm bin. The temperature of the bedding should not be allowed to get below freezing or above 84 degrees.
How Many Worms Do I Need? The amount of worms needed will depend on the amount of kitchen waste generated per day. One pound of redworms will easily take care of each half-pound of garbage. To add worms to the bin, simply scatter them over the top. The skin on the worm reacts to light and they will immediately work their way down into the bedding to get away from the light.
The kitchen waste fed to worms can come from a variety of sources, including all vegetable and fruit waste (don’t be surprised that some seeds may germinate and potato peels with eyes sprout), pasta leftovers, coffee grounds (with filter) and tea bags. Worms may have a problem with garlic and onion skins. Worms have a gizzard like chickens so fine grit should be added to help the worms digest food. This gritty material includes cornmeal, coffee grounds and/or finely crushed egg shells (dry the shells and then crush). Avoid large amounts of fat, meat scraps or bone. Some sources feel that a small amount of meat and eggs will provide protein to the worms, but be careful you don’t overdo it and know that you may attract rodents.
Adding Kitchen Scraps:
First, and foremost, START SLOWLY. It will take time for bacteria to form and your bin can quickly become very smelly if you add too much food, too fast. In the beginning, add a very small amount of gritty material (see above) and a small amount of vegetable matter. Don’t worry about the worms starving because they will be eating bedding as well. You can gradually increase the amount of food as the bin becomes established.
The easiest method is to spread the scraps in a thin layer on top of the bedding. If the bin is kept in a dark place or covered, the worms will come to the surface to eat. You can also pull back a small amount of bedding in the bin and dump in the scraps. Cover the scraps with an inch of bedding. Start at one corner of the bin and bury garbage in a pattern to fill in all the spaces. By the time you get back to the first burying spot, the worms will have composted most of the waste.
If you notice odors, cut back on the amount of food or try chopping the food up into smaller pieces. Note: citrus does have a strong odor and the peelings seem to last a long time in the bin. Bins seem to be more manageable when there is less fruit and citrus and more of the leafy vegetables.
Harvesting the Compost:
Given the right environment, the worms will go to work to digest the kitchen scraps and bedding faster than any other compost method. The material will pass through the worms’ bodies and become “castings.” In about 3-4 months, the worms will have digested nearly all the garbage and bedding and the bin will be filled with a rich, black natural fertilizer and soil amendment. Compared to ordinary soil, the worm castings contain five times more nitrogen, seven times more phosphorus and 11 times more potassium. They are rich in humic acids and improve the structure of the soil.
To keep your bin going, you will need to remove the castings from time to time and there are several ways to go about it. One way to do this is to shine a bright light into the bin. The worms are sensitive to light and will move to the lower layers of the bin. Remove the top layer of casting by using your hands or a sieve. Each time you remove some bedding, the worms will be exposed to the light and they will keep migrating down to the bottom of the bin. Pick out any wigglers or worm eggs (small, opaque cocoons) and return them to the bin. Refill the bin with fresh layers of moist bedding and food.
Another method of harvesting composts is to push the black, decomposed material to one side of the bin, and fill the other side with new, moist bedding and kitchen scraps. Then wait several days. The worms will migrate to the freshly filled side of the bin and you can just scoop out the finished compost. Make sure you pick out any wigglers or worm eggs and return them to the bin.
Try the “onion bag” method to harvest your worms. Visit the .
Using the Compost:
For potted plants, add a thin layer to the top of the potting soil. You can also add the compost directly into your soil mix when repotting. In the garden, simply work it into the ground around the base of each plant. The compost is very mild and you won’t have to worry about accidental burning or overfertilizing.
**Don’t put plastic bags, bottle caps, rubber bands, sponges, aluminum foil and glass in the bin. These materials will be there forever and make your worm bin look like trash.
**Don’t let your cat use your worm bin as a litter box. First, cat urine would soon make the odor intolerable. Secondly, the ammonia in the urine could kill your worms. There is also a concern with toxoplasmosis, a disease that is of particular concern to a pregnant woman who may pass on the disease to her unborn child. If you have cats, provide a screen or other device to keep them from using the worm bin as a litter box.
**Don’t use insecticides around your worm bin. You’ll not only take care of a few pests, but also your worms.
**Don’t use garden soil as bedding for the worms.
**Don’t mix fresh cow, horse and especially chicken manure into your bedding. These manures will heat up the bedding and literally cook your worms.
After you’ve had your worm bin established, you may begin noticing other creatures besides the redworms – especially if you keep your bin outdoors. Most of these are helpful because they help breakdown the materials. These helpful creatures include springtails, sowbugs and pill bugs, and millipedes.
There are also some creatures that may cause you problems. These would include centipedes, predatory mites, fruit flies, rove beetles and ants. Nonlethal methods of control (swatting, traps for fruit flies and ants, etc.) are the best for areas around your worm bins. Rodents are not a problem when the bin is constructed and managed properly.
In Mary Appelhof’s book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, she suggests that if you are allergic to molds and mildew, you may want to keep your home bin outside or away from living areas. Molds and mildew are part of the composting cycle that help to break down organic materials and naturally occur in a worm bin.
References *Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof. Published by Flower Press, 10332 Shaver Road, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49002 . Read about Mary Appelhof at http://www.wormwoman.com. This book is an excellent reference for anyone wanting to start and maintain a worm composting system.
Are you looking for red wigglers?
Try a variety of sources – compare prices, services, shipping policies and timeframes, and warranties. Businesses and resources listed on this site do not constitute an endorsement by Nebraska Extension or the author of this resource.
- Gardens Alive! (ph. 812-537-8650).
- The Critter Depot
Use of commercial and trade names does not imply approval or constitute endorsement by Nebraska Extension or the author of this resource.
RECEIVE 10% OFF LIVE BAIT ON YOUR FIRST ORDER
You may return most new, unopened items within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. We’ll also pay the return shipping costs if the return is a result of our error (you received an incorrect or defective item, etc.).
You should expect to receive your refund within four weeks of giving your package to the return shipper, however, in many cases you will receive a refund more quickly. This time period includes the transit time for us to receive your return from the shipper (5 to 10 business days), the time it takes us to process your return once we receive it (3 to 5 business days), and the time it takes your bank to process our refund request (5 to 10 business days).
If you need to return an item, simply login to your account, view the order using the ‘Complete Orders’ link under the My Account menu and click the Return Item(s) button. We’ll notify you via e-mail of your refund once we’ve received and processed the returned item.
We can ship to virtually any address in the world. Note that there are restrictions on some products, and some products cannot be shipped to international destinations.
When you place an order, we will estimate shipping and delivery dates for you based on the availability of your items and the shipping options you choose. Depending on the shipping provider you choose, shipping date estimates may appear on the shipping quotes page.
Please also note that the shipping rates for many items we sell are weight-based. The weight of any such item can be found on its detail page. To reflect the policies of the shipping companies we use, all weights will be rounded up to the next full pound.
Many of our customers ask, “What’s the difference between vermicomposting with worms and regular composting?” Here at Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, we are experts on composting with worms. Let’s explore how these processes are similar, and how they differ. Which method is more convenient? How can you produce high-quality organic fertilizer for your garden and lawn? Which is fastest?
How to Set Up Vermicomposting vs. Hot Composting
Vermicomposting harnesses the power of worms to break down organic matter quickly. Regular “hot” composting may attract a few wild worms. However, “hot” composting produces more heat than vermicomposting. Temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit will kill Red Worms.
Both methods break down organic waste into fertilizer. Most kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and yard waste are suitable for composting. The main difference is in the setup of the composting bin or pile.
Regular “hot” composting involves throwing organic waste into a bin or pile. The material starts to break down using an aerobic process. The compost pile heats up. The ideal temperature for hot composting is 160 degrees Fahrenheit. At 200+ degrees, it can even produce steam! However, temperatures high enough to steam will kill beneficial microorganisms. Therefore, this type of compost needs to be turned and lightly moistened on a regular basis. This means you lift the organic matter and introduce air with pitchfork or shovel on a regular basis. You need some strength to do this. Or get a tumbler-style composter that you can turn using a crank.
Vermicomposting is usually done in an enclosed bin. Various types of bins are available, or you can build your own from a tote. Tray-based composting bins are superior because they have layers and allow drainage and air circulation automatically. You will set bedding down in the bin, made from coconut coir, shredded newspaper, and pure peat moss for example. Add the worms and scraps. The worms eat the food and poop rich compost called “humus”.
Comparison of Each Method
- Hot composting bins and piles can be any depth. Throw it in!
- Vermicomposting worms usually prefer to live in the top 6″ – 12″ of the bedding, so these bins cannot be as deep. Using a tray-based composter overcomes this limitation.
- Hot composting can only be done outdoors. The exception is industrial-sized composting programs, which have specialized buildings and equipment. Scraps need to be carried outside and dumped into the composter. Hot composting requires land. Therefore, hot composting is uncommon in urban and even suburban areas.
- Vermicomposting can be done outdoors or indoors. When maintained properly, there is no odor. Apartment dwellers can compost with worms. Homeowners can move their composting program indoors during the winter. Some households find indoor composting more convenient than outdoor. You should cut food up small and bury it. Outdoors, a little care must be taken to prevent the worms from overheating or drowning.
- Hot composting takes 6 – 9 months to produce fertilizer.
- Vermicomposting takes 2 – 3 months to produce usable compost for your garden and plants. You can harvest the compost and leave the worms in the bin.
- Hot composting can handle any amount of organic material.
- Composting worms can eat up to half their body weight per day. However, if you over-feed them, the worm bin will stink, become acidic, and possibly kills the worms. You will need to hold extra scraps in the fridge or freezer, or otherwise dispose of them. Note: Large amounts of grass clippings will over-heat the worm bin in no time flat!
- Hot composting should kill most pathogens that come with the organic matter. For example, you can risk adding seeds, and manure. Heat might kill the bad microbes and sterilize the seeds. No guarantees!
- Vermicomposting runs cool and will not kill pathogens. Follow vermicomposting guidelines, and few bad microbes will grow.
Aeration – Air for Composting
- Hot composting needs added aeration. You will need muscles and tools to turn the compost pile on a regular basis. A screw-style compost turner can help. Or, get a tumbler-style composting bin. If you neglect to turn the compost pile, it will smell terrible and take more time to break down.
- Composting worms keep the bedding aerated for you. They eat little tunnels that allow air to circulate. No need to turn. Worm bins tend to be shallow anyway. You will stir up any packed bedding when you harvest the finished compost.
Cost vs. Value
- Hot composting does not require money. You can pick any outdoor surface a good distance away from your home and start immediately. The resulting compost might have a street value between $6 and $30 per cubic yard.
- Vermicomposting requires purchasing worms and perhaps a tray-based composter. This small investment could serve you in perpetuity! A well-maintained worm population will reproduce and grow to the capacity of the bin. Compost from worms is worth much more: $300 to $2200+ per cubic yard! Why? Compost from worms contains valuable soil-friendly microbes excreted by the worms, so it’s darker and richer than regular compost. We sell compost made by our worms.
Note: Red Worms are ideal for composting but too small for fishing. If you are a fishing enthusiast, you could feed scraps to Super Reds (European Night Crawlers) to maintain a free supply of fresh fishing worms.
Hot composting and vermicomposting are popular methods for breaking down plant waste. Both methods have their merits. While hot composting requires regular turning, composting worms are like pets that require care. Vermicomposting is faster, but cannot handle unlimited volume of organic waste. Hot composting is outdoors only; vermicomposting can be indoors or out. At Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, we encourage you to start composting! We are the #1 supplier of composting worms in the United States. Check out our website for more information.
Fishing with Worms
The Dendrobaena Worm
Dendrobaena worms are considered by some anglers as one of the best worms for fishing. Dendrobaena worms can be obtained from your local tackle shop or ordering from online bait shops. They are hand picked and can be bought in different sizes and will be sent to you freshly packed.
Dendrobaena’s can be used for hook bait or chopped worm fishing (see Lobworm). Use Dendrobaena as a hook bait either whole or cut in two and hook both pieces of the worm near to the cut end. Dendrobaena is also a good bait when tipped with a couple of red maggots. As with all worm fishing use a good size hook, between a size 10 and 16 is usually ok.
The redworm is as its name suggests a deep red colour and is the worm generally found in compost heaps. Redworms can be used as hook bait either single hooked through the tail, as a bunch or tipped with a red maggot or castor. Hook sizes of 12 to 16 are ok. Redworms are an ideal bait when feeder fishing for bream.
If collecting them yourself put them in a container with some of the compost they were in and make sure you put the lid on properly, they do a great Houdini trick (are very good at escaping).
The Brandling is also found in manure heaps and has a yellowish coloured band around the body. Brandlings are usually a bit bigger and tougher than the redworm.
Brandlings can be used as hook bait similar to the Redworm, either single, hooked through the tail, as a bunch or tipped with a red maggot or castor. Hook sizes of 14 to 18 are ok. Brandlings are an ideal bait when fishing for Perch and feeder fishing for bream.
Save time digging . . . Make your own wormery . . .
Red Wiggler Worms For Sale
We Help Homesowners and Gardeners……Reduce Carbon Footprint While Producing Premium Worm Castings…. Even if You Are An Amateur Gardener
Red Wigglers (Eisenia Fetida) are called a lot of names Redworms, Tiger Worms, Manure Worms and Compost Worms. These worms are the most common composting worm on the market. They also are the smallest compost worm on the market, but don’t let that surprise you on how much they can eat per day. Some estimates are from 25 % to 33% of their body weight a day.
The Red Wiggler is definitely the most common composting worm choice due to its tolerance to wide range of temperatures and PH. This worm will tolerate temperatures as low as 40°F and as high as 100°F. The ideal temperature is 68°F to 76°F. The ideal PH level is 7 but it is not as sensitive to PH levels as other composting worms.
The Red Wiggler grows to 1 1/2 to 4 inches making it a superb food choice for fish, chickens, pet turtles and lizards. They are also used as fishing bait. They can survive in water temperatures between 40°F and 100°F. Red Wigglers are very active on the hook, and last longer under water than other fishing baits. Also these worms don’t need to be refrigerated.
The Red Wiggler breeds by lying next to another worm but in opposite direction. They secrete thru the clitella and this secretion is collected in storage sacs. After the worms separate, the clitellum secrete albumin which forms a cocoon. The Red Wiggler is able to lay 3.3 cocoons a week. These cocoons are round in shape and change color during the development cycle, first white, then yellow and lastly brown. The cocoon can produce 3 to 4 baby worms.
These worms are sensitive to vibrations so its best to feed worms once or twice a week. Make sure not to over feed worms, by alternating locations of food within the bins. Make sure to cover food with bedding after feeding. The use of egg shells sprinkled on top of bedding helps control PH level.
You can feed worms non citrus fruits, vegetables, tea bags, coffee grounds, coffee filters and crushed egg shells. Manure from horses, cows and rabbits are good as long as they have been composted a little so they don’t heat up worm bin. Grass clipping and other yard debris are good also. Paper products such as paper towels, newspaper and cardboard are acceptable. Some notable exceptions: Citrus Fruits, meat dairy, human and pet feces, oils and oily food.
Buy Your Red Wiggler Worms Today
1000 Red Composting Worm Mix
Lowest Priced Composting Worms on the Net (or anywhere else) Guaranteed!
