A popular DIY project is making a worm composter which enables us to recycle waste into vermicompost or worm compost and improve the health of plants in our gardens and homes
Setting up a DIY worm composter takes not too much effort, time or investment. It involves using a simple container ( more about that in a minute), moist bedding materials, and the appropriate type of composting worms to break down organic matter.
The result is called vermicompost which not only adds essential nutrients to the soil but also improves soil structure, promotes better root growth and plant health.
Plus by creating a DIY worm composter, we can contribute to sustainable living practices and a healthier environment.
A big bonus is that the continuous supply of vermicompost and compost tea ensures our plants thrive and grow, resulting in bountiful harvests and beautiful landscapes.
This is true, a thriving vegetable garden is a beautiful landscape and one that is edible. How good is to go out into the garden and pick a couple of tomatoes and some rocket for lunch? I do this all the time.
Why DIY Worm Composting?
Worm composting, is an excellent way to recycle your kitchen scraps and turn them into valuable organic matter for your garden.
One of the main reasons to use a DIY worm composter is that it can save us money.
Commercially available worm composting systems are brilliant but you will pay more than making your own worm composter. But that’s absolutely okay. I often just want to get things going, so to go the buy a worm bin route is totally okay.
Many of the materials needed to create a DIY composter can often be found around our homes or purchased inexpensively.
Building a DIY worm farm also gives us the flexibility to customize the system to our specific needs. We can choose the size, shape, and design of the composter, ensuring that it fits the dedicated space in our homes.
By choosing DIY worm farming, we can also gain more knowledge about how the process of composting works. You may get the composting bug.
Understanding the composting environment and the needs of our worms allows us to continuously improve our composter, leading to better quality compost and healthier plants.
We lessen our dependence on artificial fertilizers, many of which contain potentially harmful chemicals.
If you have kids or grandkids, they will love being a worm farmer and actively taking part in looking after the worm farm. Now that is a brilliant way to get kids interested in composting.
How Do You Create A Worm Compost System From Scratch? The Quick Explanation
To build your own worm bin from scratch, we first need to gather the necessary materials.
Materials Needed For a DIY Worm Composter
- a plastic or wooden bin
- a drill
- Red wiggler worms
…and a small amount of soil or finished compost.
Step 1 – Prepare the bin
Choose a bin that is at least 1 foot deep and has a tight fitting lid. The size of the bin will depend on the amount of food scraps you generate, but a standard 18 gallon plastic tote works well for most households.
Once you have your bin, drill 1/4-inch holes evenly spaced on the sides, bottom, and lid for aeration and drainage.
Step 2 – Create the bedding
Shred newspaper or cardboard to create a 3-4 inch layer at the bottom of the bin. This will help with air circulation and moisture control.
Next, dampen the bedding material until it is about as wet as a wrung-out sponge to provide the right environment for worms.
There is more detailed information about worm bedding in this article.
Step 3 – Add worms and starter soil
Add 1-2 inches of soil or finished compost on top of the bedding to introduce beneficial microorganisms to the worm composter.
We can then add our red wiggler worms, preferably 1-2 pounds, on top of the soil layer. These worms can be purchased online or at local garden centers.
It’s important to use red wigglers, also known as Eisenia fetida, as they are best suited for composting. Read more about Red Wigglers. They are pretty amazing worms.
Step 4 – Provide food waste for the worms
We can now begin to add food waste to our worm composter.
Do not overfeed the worms, start with a small amount and bury the food a few inches under the surface. This is trial and error.
As the worm population grows, increase the amount of food waste accordingly.
Avoid adding meat, dairy, grease, or any citrus fruit.
Step 5 – Maintain the worm composter
Check the moisture level in the worm composter regularly, and make sure it remains damp but not overly wet.
If the bedding gets too dry, mist it with water. A spray bottle filled with water is useful for this purpose. If the bedding becomes too wet, add additional dry shredded newspaper or cardboard to help absorb excess moisture.
With these steps, a DIY worm composter has been created from scratch.
In a few months, we can harvest the worm castings, a nutrient rich, dark colored material, an excellent organic fertilizer for our plants.
That’s the basics. There’s more detail below to peruse, to give you a better understanding of each step of making a diy worm bin.
How Do You Create A Worm Compost System From Scratch? The Detailed Explanation
1. How To Choose the Right Container For A DIY Worm Composter
When it comes to building a DIY worm composter, selecting the right container is crucial for success. In this section, we will guide you through the process of choosing a suitable container for your DIY worm bin.
One of the most popular choices for DIY worm bins is plastic containers. If possible, use opaque bins as they help keep light out and create a dark environment that worms prefer.
Make sure the container is made of durable and non-toxic material, as the worms will be living inside and breaking down the organic matter for a long time.
DIY Indoor and Outdoor Worm Bins
Depending on your space, you can either opt for indoor worm bins or outdoor worm bins.
Indoor worm bins, we suggest using smaller containers, such as plastic storage totes. They are easy to manage and do not take up much space when placed in a corner, basement, or under the sink.
Outdoor worm bins can be larger and accommodated in bins, barrels, or even repurposed furniture like old drawers.
Regardless of your choice in container type, ventilation is key. Worms need oxygen to thrive, so make sure to drill holes on the sides, top, and bottom of the container to provide proper airflow.
Wooden bins are favoured by many as they are believed to absorb moisture better, resulting in drier compost.
As a worm bin is essentially a container with a lid, there is room for creativity in design.
The cost need not be a concern, regardless of the method chosen to build a worm bin.
A Good Container For DIY Worm composter – Consider the following factors!
- Opt for opaque plastic containers for a dark environment
- Choose durable and non-toxic materials
- Decide between indoor or outdoor worm bins based on space availability
- Ensure proper ventilation by drilling holes in the container
2. Gathering Materials Needed For A DIY Worm Bin
To start our DIY worm composter, we need a few essential materials. These materials are easily accessible and affordable.
First, let’s gather the container or containers you have chosen.
To allow proper drainage and ventilation, we also need a drill for making holes, a quarter-inch mesh screen, and some landscape fabric.
For the worm bedding, we require shredded newspaper, clean cardboard, or coconut coir. These materials help maintain a cozy environment for the worms.
A balanced moisture level is essential for the worm bin, so a spray bottle filled with water is necessary to adjust the moisture level as needed.
Don’t forget the red wigglers, the composting worms. They are the heroes of this system.
Lastly, we will need kitchen waste to feed your worms. It is recommended to use fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and tea bags.
Remember to avoid including citrus fruits, spicy foods, or animal products such as meat, dairy, or grease.
3. Setting Up Your DIY Worm Composter
Drill ventilation holes in the sides and lid of our compost bin to ensure proper airflow for our worms.
Space the holes about 2 inches apart and try using a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch drill bit.
Before establishing the worm bin, raise the bin off the ground using a few bricks. Placing the bin on bricks enables excess moisture to drain away while providing airflow beneath the bin.
Now, it’s time to create a comfortable worm bed within the bin. Start with a layer of shredded newspaper or cardboard at the bottom, followed by a layer of moist, shredded leaves or peat moss.
This provides the worms with necessary bedding and helps maintain proper moisture levels.
Lastly, add the worms to the top of the bedding. Red worms efficiently process organic matter. Introduce a few hundred worms to start, and they will quickly multiply to fill their new home.
With your DIY worm composter set up, begin feeding the worms, food scraps. Avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily foods, as these can create unpleasant odors or attract pests.
Instead, opt for fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and crushed eggshells.
Remember to keep the worm bed moist but not too wet.
4. Selecting the Best Composting Worms
Red Wigglers have a few advantages that make them a great choice for a DIY worm composter.
For one, they are voracious eaters. Red wiggler worms eat half to their full body weight in organic matter daily. This helps speed up the decomposition process and ensures that you’ll have compost ready to use, in a relatively short time.
Another benefit of using red worms in your compost is their ability to reproduce quickly. A healthy population will double in size every two to three months, allowing you to maintain a stable, efficient system.
