Are you looking for an easy, low-maintenance, inexpensive way to compost your garden? What could be better than setting up your own composting system with a worm farm in your backyard?
What is a Worm Composting System?
Often called vermicomposting, gardeners can build their own worm farms to enrich the soil and add beneficial worm castings to the soil. Worm farming is a perfect way to turn your kitchen scraps into usable compost for the garden.
You support the worms, and the worms support your garden by improving the quality of the soil. Worms are naturals when it comes to composting. When they eat food, it turns into compost inside their digestive tracts. That means the “waste” they leave behind doesn’t have to go to waste.
What are the Benefits of Making Compost with Worms?
The main reason most homeowners start their own worm composting system is to improve the quality of their soil and grow healthier plants.
And guess what? There are some great studies that prove that adding worm castings to your garden helps flowers bloom earlier and seedlings emerge faster than those using a commercial mix.
In a study by NC State University,
Plant growth was reported to be better with vermicompost than when recommended commercial growing media was used, and seeds germinated faster for most plant species grown in vermicompost.
The study went on to say how the worm castings added to a little peat moss can produce even better results. What an easy way to grow healthier plants without spending a fortune of soil amendments & bagged compost.
Why Else is Worm Farming Awesome?
- It doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- It doesn’t produce any unpleasant odors.
- The worms take very little time to start producing the compost you need.
- You get to save money since you no longer will need all the soil conditioners and fertilizers you may be used to purchasing.
- You’ll have a ready supply of worms for your favorite fisherman.
- You only need around 10-15 minutes a week to maintain the worm farm.
- This is a natural approach to taking care of your garden which does not require any chemicals. And because you can skip out on the conditioners and fertilizers you may be using now, you may be able to get more chemicals out of your yard.
In their article titled, “Wiggle Your Way into Worm Composting” the Oregon State University said if regular compost is known as “black gold” then compost created with worm castings should be called diamonds.
Even more beneficial worm castings could take the title “black diamonds.”– OregonState.edu
10 Steps to Build a Worm Composting Bin
It’s a quick and easy process to get started with worm composting. You need to set up a habitat for the worms. You can do this in just about an hour or two with a DIY worm composting bin.
Here are the steps to build your own worm composter.
- Get a large (about 10 gallons) bin and rinse it out (even if it’s new) to make sure that it will be healthy and safe for the worms. Here are 2 types of bins for DIYers.
- Buy a dark-colored plastic storage tub available in most home improvement stores for 5-$10.
- Re-purpose a Wooden Box or crate. If you use a wooden bin for your worm farm, line the interior with plastic (like a plastic garbage bag).
- Add ventilation/drainage holes. If you use a plastic bin, drill a dozen or so holes in the bottom to drain off the compost tea. Additional holes can be made in the sides to let the container “breathe”. If you watch the video below – you can drill smaller holes instead of covering the large ones with a screen.
- Add “bedding” in the form of old newspaper strips. Make sure you do not use colored newspaper. Tear about 50 sheets into strips and place them inside. Add water so that you get the paper moist, but not dripping wet. Don’t pad it down; you want it fluffy, with the bin about ¾ full.
- Add around 2-4 cups of soil to the bin, sprinkling it throughout.
- Next, add your worms. Make sure you know how many you have (it’s best just to weigh them). About a pound is good for a 10-gallon bin.
- Add food scraps for your worms. Steer clear of meat, bones, dairy, and oils. Stick with fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps. Keep citrus scraps to a minimum or avoid them. Make sure everything is cut small. You need to feed the worms around three times their weight in food every week. Distribute the food scraps throughout the bedding, including underneath it.
- Next, place a dry piece of newspaper over top. This will maintain the right moisture level in your worm farm, keep fruit flies away, and prevent odors from escaping the bin.
- Add a cover to your bin made of plastic, cloth or plywood, but leave the lid ajar or drill holes in the bin to maintain airflow.
- Sit the worm composter up on bricks to drain off the compost tea. You can also place a second shorter bin underneath the main bin to capture the tea for you. (see the video below)
- Feed your worms weekly, spray with water as necessary, and fluff up the bedding regularly.
VIDEO: Create Your Own DIY Worm Composting Bin
Best Worms for Composting
Which worms can you use for composting? The two best choices are Red Wigglers & European Nightcrawlers.