When your food scraps pile up, don’t throw them out.Get yourself some red wrigglers.They are only 1 -3 inches in length, and are about as thin as a pencil lead, but don’t call them little. When these guys group together, they become a voracious force, consuming anything in their path. Mountains of vegetable scraps wouldn’t stand a chance. The worms will break them one bite at a time. But don’t fear their powerful passion, encourage it.The food they consume gets digested, and transformed into some of the most nutritious material that lawns and gardens could grow in: worm castings! These worm castings are 7 times richer in phosphates, 5 times richer in nitrogen, and 11 times richer in potash than the average lawn soil.This valuable substance is a result of your trash! Don’t supply local trash heaps with your waste; give it to some red wiggler worm! By far, these guys are the best gardeners on the planet, and will only help out your lawn or garden or both! Decrease waste, decrease the need for earth-destroying chemical, and increase organic production all at the same time! These worms may be small, but provide a large service to saving the Earth!*Your Worm order my contain several different compost worm species.(Eisenia fetida, eisenia hortensis,Perionyx excavatus). Not to worry! Diversity in worm species is superior because they work all layers of the compost not just the top few inches. Giving you a better compost faster. This also gives an advantage in that as conditions change certain species will multiply as conditions become unfavorable for another keeping you with a constantly healthy composter
- 100% Guaranteed Live!
- Instructions on how to add to lawn/garden/composter
- Great Composting Worm
- Excellent Trout Fishing Worm or for bait fish. Look into the European Night Crawlers for serious fishing!
- Insect / Mite Free
1. I live in California, and you ship out of Pennsylvania. Will the worms survive in transit?
No worries! We ship nationwide with USPS 2-3 Day priority mail, so your worms will not be in transit for very long. We ship out every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, so you will receive them on a weekday. 99% of our orders reach their destination without fail. We ALWAYS guarantee a live delivery, so if there are any delays or other issues while in transit, we have you covered with a free reshipment of worms.
2. I live in the Northeast, can I still compost during the winter?
Yes, you most certainly can. You can compost year round as long as the soil can be maintained between 40 and 80 degrees. If you have an outdoor compost bin, you can insulate the bin with mulch, hay, Styrofoam or anything that will retain heat. If you have a smaller bin, it is recommended to bring it indoors if at all possible. A garage or a basement will work perfectly.
3. I work during the day and will not be home to accept my package, is this ok?
Yes and no. Because the worms are a live product, if they are left in a mail box or a parcel locker for too long, they will not survive. If you cannot be home to accept your worms, we recommend having them held at your local Post Office or delivered to your door. You can leave delivery instructions before placing your order.
4. How much Black Gold (Compost) will 1,000 composting worms create for me?
Our 1,000 count of Red composting worms can create between 8 and 16 ounces of compost per day!
But wait, there’s more! These worms double in population every three months, so as your worm population grows, the amount of Black Gold that they can create will grow as well. A year from introducing your 1,000 composting worms into your bin, you should now have 16,000 composting worms, which will create 8-16 pounds of composter per day!
If you start out with 5,000 composting worms, by the end of one year you should have 80,000 composting worms outputting 40 to 80 pounds of compost per day.
5. What do you mean by “mix”? Will I be receiving live worms?
We cannot guarantee a 100% pure species of any type composting worms. Our worms are harvested from worm beds that are decades old and may depending of time of year contain several different compost worm species. Not to worry! Bed run worms are superior because they work all layers of the compost not just the top few inches. Giving you a better compost faster. This also gives an advantage in that as conditions change certain species will multiply as conditions become unfavorable for another keeping you with a constantly healthy composter. Because they are bed run some orders may have more than one species than another but rest assured their populations will naturally adjust to the needs of your waste. Because of the adaptive nature of worms some varieties reproductive rates change with warmer weather, colder weather, moisture levels, soil content etc.
6. Are there any shipping restrictions?
We are currently able to ship to all of the 48 continental United States as well as Alaska. We are also able to ship to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We are unable to ship live worms to Hawaii due to strict laws regarding introducing non native worms into the soil. We are unable to ship to any country outside of the United States.
