What Container or Materials Should You Use for a Homemade Worm Composter?
Worm Bed Plans and Vermicomposting Bin Design
Worm Composting (Vermicomposting) is easy, convenient, good for the Earth, good for your plants, and fun. Worm composting allows you to responsibly dispose of your kitchen scraps while at the same time creating a high nutrient compost that you can use on your indoor or outdoor plants. For more on the basic principles of worm composting please read Getting Started with Worm Composting
Worm composting is a form of composting in which you feed your vegetable food scraps to a specific type of earthworm, red wigglers. Red wiggler composting worms need some sort of container or bin to live in. Almost any container can be used as a worm bin or you can build your own to meet your needs and those of your worms. This article will give you recommendations on what type of container or material to use and how to build a homemade worm composting container.
Factors to Consider When Building Your Homemade Worm Composter
- Air Flow - Worms breathe through their skin and need air to live. You will need to allow your composting worms access to fresh air. This is usually done by simply drilling holes in the sides of the worm composting container or bin, or by installing some sort of vent (in a larger vermicomposting system). You could also choose to leave your worm bin open on top provided you are planning to keep it inside a house, shed, or garage.
- Will your worms live inside or outside? - The answer to this question will determine if you need to think about insulating your bin in some way to make sure the worms stay within their ideal temperature range. Too much heat will kill worms just as freezing temperatures can also kill red worms. Foam or Styrofoam insulation can be built into the walls of the worm bin or you could go the low tech method of simply piling hay bales around the worm composting container in the winter. You can easily learn to proper vermicomposting management and you will not have to worry about worms leaving the bin or the worm bin stinking. I keep a homemade worm composting container under my desk at work and have had no problems.
- Size - The amount of food scraps you want to compost should determine the size of your worm composting container. The size of the composting container (more specifically the volume of the bedding in the worm bin) will determine the size of your worm population. The size of your red wiggler worm population will determine how much and how often you can feed them. Before you start worm composting, do a little experiment to determine what size vermicomposting system you need. Track (and weigh) your food waste each day for a couple weeks. This will give you a good “per day” average. You can use this to calculate what size container (and worm population) you will need to get the job done.
- Harvest Method - Some worm composting containers make it easier to harvest the worm castings than others. If you choose to use some sort of storage tote, bin, or box, it will be a bit of a challenge to separate your worms from the vermicompost that you want to add to your garden. In contrast, a flow through worm digester is more difficult to set up but makes harvesting much simpler. In a flow through digester the worm bedding rests on a grate that is raised off the ground. The worms eat upwards leaving their nutrient rich castings behind on the bottom level which then falls through the grate and you can easily scoop it up and use it however you want. Trash cans can easily be turned into flow through worm digesters. Simply cut a hole in one of the sides near the bottom and install a grate above the hole to support the worm bedding. The very simplest way to harvest is not to harvest at all. Simply, dig a hole or trench right where you want the nutrient rich casting to eventually be (like in your vegetable garden!). Then, fill the hole with bedding, worms and food scraps. Use a board as a cover and manage the same way you would a bin or homemade worm composting container. Instead of needing to harvest the castings to add them to your garden, the nutrient rich worm poop will seep into the ground around your in-ground worm composter. I rotate the in-ground worm composter spot each season in my garden so that eventually the whole garden will be enriched.
- Anything - As long as you follow correct vermicomposting principals, almost any container can be used as a homemade worm composting container. I have personally had success using: storage totes, wooden boxes, plastic containers, an old chest freezer, a cracked ice chest, and several rolling trash cans.
- Storage Tub - Rubbermaid style storage totes/tubs are most commonly used by beginners. They are cheap and very simple to get started. You will have to drill holes in the sides for air flow. For detailed instructions on make a worm bin from a storage tub read How to Make a Worm Bin
- Small Plastic Tub - Some families choose to keep a small plastic homemade worm composting container in their kitchen or under their sink for easy access to food scraps. Using a clear tub is fun because you can see the worms moving around as they work.
- Wood - Wood is cheap and easy to find. Because the bedding needs to be wet, the wood will rot in a handful of years. Be sure not to use painted wood on the inside of the bin as this could affect the worms.
- Old Freezer or Ice Chest - These work particularly well because they already have built in insulation.
- Trash Can - A trash can makes an excellent flow through worm digester or large simple worm bin. If you opt for the rolling trash can, you have the added benefit of it being easy to move.
- No bin, Dirt walls - As I mentioned above, you can worm compost in the ground right where you want the benefits of the nutrient rich worm castings. I use this technique in my vegetable garden but you could easily also do this in your flower bed.
If you follow proper vermicomposting principals, almost any container can be converted into a homemade worm composter. Chances are you have some sort of old storage bin or ice chest right now that you could use. Or, using the above info you may choose to design and build your own worm composting bin. Either way, get started soon and enjoy your worms!
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