Red wigglers can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and moisture levels, making them adaptable to various composting setups and conditions.
When selecting your compost worms, make sure you choose a reputable supplier to ensure that you’re getting healthy, high-quality worms.
It’s also important to introduce the worms into your worm bin gradually, allowing them to acclimate to their new environment.
5. Preparing Worm Bedding
When setting up a DIY worm composter, it’s essential to create a comfortable environment for the worms by preparing their bedding. In this section, we will discuss the materials needed and the steps to take to create proper worm bedding.
To start, we will need shredded paper and shredded newspaper, as these materials serve as the primary bedding substance. You can use a paper shredder or just tear roughly. I usually have container of shredded paper ready to be added to the compost. Granted I don’t have as much paper to shred these days (pay bills online mostly) but it still does seem to mount up.
Worms thrive in a bedding of moist, decomposable materials, making these options ideal. Make sure to avoid using glossy paper or any paper with toxic inks.
Next, mix in garden soil with the shredded paper. The soil helps to provide additional support and structure in the composter while also introducing helpful microorganisms that aid in the composting process. About one-part soil for every five parts of paper will create a desirable mix for the worms.
Lay down a three-to-five-inch layer of the paper-soil mix, making sure it’s loose and fluffed up for easy worm movement. Then, place the wrung-out sponge on top of this layer.
With the bedding now properly set up, our DIY worm composter is ready for the star of the show – the worms that will transform our kitchen scraps into rich, nutrient-dense compost.
6. Feeding Your Worms
When it comes to feeding your worms, there are a variety of food scraps you can use to provide them with the nutrients they need. By using kitchen waste in the worm bin, we not only give worms a suitable environment but also reduce food waste.
Worm food selection: Worms primarily eat fruit and vegetable scraps, but there are a few other kitchen items they can consume, such as:
- Eggshells (crushed)
- Tea bags
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Bread and grains
Please remember to avoid feeding worms any dairy, meat, or oily food items. Similarly, keep citrus fruits and spicy vegetables to a minimum.
Preventing Fruit Flies
Fruit flies can be a nuisance around your worm composter. To avoid attracting them, we recommend burying the food waste slightly under the bedding material.
This will not only deter fruit flies but will also help the worms to find their food and break it down more efficiently.
We can feed our worms on a regular basis, approximately once a week or when the previous batch of food has been mostly consumed.
Keep a close eye on the composter and adjust feeding based on consumption in order to avoid overfeeding and creating an imbalance.
Preparing the Food
To make it easier for the worms to eat and digest the food scraps, we can chop up food items into smaller pieces.
This speeds up the composting process and makes the worm bin more efficient overall.
7. Maintaining Proper Conditions
Firstly, worms dislike light, so it’s best to place the worm bin in a dim or shaded area to keep them comfortable. This also means that we must be mindful when feeding the worms or checking on their progress, avoiding the use of bright lights.
Maintaining an appropriate moisture level is also essential for our worms to thrive. Too much moisture can be problematic, so we should aim for a damp, but not soggy, environment.
This can be achieved by adding bedding material that has been moistened, rather than pouring water directly into the composter.
In addition, proper drainage must be ensured to prevent excess moisture from creating an overly wet habitat.
Some ways to maintain perfect conditions in the worm bin include:
- Regularly inspecting the worm farm to ensure that there are no issues with drainage, bedding material, or the overall health of our worms.
- Gently turning the bedding materials occasionally in order to aerate the composter and maintain proper moisture levels.
- Adding a blend of both carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials to provide a balanced diet for our worms and aid in the decomposition process.
By following these guidelines, we can ensure that our DIY worm bin will create a thriving environment for the worms to break down organic matter efficiently and effectively.
How To Harvest The Compost From The Worm Bin
Here comes the fun part! After a few months of worm composting in your worm composting bin, you should have a significant number of worm castings, which is the finished compost.
Harvesting worm castings is an important step in maintaining a healthy worm bin and ensuring the ongoing productivity of our worms.
