Worm Composting 101: The Complete Guide to Starting a Worm Bin (2022)
In this post we'll walk through the basics of composting with worms and provide the steps for starting a worm bin. If you're new to worm composting this guide will cover all you need to know to get started, including:
- what worm composting is,
- the best type of compost worms to buy,
- how to set-up your first worm composting bin,
- what to feed your new squiggly friends
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- and more!
Worm Composting 101 - What is Worm Composting?
Composting with worms means using live compost worms to process organic waste like food scraps, leaves, cardboard, manure and other material. As compost worms consume the organic matter, their digestive process turns the waste into worm castings (e.g., vermicast, vermicompost, or worm poop), a nutrient rich material helps plants thrive.
This process is the result of 500 million years of evolution - the compost worms take in nutrient-rich material and "poop" out even richer material that helps plants grow bigger, faster, and stronger. These worm castings do such a great job helping plants thrive that they are valuable soil amendments used by organic farmers, vineyards, greenhouses, and the cannabis industry.
What are the Best Compost Worms to Buy?
There are a variety of live compost worms that can be used for worm composting at home or in the classroom, but most people use compost worms (e.g., Eisenia Fetida, Eisenia Hortensis, Perionyx Excavatus, etc) or nightcrawlers (African or European).
Compost worms are the best worm for composting for most people as they are voracious eaters and can survive and thrive in a broader range of conditions than their nightcrawler cousins.
Compost worms are usually reddish brown in color, grow to 2-4 inches in length, and sometimes have a yellow tip on their tail end. They are smaller than nightcrawlers but can consume 1/3 to 1/2 their weight in a few days!
Worm Composting Basics: What You Need to Get Started
Worm composting is easy to set-up in your home, classroom, or outdoors in your lawn or garden. You can order a worm composting bin or worm farm kit, or simply start with a 5-15 gallon plastic storage bin. if you are interested in purchasing a worm bin, check out our detailed review of the best worm compost bins to buy.
The bins don't need to be too deep as compost worms are surface dwellers and live in the top 3-4 inches of the soil.
In addition to the bin, you will need:
- Bedding: A mix of topsoil, coconut coir, or peat moss AND shredded newspaper or cardboard. A good ratio is 75% top soil/peat moss and 25% shredded newspaper or cardboard. You'll need enough to fill the bottom of your bin to a height of ~4 inches. If your bin will be outside then we recommend a bedding depth of 24 or more inches so the worms have room to dig if temperatures get too hot or too cold for them.
- Live compost worms (we have a variety of sizes and options in our shop)
- A cover for the worm compost bin (NOTE - worms need air so this should not be an airtight lid.) A piece of cardboard or newspaper works fine for an indoor bin. If your bin is outside, it will need to be under a covered porch or patio (too much rain can drown worms).
How to Set-up Your Worm Composting Bin
Once you have the worm bin and live compost worms, setting up the worm bin is a breeze:
Step 1: Gently wet the bedding (e.g., soil, shredded cardboard, etc). The bedding should not be soaked in water - a good rule of thumb is that when a handful of the bedding is squeezed, 1-2 drops of water wring out.
Step 2: Place the damp bedding in the bottom of the bin and spread it out evenly. It should cover to a height of 3-4 inches or so.
Step 3: Gently place the live compost worms and the bedding they were packed with in your worm compost bin.
Step 6: Place a small amount of food in the center of the bin and sprinkle a little bedding over it (1/2 of a banana works great and don't bury the food since compost worms eat on the surface!).
Step 5: Place the cardboard or newspaper cover over the compost worms and place the bin in an area with moderate temperatures and away from the sun. If your worm bin is indoors, a pantry, closet, or garage works great. If outdoors, place in a shaded area away from the sun. Compost worms prefer temps of 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Step 6: Check the bin once a day to verify the worms are acclimating and have started eating. Once the initial food is gone, feed the worms again.
Worm Composting FAQs
Q: How Many Compost Worms Should You Buy?
Given the excitement around starting a worm bin, there's a tendency to buy more live compost worms than you actually need.
We recommend starting with 1 pound of live compost worms. You can always add more later after you get comfortable caring for the worms! Over time, a density of ~ 1 pound of compost worms per 2-3 feet of square footage in your bin is a good benchmark.
Q: Where Can I Buy Live Compost Worms?
Most compost worms are sold online, so it's easy to purchase them via the web and have worms delivered to you in a few days. We offer live compost worms for sale in a variety of order sizes at Brothers Worm Farm.
Q: What Should I Feed Compost Worms?
Compost worms are fantastic eaters and will eat just about anything. But there are foods that can harm them or lead to poor bin conditions, so it's important to stick to a few basics.
