Composting With Worms

As I've had a few extra days waiting for baby that I didn't anticipate having, I've been getting just a few last minute projects out of the way. One of them was to create a small worm composting box (also known as vermiculture or vermicomposting).

This is a great way to do composting on a small scale, in order to make good use of kitchen scraps (keeping them out of the trash!) and end up with excellent, nutrient-rich compost to add to any house plants or veggies that you've got growing. Because of it's small scale, absolutely anyone can do this, even those in a small apartment!

A friend had recently decided to get rid of her bin, and before she sold it she took out a good handful of worms and set them aside to give to me. I had been wanting to give this a try for quite some time, so I was really excited to take them home and get things set up.

So as not to reinvent the wheel, I am going to direct you to a set of posts that offer an excellent overview of worm composting, including photo tutorials for setting yours up and lots of other great information and tips. Rachel at Small Notebook has been doing it for over a year, and she has posted extensively on it. Thanks Rachel!

A Year of Composting

How to Make a Worm Compost Bin

The Apartment Compost Bin

Adding Worms

Maintaining the Compost Bin

The Compost Results

 

Here's a bit of a side view so you can see how I've set mine up. A large cardboard egg flat on the bottom, lots of strips of newspaper, then a bunch of small veggie scraps (I cut up any large chunks, to make it easier for the worms to break down quickly), the worms, some more veggie scraps including dried and crushed egg shells, and then I added another thin layer of newspaper strips before putting the lid on and sticking it in the cupboard. The blue lid underneath is to catch anything that drips out, as it's important to keep the pile lightly moist (I just sprinkled mine with a small glass of water, and will check it once a week to make sure that it hasn't dried out).

Has anyone else tried worm composting? What do you think of it? Any tips or suggestions?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Just wondering if you still have a worm bin and how it’s going?

    • @Christy, I do still have a worm bin, and it works great, but I’m really lazy with it. When I pay attention to it and feed it regularly, I get lots of great compost and the worms really multiply. When I’m being lazy and forget about it for weeks on end, it survives and I still end up with compost, but the worm population isn’t quite as high and obviously I don’t build up compost very quickly. But overall it’s very easy and I think especially doable for those in small spaces!

  2. Thanks for the post. I found this very interesting!

  3. I’ve been using vermicompost for about two years now and I love it! We keep ours in the garage because it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and that way it doesn’t matter if it gets a little stinky. It’s so nice to be able to put food scraps in there or food we haven’t eaten that got spoiled instead of throwing it away. I HATE throwing food away, so vermicomposting is perfect! And the best thing about it is that you can use the worm castings on your garden and it’s AMAZING organic fertilizer! Plus, vermicompost gives you compost way faster than traditional composting.

  4. We started a worm bin this year! I wrote a post about a short time back: http://ahighandnoblecalling.com/2009/06/25/how-does-your-garden-grow-its-all-about-the-worms/

  5. Thanks Stephanie, that’s good to know!

  6. Jodi, yep, I’ve got a lid! I wouldn’t dare leave an open bin with worms in my cupboard otherwise! :)

    Rachel, thank YOU for doing all the work in those posts! I feel really comfortable starting out with this smaller bin, and know that I can always move up in size when I’m more comfortable with it and my worms have multiplied.

    Working Home Keeper, they’re probably not the same type as the worms used for worm composting, but I think it’s just fine to have worms in your compost. Worms are a sign of healthy soil, and I think it’s natural that they would migrate towards compost as well.

  7. I have worms in my compost bin, but I didn’t put them there. They’re not cute, little earthworms, so I’m not sure if they should even be in there or not!

  8. I’m so glad you gave this a try! Thanks for the links. Your worm bin looks like a great size for the small number of worms you’re starting with. Bigger bins can go outside since there is enough dirt to insulate the worms from heat and cold. I still have mine in a small-ish bin, since it is so much easier for an apartment.

    I love how worm composting is more common and understood now, it used to sound crazy to people who had never heard of it.

  9. I am hoping that you have a screened lid of some sort for your worm bin or you will have escaping worms! I have been composting with worms for quite some time now and have a large bin in my basement. It is similar to yours only larger. I have cut out the center of the tight fitting lid and put fine mesh screen in it. I always keep the lid on. When you first put the food matter in, it often creates some heat while it is breaking down. The worms will try to escape this heat and you could have worms all over your floor! It has happened to me :)
    The answer is no, worm bins don’t stink. They may have a slight earthy smell, but not offensive odors. If yours stinks, you may be putting too many scraps into it and your worms can’t keep up. I usually feed mine once a week.
    Another tip… If you freeze your kitchen scraps for a couple of weeks, thaw them and then feed them to your worms you will kill any fruit fly eggs before they hatch in your worm bin. I have never had an infestation doing it this way.
    Have fun with your worms – :)

  10. Nola, worms are natural sanitizers, so although things like E. coli would survive outside in a compost bin, they wouldn’t survive a worm’s digestive tract, which is good if you’re going to use your compost on a vegetable garden.

