If there’s a way to make things complicated, someone will find it… then post a “how to” on the Internet. From composting to container gardening, there’s always a difficult and time-consuming way to do a project that should be easy.
If you look up “composting with worms,” you’ll find detailed instructions on care, feeding, building worm bins, etc. There’s a lot of good info out there – don’t get me wrong – but there are also a lot of folks selling high-tech setups that are way beyond the basic systems needed to keep worms happy.
If you’re on a budget and thought you couldn’t get started in the world of worms, take heart. Today I’m going to show you just how easy keeping worms can be. Here’s how you can make a free worm bin in four easy steps.
Step 1: Find a Container
I’ve kept worms in plastic bins and in an old refrigerator. I currently keep them in a broken dishwasher lying on its back. Check it out:
Red wigglers – the most common composting worm – like to live in piles of leaves, manure or other organic material. They’re not really “diggers” like their cousins the earthworms. That makes it easy for home vermicomposters.
All you need is a decent-sized container to get started. Chances are, you already have something lying around the house that would work as a free worm bin. Maybe an old cooler? A bathtub? A watering trough?
You want your container to be big enough to hold a decent amount of worms and organic matter, so I’d stick to 20 gallon-sized or up.
I really like the broken dishwasher I’m using now, since it’s small enough to fit into a shady corner behind my barn but large enough to hold plenty of worm food.
Step 2: Drill Some Drainage Holes
Improper drainage is a worm killer. My first worm bin had tiny drainage holes in the bottom that clogged up, causing an anaerobic worm massacre. I learned my lesson and now make sure drainage is good.
When you do set up your drainage, make sure you have a way to catch the “worm tea” that leaks out of the bottom. That stuff is truly amazing plant food thanks to its broad mix of nutrients and microorganisms. If you’re really clever you can add a good spigot to the bottom.
All I did for my dishwasher worm bin is to turn the dishwasher on its back and drill holes at the lowest points. I then lifted it up on some bricks and tucked a container underneath to catch the worm tea. Simple.
Step 3: Find a Top
If you’re going to keep your worm bin indoors, you need to make sure flies can’t get into it and create a minor public health crisis in your house. At the same time, the worms need to get enough oxygen, so you can’t just snap a tight lid on your container and walk away.
Finally, you don’t want your worms to go migrating to your living room one night. If you’re using a plastic bin with a matching top, just drill or cut some decent-sized holes in the top, then glue some little pieces of window screening over the holes.
If you have a less-secure home in mind for your wiggly friends – such as my dishwasher – you’ll want to keep them someplace where a few runaways or flies don’t matter.
Step 4: Fill it Up
Red wigglers love wet, shredded cardboard and paper. What you don’t want to do is load up your worm bin with a bunch of rotting food right away. The worms need to get settled. When you add too much food, it rots into a slimy mess rather than being quickly eaten by the worms.
Just find a bunch of paper – I like to use my bills – and start ripping it up, then soak it in a bucket of water, squeeze it out after a few minutes, then throw it in the container. I recommend filling your new worm bin about 2/3 of the way to the top with shredded paper or cardboard before adding your worms.
I also add a few handfuls of sand or soil when I start a bin to give the worms a little help with their digestion, as well as to add a variety of bacteria and fungi to the mix.
Once I’ve added my paper substrate and some soil, I put in my worms and give them a litte bit of something to eat by burying some food scraps a few inches into the paper. Try to avoid adding meat, cheese, oils and that sort of thing, as well as staying away from food scraps that might be contaminated with pesticides. Worms love watermelon rinds, coffee grounds, old salad greens and even like to hang out in clumps inside of eggshells. They don’t seem to like banana peels or citrus, however, so go light or just avoid those until you learn your worms’ eating habits.
As you can see, composting with worms doesn’t have to be a big deal. You can make your own free worm bin for a minimal amount of effort and you’ll be on the way to vermicomposting greatness.
If you’d like to dig deeper into composting with worms, a great place to start is with Mary Appelhof’s classic book.
Also, if you don’t feel like building your own, Worm Factory makes a nice worm bin that will work indoors.
And finally, here’s my favorite homesteading homegirl Marjory Wildcraft talking with a guy who created a very simple setup to turn food scraps into valuable worm tea: