DIY Compost Worm Bin

Post by Contributing Writer, Holly

Back in April, I shared 14 Reasons to Have Compost Worms. A few people asked how they could get started with compost worms.

First, you should know that “raising” compost worms, like red wigglers, is VERY, VERY… easy.

As I see it, the vermicomposting cycle goes like this:

  1. Prepare a compost worm bin.
  2. Acquire compost worms.
  3. Maintain a healthy compost worm bin environment.
  4. Prepare additional compost worm bins right before you harvest the castings and compost.
  5. Harvest the castings (worm poo) and compost.
  6. Divide the worm population (a much larger population than you started with) into the fresh compost worm bins.
  7. Use the castings and compost.

Today, we’ll cover the first step: prepare a compost worm bin.

There are some really sophisticated compost worm bins on the market, but they’re rather pricey. You don’t have to own one of those in order to have a flourishing, healthy worm farm. You can actually make a perfectly inhabitable compost worm bin for “dirt” cheap.

The compost worm bin can be a simple plastic or rubber container. A lot of people will tell you what gallon size container is needed for, say, one pound of compost worms. While I don’t disagree with that line of thinking, I prefer to think of the footprint or square footage of living space.

Since compost worms live in the top 6-ish inches of bedding, a deep container has a lot of unusable or wasted space. To better explain this, I’ve photographed three containers. All three have the same cubic (volume) measurement: each will hold 10 gallons. However, as you can see from the photo, one of the containers has a very large footprint, while the container at the opposite end has a very small footprint. I read somewhere that a good rule of thumb is one square foot per pound of worms, but if you want to encourage reproduction, give them more space.

I think the middle container, the blue one, is perfect. I’m getting ready to transfer some of my red wiggler worms into it. It has a large footprint; it’s easy to handle since it’s not too big; and the dark blue color will do the best at blocking out ambient light.

Important note: worms do NOT like light, so don’t use a clear container.

Prepare the dirt-free bedding. You might find it interesting to know that compost worms do NOT need dirt. I find that very interesting!

Paper is what you’ll want to use, and LOTS and LOTS of it. You can use all kinds of paper products, but avoid the slick/shiny paper. Some examples of paper products to use are listed below.

  1. copy paper
  2. newspaper
  3. envelopes
  4. pizza boxes
  5. paper towels
  6. empty toilet paper and paper towel holders
  7. old church bulletins
  8. hot beverage cup safety sleeves

(It’s okay if the paper has ink on it, although I read somewhere that colored ink isn’t good for them. I still need to do some research on this point. Truth be told, I’m not too worried about the ink, and a lot of it gets rinsed down the drain after my 12 or so hours of soaking the paper.)

Shred the paper into small pieces or thin strips. If you have a paper shredder, put it to work.


Soak the paper in a container of water overnight. The worms need a moist environment, but not a soupy wet mess. After a long soaking, squeeze most of the water out of the paper. A lot of people like to use the analogy of a wrung-out sponge for the proper moisture level.

Place the wet paper bedding into the bin, and fluff it up. Try to have approximately 6 inches of bedding. It takes a LOT of paper for this. If you think you have too much paper when it’s soaking in the water, there’s still a good chance you’ll need a lot more.

Shortly before you acquire your compost worms (a future post), you’ll want to start tossing in small pieces of fruit and vegetable scraps (a future post) to allow the bacteria to grow for the worms’ diet. Compost worms LOVE bacteria. Bury the food under the bedding to help deter the attraction of bugs and any smells.

Worms need oxygen, so you’ll want to provide some means of air. You can do this by placing the lid on cockeyed, allowing a gap for air; drill holes into the top of the lid; or place a wet, dark-colored, wrung out cloth over the bin. The lid blocks out light; helps prevent the bedding from drying out quickly; and, if you use the cloth, it will keep bugs (flies and gnats, and fly and gnat larvae) out.

The worms won’t escape. I’ve had my worm bin lid cockeyed for over two months, and the worms have never tried to escape. If your worms do make such an effort, there’s something about the worm bin environment they’re unhappy with, or you may not have “compost” worms.

Compost worms, like red wigglers, like to live in groups and in the top few inches of “soil.” The common earthworm, on the other hand, likes to live alone, and in deep burrows. Their burrows can be as deep as 6 feet! So… the common earthworm is not a happy worm in a compost bin. Expect them to try and escape.

Your bin is ready for the arrival of your compost worms.

Holly is a wife to her loving husband, John, and a “mother” of 3 canine “children.” She loves sharing her faith, gardening, and fascination and appreciation of animals (birds, bats, butterflies, and the cute furry ones too) over at Your Gardening Friend.

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15 comments to DIY Compost Worm Bin

  • We’ve had our bin since February. I can’t harvest the casings because I’m afraid of the worms. I’ll have to invite the neighbor kids over to do it for me.

    Here’s my post on how we made ours: http://armsofasister.com/2012/02/15/we-did-it-composting/

    [Reply]

    Holly Reply:

    That’s too funny! I find it interesting that you’re afraid of them, yet dove into such a neat experiment. Way to go! (It looks like they have quite a feast in their kitty litter bin.)

    And I was grossed out by them at first too. However – believe it or not – I ACTUALLY find them “beautiful” (not cute) now. I don’t imagine everyone will feel the same way after owning them, just like I can’t EVER imagine saying that about SPIDERS -EWWWW!

    Keep up the good work!

    [Reply]

  • […] DIY Worm Composting Bin–SO easy and your garden {and children!} will love it! […]

  • Melissa

    thank you, i find these very interesting and look forward to your other post about putting food into our worm compost homes.

    [Reply]

    Holly Reply:

    Thanks, Melissa. I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts, and you’ll see more in the future about these worms.

    [Reply]

  • […] like your compost. Any gardener will say yes to free organic compost. Want to send any my way?  Holly has some great tips on how to start a worm compost bin. 7. Stock Saving bones and egg shells […]

  • shervin

    hi
    i like to know how can make granola after geting compost?because if i can to make granola with it can to selling better in my area.
    thank you for your reply.

    [Reply]

  • Sarah M.

    Where can you purchase composting worms? I have a townhouse with limited space but I still have food garden. I would like to start my own compost. Thanks for posting.

    [Reply]

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  • Isela

    Hi Holly, I recently started a worm bin. New to vermi-composting. After about a week I checked in on my worms and they were all balled up. Almost dead and smelled. I put them in a cup of water,separated them, sprinkled some water on their bedding and checked on them the next day. I figured they were stressed and needed moisture. After that incident I’ve been checking on them pretty regularly (daily), lifting and moving soil around. These past few days, I go to lift the Rubbermaid cover, was startled with how many there were out of the bedding. They were around to top of the container and lid. There is still some food in there plus coffee/tea grinds, newspaper, cardboard, leaves…I don’t understand why this is happening. Why are they unhappy in their bedding? I sprayed again. I think it’s moist enough in there. What do you recommend I do? I shredded more newspaper and hosed it down tonight and was going to set up another Rubbermaid container on top of the one I have now and see if they want to move into it and not escape. Looking forward to your response. Thanks a bunch!!

    [Reply]

  • Isela

    I made a new Rubbermaid bin for them this morning with newspaper. I put a little of the material from the one below, thinking they may be too crowded. Put a little food in both bins along with some water Kefir granules. I heard it was good to put in compost. We shall see if this makes them happy. When I ordered the worms, I did order 1000. It didn’t seem like that many. I do hope this works and makes them happy. I want happy composting worms!! 😉 I will try and feed them 2x a week and see if that makes them happy as well. I was only feeding them 1x a week. I’ll keep you posted…thanks!

    [Reply]

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