Red Wigglers are one of the more common worms used in composting. They do a great job of gobbling up the vegetable goodies you leave for them breaking it down into organic compost for your garden.
The red wigglers are known to be surface feeders which is why they make a good composting choice. They are also less adventurous, so they aren’t as likely to escape from your worm bin.
European Nightcrawlers are larger than the red wigglers and as the name suggests, they are slightly more active – they like to crawl instead of just wiggling. This is one of the reasons they are a favorite when setting up a fishing worm farm. They are larger & more active, so they make better bait.
The European nightcrawlers do very well in compost bins and are actually better than the red wigglers for breaking up larger food scraps. However, they have been known to escape a time or two (they like to “crawl”) – so be sure to keep them well fed.
If you have a fisherman in the family, the nightcrawler is a good choice. You can even buy compost worms online, Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has a great reputation for compost worms.
You can also try African Nightcrawlers, but these will only work in a very warm climate. Alabama Jumpers are also composters, but they usually don’t like food scraps, so they are generally a sub-par choice.
Do not use Canadian Nightcrawlers. These worms are hard to raise and dig too deep to be useful in your composting bins.
Taking Care of Your Worm Farm & Problems to Avoid
Remember, when you are setting up your worm farm, you are taking care of living organisms, and if you make a mistake, you can end up with dead or unhealthy worms. Common problems include:
- Letting the bin become too moist or dry.
- Allowing fruit flies to infest the bin.
- Overfeeding or underfeeding your worms.
- Choosing foods that your worms should not be eating.
- Bothering the worms too much.
- Letting excessive cold or heat harm your worms.
- Allowing bedding to get too compacted (this disrupts airflow).
- Stay away from adding oak leaves, which are too high in tannins.
- Aggressively going after organisms that belong in the bins (your bins may have other occupants like millipedes, spiders, and feather-winged beetles. These are just fine).
As one last note, when it comes time to harvest your compost (this usually takes about three months), you will need to separate your worms from the compost so they do not re-ingest the waste.
If they eat their castings, they will get sick. You can prevent this by sectioning off part of the bin for the compost, and part of the bin for fresh bedding and food. The worms will relocate to the fresh materials, and then you can harvest the compost.
Types of Worm Farms and Composter Bins
There are several common types of worm bins. The DIY type above is usually known as the “traditional worm bin.” You can use pretty much anything for the bin itself, but a plastic bin is the most common choice. There are also a few other options:
Flow-Through Worm Bins
Continuous Flow Through Vermi Composter for Worm Castings by Hungry Bin.
These worm bins are complex. The worms live on top, and their castings (composted waste) fall through to the bottom, where they are harvested.
Stacked Tray Composters
Stacked Tray Worm Composter – The Worm Factory 360
This is a system that is designed in order to conserve space. A series of bins or trays are stacked vertically, with holes that allow the worms to migrate upward as they consume the food. You can make these yourself or purchase them.
These are very much like shallow worm bins, but the focus is on breeding worms rather than producing castings. Castings are produced along the way of course, but most people use these when they are producing and selling worms.
The Best Worm Composting Bin
It’s easy to get started with worm farming. You’ll get a ton of great benefits plus it’s a great choice for your garden! The best worm composting bin is the one that produces plenty of worms and is easy to maintain.
You can build your own bin using the instructions above or there are quite a few ready-made worm composters you can buy if you prefer a more structured setup.
We took a look at the most popular bins on the market & our vote for the best worm composter goes to the Worm Factory 360 by Nature’s Footprint. Why do we like it?
- It works indoors or outdoors, so you can continue composting through the winter months.
- The trays allow you to add to your expanding worm farm, one tray at a time.
- It’s easy to separate the fully composted material.
- The handy spigot to pour out compost tea.
We suggest adding 1 tray a month in the beginning. Each tray will be fully composted in about 3 months. This means every month, you can empty the lowest tray, adding the castings & soil back to your garden, then return it to the top to start the process over again.
Here is what is included in the kit:
- 4 tray Setup (expandable)
- Nutrients for the Soil
- Worm Ladder (to help the worm move through the composter)
- Worm Tea Collector Tray with spout
- Hand Rake
- Instruction Booklet + DVD to take all the guesswork out of the process.
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