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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