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Beginner's Guide to Worm Composting

By Edited May 22, 2015 1 2

Worm composting is a growing thing. While some people cringe that there is a large box of worms under my kids' bunk beds, others turn their head and want to know more. There are so many worms in that sweater tote that you can hear them moving around when you take the lid off. It's exciting for the kids and helpful in a huge number of other ways as well. The cool thing is that worm composting is easy and can be done by anyone!  

Why Worm Composting?

There are a lot of different reasons that one chooses to do worm composting and each person has to decide the reason for them. Here are several good reasons that you consider.

  • Worms eat garbage. More and more people are aware that the earth is filling up with garbage and it's not a good thing. While worms aren't going to eat your old tires or the chicken bones you threw out last night they do eat a lot of different garbage and that can reduce how much you throw away.
  • Worms can be fed to fish. This comes in two forms. First worms can be fed to aquarium fish and they are good for aquarium fish. Second, they are also good and easy to grow bait. If you are a fish keeper or a fish angler than you may want to consider worm composting for the worms themselves.
  • Worms make great dirt. Worms eat all sorts of garbage from newspapers to apple cores to bread that you refuse to eat. They digest it, eat it again, and digest it some more. All this worm digestion makes for worm castings. Worm castings are amazing dirt. Plants love it because they are packed full of good stuff including carbon, phosphates, and nitrogen. You don't have to buy fertilizer you can just use worm castings as your dirt and mix them with water for liquid fertilizer later on.
  • Worms can be a great science project. For those that like doing interesting things with their kids this can be a great one. Worms are fun to watch, fun to hold (just ask my three year old), and you can watch the cycle of food in and dirt out really easily. You can also look at worm eggs, check out baby worms, and so forth.

If any of these things appeal to you then you should jump on board and set up your very own worm bin. It's easy to do, easy to keep, and can help you “green” your lifestyle.  

Red Wiggler

Building a Worm Bin

Worm bins can be made out of almost any solid container that the worm isn't going to eat through (pretty much anything but a cardboard box). One common choice is a plastic bin. You want it to be a good size if you are looking at having a number of worms because a small space will get cramped pretty quick. One option is an under the bed sweater tote.

Once you have a box you have to make sure that it has some holes in it. You need holes toward the top or in the lid for ventilation and holes in the bottom for drainage. You want to make sure that there is enough ventilation for your worms to get air and for their to be a release of gases that come off of food in the bin (as it rots). You also want plenty of drainage so the worms don't drown if it gets too wet. You should cover each hole with a cloth or screen to keep the worms in and other bugs (particularly flies) out.

If you are keeping your bin inside then you want to make sure that you place the tote on a tray or inside of another tote to catch any water that comes out. You don't want worm “tea” as is often called on your floor.  

Under the Bed Tote
Credit: Amazon

Worm Composting

The first step is to give the worms a really comfy place to go. This base is often called bedding, but that might be a loose term since the worms will happily eat the material you put in there as bedding. Whatever you end up using you should make sure that it is damp and doesn't feel dry or wet.

  • Paper/Cardboard – You can use shredded paper, newspaper, the papers you don't want others to read, magazines, and cardboard. Ideally you should soak heavier weighted stuff like cardboard and magazines for at least 24 hours to get them softer. You can use stuff right from your shredder or hand shred stuff.
  • Grass Clippings/Leaves – Dead plants of all sorts also work well. This includes grass, leaves, weeds, and so forth. Again you want to make sure that they are moist, but not real wet.
  • Sawdust – Sawdust takes longer to turn into soil because it is harder. However, it too can be used as bedding material.
  • Compost – Traditional compost with or without aged manure can also be used. You just need to make sure that it isn't too hot. Fresh compost full of green material and manure can get really hot. The worms need a mix below about 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can also use a mix of these materials such as cardbaord with leaves or grass and sawdust. Only one warning is that you really need to make sure that there are no chemicals coming from plant materials, sawdust, or other bedding you choose. It's bad to poison them with pesticides for example.  

Worm Composter
Credit: Amazon

Getting Worms

Finding suitable worms for your worm composting bin isn't as easy and going out and digging some up. You can't use worms that normally dwell in the ground because there isn't enough space and the food matter isn't as suitable. Instead you need worms that will thrive in your bin. The best choice is the Red Wiggler (Eisenia fetida). You can find these for sale on the Internet, local fish groups, and other worm composters. You can even find them for sale on The Freshwater Reef (from my worm compost bin). You can also contact me here at InfoBarrel if you want to make arrangements for buying red wigglers. 

Feeding Your Worms

Your worms will consume their bedding matter, but you want to add other foods to it so that you can raise healthy worms and have them multiply for you. You can add a wide variety of foods including:

  • Fruits and Vegetables – You can toss in all sorts of fruits and vegetables including the parts that you won't eat such as peels and cores. Use citrus in moderation.
  • Coffee and Tea – You can add coffee grinds and tea bags to the mix as well. They will eat the filter (if you use a paper filter) and the bags. However, removing the staple is a good idea if throwing tea bags into the mix.
  • Egg Shells – You will want to grind these up and use them in moderation.
  • Starches – You can also toss in bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, but should only use small amounts of these foods.

The worms will do best if you give them a wide variety of foods and focus mostly on fruits and vegetables.

On the other hand you want to make sure you keep it healthy so you shouldn't add human or pet waste, items that won't break down (everything needs to be biodegradable), no animal products (dairy, meat, or eggs), no oils or grease, and you should never put chemicals in there.  

Harvesting From Your Worm Composting Bin

There are two types of harvesting that you can do from this bin. You can harvest the worms if you need them for something or you can harvest the soil if you want to use it. There are several options. Here are a few ideas to get you started so you don't have to just sift through it trying to get the worms out.


  • Place wet oatmeal into a pile onto the top of the soil in your worm bin. Cover that with a flat surface (such as a lid from a plastic container). The worms love the oatmeal and will come up to the surface and pile there to eat it. You can pick the lid up and grab the worms.
  • Place a pile of dirt and worms on a piece of plastic and place it in a bright place. Then give them time to go to the bottom. Then you should flip it over and pick the worms off the top of the pile.


  • You can use the pile trick to get the worms to go down and then pick the dirt up off the bottom.
  • You can place a tote with uncovered holes on top of the other tote. Then fill that one with new betting and fresh scraps. As old food is finished the worms will crawl up into the new tote and eat the new food leaving mostly soil in the bottom tote.  

Worm composting can be easy and it can also be a lot of fun. You will be doing the earth a favor while you are making high quality dirt and worms. Now's the time to dig in and get a little dirty.




Mar 20, 2012 7:36am
Thank you very much for your comment the other day. I am printing this one out. Not that I'm too fond of worms, but I'm definitely game for composting and, if that it what it takes, so be it! Hahaha!!! Thumbs up for a workload of information!
Mar 20, 2012 10:35pm
I actually started doing this for our fish, but I love getting rid of my food wastes as well! We don't have a good outdoor place to put a compost pile or bin because it's really hot here and we rent. However, regular composting is a great thing as well!
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