One Way To Harvest Worm Castings
When it’s time to harvest, you’ll notice that the majority of the original bedding material has turned into dark, rich, and crumbly castings.
The easiest way to harvest worm castings is by using the pile or migration method.
We can start by pushing the finished compost to one side of the bin and adding fresh bedding material to the other side. This will encourage worms to migrate to the new bedding.
Within a week or two, most of the worms should have migrated to the new bedding.
We can then simply scoop out the finished compost from the bin, being careful not to take any worms with it. If you come across any worms, place them back in the bin to continue composting.
Another Way to Harvest Worm Castings
Another method of harvesting worm castings is by using the light method.
Empty the contents of the worm bin onto a flat surface in a well-lit area or under a bright light. Since worms are sensitive to light, they will burrow deeper into the compost to escape it.
We can then remove the top layer of finished compost, leaving behind a smaller mound of compost with the worms in it. Repeat this process until there’s a small mound of compost remaining, and carefully transfer the worms back into the worm bin with fresh bedding material.
Store The Harvested Worm Castings Until Ready To Use
It’s important to store the harvested compost properly to ensure its quality. Use a breathable container, such as a fabric bag, and store it in a cool, dry place.
Using Your Compost Products
Through the process of creating a DIY worm composter, you can effectively turn your organic waste into valuable products for use in the garden, such as worm castings, worm tea, and compost tea that can serve as excellent organic fertilizers.
Worm castings or vermicompost, are the nutrient-rich compost product that results from the composting process with the help of composting worms.
They are an excellent source of nutrients for house plants, gardens, and lawns.
To make the best use of worm castings, simply sprinkle them on top of the soil or mix them into the top few inches of soil to provide an immediate nutrient boost.
Worm tea, sometimes referred to as worm juice or worm pee, is a liquid by product of the worm composting process.
It is an excellent organic fertilizer that can be applied to plants and soil to enhance their growth, health, and productivity.
A commercially bought worm farm will have a spigot to make it easy to remove this liquid.
To use worm tea, simply dilute it with water (usually a 10:1 ratio of water to worm tea) and apply it to the base of plants or use it as a foliar spray.
Compost tea is another nutrient-dense liquid product that can be created by steeping finished compost from your compost pile in water.
This liquid can be used as a natural fertilizer for plants, providing them with essential nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. For optimal results, strain the compost tea before application and use within 24 hours of brewing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you use a 5-gallon bucket for worm composting?
Yes, you can use a 5-gallon bucket for worm composting. In fact, it’s a popular option among DIY enthusiasts due to its affordability and availability.
To create a worm bin using a 5-gallon bucket, simply drill holes in the bottom and sides for air circulation and drainage. Then, add damp bedding material (e.g. shredded newspaper, leaves, or coconut coir), composting worms (red wigglers), and kitchen scraps as instructed above.
Keep in mind, though, that 5-gallon buckets tend to have limited space. As such, it may be suitable for smaller households or people with lower amounts of kitchen scraps.
How do you maintain and care for a worm composter?
Maintaining and caring for a worm farm is straightforward. Here are the key steps:
- Monitor moisture levels – Worms love a moist environment. To achieve this, add water when necessary and ensure the bedding material is damp, but not soaking wet. Excess water should drain out of the composter through the holes.
- Feed your worms consistently – Provide a steady supply of kitchen scraps for your worms, but avoid overfeeding them.
A general guideline is to feed them half their body weight in food scraps daily. Chop the scraps into small pieces to speed up the composting process.
- Keep the environment balanced – Worms prefer a neutral to slightly acidic environment, with a pH between 6.0 and 7.5.
Occasionally, check the pH and add crushed eggshells or garden lime when needed to maintain a balanced pH level.
- Maintain proper temperature – Worms thrive in temperatures between 55°F and 80°F (13°C and 27°C). Keep the composter in a shaded area during hot summer months and protect it from freezing temperatures in winter.
- Turn the bedding occasionally – Turning the bedding once in a while helps aerate the composter and speeds up decomposition. However, be cautious not to disturb the worms excessively.
Good luck with your vermicompost! Composting worms may become your new pets.