7. Why should I order from you over the other guys?
We always put our customer’s first! We will answer any questions that you might have before ordering, when your worms are delivered, and long after you have your worms growing. We have been in this business for more than 40 years, know how to ship your worms to arrive alive, have a great relationship with USPS, and always GUARANTEE a LIVE delivery! We are an honest seller with an A rating with BBB, and over 100,000 happy customers. We have a real live person on the other end of your phone call who is interested in helping you, no matter what you are using the worms for. We understand that there is always a risk that the worms might arrive dead, and we stand behind our live delivery guaranteed to have a free reshipment mailed to you if this is the case.
USPS Priority or 2 Day Fed Express Shipping – $10.50 for first unit and $3 any additional units ordered.
Before you buy compost worms for your worm farm, there are a few things you need to consider. This includes:
- understand what worm species will suit your worm farm
- how many worms do you need to get
- where to go to buy compost worms near you or online
Species of Worms
There are 3 kinds of earthworms, grouped based on their ecological behaviour.
- Epigeic / Epigean earthworms – live at or on the soil surface that is rich in organic matter (e.g. leaf litter, manure etc)
- Endogeic earthworms – live in the soil and burrow horizontally
- Anecic earthworms – live in the soil and burrow vertically
There are about 6,000 species of earthworm. Worms that you find in your backyard are most likely unsuitable for vermicomposting. Epigeic earthworms such as Red Wigglers, are the worm of choice for quick composting in a contained area.
Red Wigglers are the most popular species of worms for vermicomposting. This is because they are:
- prolific breeders
- very tolerant to varying environment conditions (more than other species)
- don’t mind the occasional disruption or handling (unlike other species)
Worms referred to as nightcrawlers only come to the surface at night (hence the name :)).
Here’s a comparison of the most common species of earthworms used for composting, and their suitability for different environment conditions:
|Worm Species||Names||Description||Environment Conditions|
|Eisenia Foetida or Eisenia Andrei||Red wiggler, manure worm, red composting worm, tiger worm, brandling||Small, red / brown color||Most adaptive to moisture and temperature extremes than other species.|
|Eudrilus Eugeniae (Anecic)||African nightcrawler||Large, grey / purple color||Cannot tolerate extreme cold and dislike disruption and handling.|
|Eisenia Hortsenis||European nightcrawler||Medium, darker color than Red worms||Prefers cooler temperatures and can tolerate a wider moisture content range than other worm species.
Dislikes acidic conditions.
|Perionyx Excavatus||Indian blue, Malaysian blue||Small and thin with blue / purple sheen||Prefers warmer temperatures between 21 ad 30 C.
Cannot tolerate extreme cold and dislikes disruption and handling.
Combining Species of Worms
Worm suppliers usually breed worms in outdoor worm beds called windrows. This method cannot guarantee that all of the worms will be of the same species. That’s OK because combining different species of worms can improve the overall strength and resiliency of your worm farm. Some worms do better in warmer weather, whilst other species do best in colder weather.
Worms cannot cross breed, and can only breed with their own species. So over time one species can begin to dominate and even out populate any other worm species in the bin.
Quantity of Worms
The amount of compost worms you will need depends on two factors:
- how much space is there available in the worm bin
- how much left-over food waste do you have
To get an idea of how much food waste your household produces, do the following for 1 week:
- collect food waste that you would normally feed to your worms
- at the end of each day, put all food waste in a plastic bag and then weigh it
After 1 week, you can calculate your daily average food waste.
You can typically buy worms by 250, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 amounts. Worms eat about half of their body weight each day. But note this rarely happens straight away as they need some time to settle in and get used to their new home. A rough weight estimate for 1000 worms is 1 pound or 500 grams. So if you average 500 grams of food waste each day, then your system will need about 2,000 worms.
Worms populations are self-regulating. Assuming favorable environment conditions and sufficient food supply in the worm bin, your composting worm population will expand to fit the space available. In very general terms, a Red worm population can double in number approx every 60 to 90 days.
Where to Buy Compost Worms
You can buy live worms online and have them delivered to your home. Be aware that the journey for your worms may be disruptive to them causing stress. When you receive the worms, make sure they have some fresh bedding. Leave them for a day or two to settle in before giving them any food waste.