How To Start a Vermicomposting Bin

Worm compostingYou can make fertile, odorless compost, even if you live in an apartment. If you want to go green in your garden or with your houseplants, why not start a vermicomposting bin? Vermicomposting uses worms to convert newspaper and table scraps into some of the best compost around. All it will take is some space in a closet or basement, table scraps, and a small bin. Oh, and the worms! It's easy, and you can create rich, organic compost year round for pennies. There are prepackaged kits available, or you can take the do-it-yourself approach that follows.

Create a Worm Composting Bin

To create your own custom bin, start with an opaque plastic tub with a lid. A 20" x 30" bin should do it. Drill ten 1/4-inch holes around the bottom for good drainage, and also drill holes on the sides for air circulation. Eight to ten holes per side will be enough. Place mesh screening in the bottom of the inside of the bin to keep compost from dribbling out. Put a plastic tray under the bin to catch any drips, and elevate the bin off the tray a few inches. Now your bin is ready to fill.

Prepare Bedding Materials

One of the most plentiful and easy to use bedding materials is newsprint. It contains carbon, absorbs moisture and odor, and is loose enough to provide good aeration. To prepare your newsprint, shred it and cut it up into small pieces, about an inch across. Don't use colored newspaper. If you want to vary the mix a little, you can also use dry leaves. Before you add the bedding material, wet it to the consistency of a damp sponge.

Buy Vermicomposting Worms

The best composting worms are red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), and you can find them online or through your local bait shop. A pound of these little beauties can process up to a pound of table scraps a day.

Organize Your Scraps

This bin is specifically for kitchen scraps. Adding any garden material will overwhelm the balance you are trying to create, so leave the yard waste for your outdoor compost pile. For your vermicomposting bin, use kitchen scraps that aren't derived from animals. This means you can use vegetable peelings, either cooked or raw, teabags and coffee grounds, but don't use meat, cheese, bones or fat.

Putting Your Vermicomposting System Together

Once you have your bin, bedding and worms, you are ready to put your vermicomposting system together. Fill the bin a third to half-way with moist bedding material and top with two cups of coffee grounds or fine sand. Place the worms on top and cover. The worms will work their way into the bedding and start making themselves at home. Don't add table scraps at this point. Let the worms settle in first.

Feeding the Worms

After a week, add three to four cups of scraps to the top of your bin with another cup of moistened bedding material mixed in. Make sure that the scraps have been cut into pieces no larger than an inch across. During the first three weeks, wait four or five days between feedings and never feed over four cups of scraps at a time.

After a few weeks, the worms will start to multiply and you can feed them more frequently. An established bin can take daily helpings of scraps mixed with new bedding material.

Harvesting Vermicompost

In a couple of months, you will start to notice rich finished compost. To get your compost out of the bin without disturbing the worms too much, remove the lid and shine a bright light on the top layer of bedding. The worms will burrow down toward the bottom to get away from the light, and you can begin harvesting compost.
Your harvested compost can be stored in a bag or box until you need it. It's great for houseplants, seedlings, and established garden plants.

Vermicomposting Supplies and Materials:

· Plastic container (20" x 30")
· Screening material
· Tray
· Bricks
· Shredded newsprint
· Pound of red wigglers (Eisenia foetida)
· Table scraps
· Coffee grounds or fine sand
· Drill with a quarter inch bit

Special Vermicomposting Tips and Tricks:

To keep your vermicomposting bin at peak production, try adding new scraps to the middle of the bedding once in a while. Lift a couple of the top layers, sprinkle scraps, and cover. This will help aerate the bedding and direct activity back to some of the lower layers.

Shred lots of newsprint ahead of time and keep it nearby.

To avoid attracting fruit flies, keep the amount of fruit you add to a minimum.

Vermicomposting is a good way to introduce children to gardening. After getting over the initial shock of keeping worms, they can become almost like pets. While they're creating great compost, they can also teach some important lessons about living with nature.

After a few months you will have enough worms to give some to a gardening friend, or start another bin of your own.


  1. Great post!
    I love my worm composting system, it is very good at creating great nutrients for my garden, while reducing my waste output to landfill.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Anonymous3:12:00 PM

    I am SO! excited to have stumble across your page! Your articles here, handsandknees, and Suite101 have been so helpful! I cant wait to get these squiggly little guys mulching my scraps, and since Im practically a novice gardener, so much of your sites have been pricelss. I would love to see your work in a publication. Thank you kindly,

  3. Anonymous1:47:00 PM

    SO COOl. At my school we are going green. we are going to have a composting. GO GREEN!!!

  4. I can't believe I didn't know more about this. I read an article about a school doing this with their leftover food, so I had to find out more. Looks easy enough for anyone to do!

  5. MJ,

    It is pretty easy. It can be fun too, particularly if there are children involved.

    When you actually set up your bin, you'll be surprised at how protective and affectionate you can feel about a tub full of worms.

  6. One way to insure you don't overfeed your compost worms is to add the food first down one side (start with 8 oz. of moist, not wet, grated scrapes), then the middle, then down the other side. When you go back to the first side, if the food isn't all gone, don't add anymore until it is. If it's all gone, add a little more than 8 oz, and repeat the process, and only increasing the food volume as the worms require more. You're sending your worms all over the bin and not overfeeding (which can cause heat-up or too acid conditions)

  7. Howdy, great to see more folks getting on board with vermicomposting!

    I've been keeping compost worms for about 5 years now, and I find that worm bins made out of wood work a bit better than plastic or styrofoam. Wooden bins breathe better, and also absorb excess moisture. That helps keep your worm bin from getting too wet and stinky.

    I have some photos of the 3 square foot wooden worm bins I use up on my blog:

    Whatever material you use, have fun with it. Your herbs will *love* the compost your worms make for you!

  8. Hi there!

    I just wanted to let you know this was an AWESOME post!

    I wrote a post about vermicomposting on my own blog, and referenced this article. Thanks so much for this great information!

    Here's the article link if you'd like to see it:

  9. Hey Heather,

    I checked out your article and really enjoyed it. I'm also blushing from all the praise. I plan on visiting often.

    Good luck with your bin and all your worm buddies.



  10. Vermiculture is a great way to really feed your soil. I used to live in Costa Rica, and our main fertilizer that we used was from our worm beds. The casings being water soluable is very useful for feeding seedlings and the like :)

  11. I could use some help/advice:
    I set-up my vermicomposting bin, following the directions as closely as possible. My worms arrived in the mail on Friday, so I am on Day 3 of the first week. More and more worms seem to be dying. I think they had a hard, hot trip thru the mail, but was hoping that some would perk up after settling into their new home. I know very little about worms. There are some still alive, but my bin is starting to smell, and all that is in there is damp newspaper, leaves, and coffee grounds. I misted the material, and removed the lid of my plastic bin to give them more air. Any suggestions? I have plenty of holes. Should I remove the dead worms? Or just let them decompose? I would like to get as many of them to thrive as possible. They are in my basement, where it is probably 71-72 degrees.


  12. Emily, that's a tough one.

    I think I'd drive the live worms toward the bottom of the bin (with a strong light) and remove all the surface material and dead worms - then start over.


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