The "Go" List includes most raw/uncooked fruits and vegetables as well as the following items:
- Worms have a sweet tooth so most fruits are a great idea (just limit the amount of citrus). Compost worms love bananas, grapes, melon, pears, berries, peaches, apples, and avocado (but not the pit or rinds)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g., romaine)
- Pumpkin and squash
- Pulp from juicers
- Crushed egg shells
- Coffee and tea grounds in small quantities (too many can lead to an acidic bed which can harm the worms)
- Shredded cardboard, egg cartons, and paper towels
- Most leaves (as long as they haven't been treated with pesticides or herbicides)
- Citrus fruits in small quantities
The "No Go" list for feeding worms includes:
- Dairy, cheese, and milk products
- Meat or other animal products
- Cooked foods (due to oil and salt content)
- "Spicy" foods like peppers, onions, garlic, and ginger
- Tomatoes or tomato sauce (it's too acidic for worms)
- Foods cooked with oils
- Foods high in salt content
Q: How Do I Feed Compost Worms?
The key to feeding your compost worms is moderation. Over-feeding, along with temperature, is one of the easiest ways to quickly kill your worm population.
We recommend the following:
- For the first feeding, feed 1/5 to 1/4 of the weight of your worm population. For example, if you bought 1 pound of red wigglers, feed them 3-4 ounces of food scraps.
- Never feed your compost worms until all food from the prior feeding is consumed/processed.
- Don't bury the food! Compost worms are surface dwellers and will generally not eat food that is more than an inch or 2 below the surface.
- After the first feeding, feed the worms 1/3 of their weight. So if you purchased 2 pounds of worms, feed them 2/3 of a pound of food at a time.
- Worms should finish each feeding in 24-48 hours - if they do not then wait until the feeding is completed before adding more food, and remove older food after 4-5 days if the worms have not touched it.
Q: How Much Should I Water a Worm Composting Bin?
Similar to over-feeding, there is a tendency to over-water when getting started worm composting. This can lead to factors that are not beneficial to your worm population, or conditions that can outright kill the worms. Worms need a damp, but not wet, environment to thrive.
Here're a few rules to go by when watering your worm bin:
- Never pour water into a bin. This will lead to over-watering or inconsistent moisture throughout the bin. We've found a spray bottle or light mister works best.
- Water your bin with a light to moderate misting 1-2 times per week.
- Don't let water accumulate in the bottom of your bin. If water accumulates, this is a sign you are watering too much so adjust your watering schedule and amounts!
- Make sure the top inch or so of your bin is the most moist part of the bin. The bedding should get more dry as it goes to the bottom of the bin.
Worm Composting Care Checklist
Once you've set-up your bin, bought your live compost worms online, and settled on a feeding and watering schedule, there's not a lot of work involved in worm composting. Here's a quick checklist of to do's to ensure your compost worms stay healthy and happy:
- Feed the worms 1/3 of their weight and only feed after all food from the prior feeding has been processed.
- Verify the top of the bed is damp and there is no water accumulating on the bottom of the bin or in the base of the bin. Lightly mist the top of the bed if it is getting dry.
- As the bed begins to get fully processed (after 4-6 weeks) - it will start to look like wet dirt and should have the look of felt from a pool table. At this point you will want to either start a new tray in your worm bin or add 2-3 inches of new bedding to the surface of the bin. To add new bedding, mix carbon (e.g., shredded cardboard or shredded newspaper) and new bedding (aim for a ratio of 75% bedding and 25% carbon) and place it on the surface of the worm bin. Remove any food before doing this step (or wait until the worms have eaten all of the food!). Place new food on the surface of the new bedding and the worms will migrate up and begin eating again.
That's really all there is to it getting started worm composting. Compost worms don't require a lot of TLC once they are established in their new home, and as noted above they prefer quiet and solitude to do their work!
If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email, read more about troubleshooting worm compost bins, or check the other worm composting tips and how to articles on our blog. Thanks for reading and happy farming!!
I live in the Panhandle of Texas & my worms are outside in 100% shade of a pecan tree & where the worm bins get lots of wind. Due to heat lately, in lieu of misting the top of my bins (3 working), I use the side dish cups from Kentucky Fried Chicken (clean of course) & fill them about 1/4 to 1/3rd with water & freeze them (4-6). When temp outside gets to about 90 degrees F I will put 4 in the top bin where wind blowing through oxygen holes provide cool air as ice melts. This also keeps my bins wet. When bins get too wet, I add shredded paper or dry material. If lower levels get too dry, I must them.
So far this cooling method is keeping my worms alive.
Any other cooling suggestions please let me know before we hit triple digits. Thanks
I love the worms I got! I have had a European Nightcrawler bin for about 6 months now and I wanted to extend the army of worms so I ordered 1000 red wigglers for 2 new bins and they did not disappoint when they arrived today! The worms were lively and not a single one was dead. Unlike Uncle Jim’s worm farm which jipped me by giving me mites and half of my worms were dead these ones were perfectly healthy! If anyone else is edgy about buying from this company don’t sweat it and go for it because its one hundred percent worth it!
Things about vermicultúre I don’t know how to. Guides please. Update if needed thanks guys happy 😁 camping
Might order a red wigglers arrived dead, how much extra for live worms?
how quickly do they breed? i am an avid fisherman and i was wanting to use them for fishing as well as soil. i was wondering if they would diminish quicker than they reproduce
New to composing. Thank you for helping.