    Stephanie, I read somewhere (can’t remember place) that citrus in large amounts will kill the worms, too, so put citrus peels outside, or use them to clean your garbage disposal if you have one.

  11. I just wanted to say Hi and tell you that I’m really enjoying your blog. I came over from $5 Dinners, and have looked around a bit.
    I will definately be returning often.
    ~Liz

  12. Nola, I do have an outside bin, but some silly person (not someone in my family) keeps putting yard waste into it that is too large and that I can’t get out sufficiently. So I keep having to stop using my compost bin and try to let it work at what’s been added. It’s been a bit frustrating. What’s in there right now is finally almost finished, so I’m going to use up the compost, start over again and put a big sign on it saying what can and can’t go in it!

    I wanted another way to use some of my kitchen scraps in the meantime, and also during times when I’m trying to let the compost finish up and don’t want to add anything new. Ultimately, I’d like to just get a second bin so I can have one that I’m adding to, and one that’s finishing up, but that’s a project for another day. :)

  13. I know people that do this, but I was wondering, for someone (like me) who has an outside composters (I have 4….they really need emptying) what would be the benefit of doing it this way instead or in addition to that? I thought you already had an outside bin.

    If I ever had to live in an apartment again I would do this way for sure. I was told though by some friends of my husband that its sometimes hard if you have a lot of scraps since the worms can’t eat it all that quickly.

  14. we maintain a large Rubbermaid tub and compost most of our veggie scrabs there with exception of watermellon rind, onions skins, peelings, garlic – these go to the regular compost bin outside.
    Our worm bin does not smell. Good luck!

  15. Amber, I hope that’s true about how fast they multiply! I only have about 10 worms or so, which is why I’m starting out so small, but I really hope that I have lots more quickly so that I can expand what I’m doing!

  16. Oh how funny – we have just started our own “worm farm!” I’m really excited about it, and love learning as we go. :) We’ve started out with 2,000 worms, in a full-size rubbermaid tub. We have plenty of compost to keep them busy!

    My Dad gave my littlest sister 8 worms to put in a little bin of her own, made from gallon-size ice cream containers. She kept telling everyone she saw over and over “I’ve got eight worms, and Daddy says that in 6 months 8 worms can become 1,500 worms!” It’s true, too. :) I wonder how many worms will be in the BIG bin in 6 months…..:):)

  17. Christy, supposedly it doesn’t stink if it is maintained properly!

    Lindsay, great comments. Rachel says that a clear bin works if you’re able to keep it stored in a dark place, which is what I am doing (I’m keeping mine in a low, dark cupboard that is rarely opened). It makes sense to use a dark bin, though, if you’re keeping it more out in the open.

    And yup, I’m sure I’m going to want something bigger! I was thinking that I will probably want a second bin soon, and that ultimately I might want something bigger altogether. I don’t have very many worms right now, because my friend could only spare some of hers (not to mention that I don’t have much cupboard space in my kitchen). Once they really start to multiply, I will definitely consider going bigger.

    And that’s interesting about a garage, or even a deck. I didn’t know you could do that, because I thought it was a bit too cool for the worms liking. I’m glad to know yours is working well in the garage, though. Once I move up to a bigger bin, I’ll have to transfer mine out of the kitchen due to lack of space, so it’s really helpful to know that the garage is an option.

    Thanks, Lindsay! :) Looking forward to your post!

  18. Hey Steph, funny thing! I am in the process of writing a post on composting too…;) Wanted to give you a few suggestions though as I understand it. You really don’t want to use a clear container for your worms. They do not like the sun. The light coming in will dry out the contents of your container and could kill your worms. You want to keep it moist at all times to provide the perfect environment for your worms.
    Secondly, you will may want a much deeper bin as well. A dark rubbermaid tote is perfect because it gives you alot more room to grow. The worms need more space as well. You will fill up your current container quickly and will have to transfer your worms to a new bin soon. It goes alot faster than I thought. Plus you will be very limited in how much food scraps you can put in because you can easily overfeed worms.
    Thirdly, you want to keep it in a well-ventilated location because air is an important aspect of composting. We keep ours in the garage. The deck or kitchen is good if you have a little hide-a-way area.
    Hope that helps!

    Chrissy, as long as you keep it covered with a lid and burry your scraps underneath your top beddings (shredded newspaper or paper), you will be fine. You want to keep replenishing your bedding to keep the food covered. Also, the source of stickiness is usually meat or dairy scraps, and those are not recommended in a composting bin. If you keep to vegetable scraps you will not have this problem.

  19. Here’s my big question…doesn’t it stink?

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