Worm Composting: Preparing the Worm Bin

How do you recycle your food waste? Or do you?

If you’ve been sending your veggie scraps, leftover spaghetti and moldy food to the garbage disposal, there’s another option – a worm bin or worm compost.

Worm bins do not smell (as long as you maintain it properly), can reduce your garbage by as much as 20 percent and the fertilizer produced is purely organic, which is great for indoor and outdoor plants.

You can buy a worm composter on Amazon, your local home improvement store or make one yourself from plastic totes. The retail version usually comes with 3 composting bins, and a bottom collection bin for excess  moisture. The bottom bin has a spigot, so you can use the fertilized water or “worm tea” to water your plants. This organic liquid is much better than those that you buy at home improvement stores because you know there isn’t any other chemicals in it, and your plants know too.

The retail version also contains a “starter kit” complete with fibrous bedding (shredded newsprint), core (shredded coconut husks), pumice stone, and detailed instructions how to initially setup your worm bin along with helpful hints to maintain it. The worms must be purchased separately. I highly suggest you purchase the worms from a reputable and local resource. I live in Ohio, so I bought mine from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm in Michigan. Worms arrive LIVE and within a day or two after you order them, DO NOT allow them to sit outside; otherwise, you might have dead worms! These are NOT earthworms, they are RED WRIGGLERS, a smaller breed that help break down your food scraps. Start small, you do not need 3000 worms if you’re just beginning a worm bin. They will MULTIPLY quickly!

Tips before you order your worms:

  • Setup your worm bin first – follow the steps below or the directions included with the worm bin. You may use the worm bin indoors (I have mine in the kitchen) such as in the basement or an attached garage or outdoors if your climate remains temperate year-round. Worms need a consistent temperature between 50 and about 75 degrees (you don’t want them to freeze or burn or become too dry).
  • Be ready to “feed” the worms upon arrival. Worms need about 1/4 pound of food per day to be effective (but less initially when introduced to a new environment).
  • Make sure you are home when the worms are due to arrive.
  • Although instructions say you can add cereal boxes and paper towel rolls to the worm bin, I discovered this is not a good practice if you have the worm bin indoors. Evidently tiny worms are in the cardboard, and you’ll produce gnats if you add the cardboard to the bin (yuck!).

Preparing the first worm bin for the red wrigglers:

1. Layer 1: Soak layers of newspaper (printed is fine, better to use the black and white print rather than the color inserts for the first bin. Squeeze out excess water and lay this in the bottom of the bin (with the holes).

2. Add a mixture of core (included with your worm bin, it’s coconut husk), pumice stone (also included with your worm bin), and either soil, leaves (from yard, but without chemicals) strips of moist newspaper or eggshells. I used paper from my shredder soaked in water for moisture, and egg shells. Worms need moisture to decompose food through their skin because they have no mouths. Note: If you’re adding another bin, you’ll want to leave the holes accessible so they can move upward to the next layer of food and bedding. So omit the layer of newspaper at the bottom.

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The first layer, a mixture of core, pumice stone and shredded paper (moistened). Enough to cover the bottom of the bin.

3. After the bedding is a layer of food. Note: Do not add food until your worms arrive; otherwise, you’ll have bugs flying around! I used some leftover pasta with cabbage and carrots from the frig. It’s best to use food that has been refrigerated or frozen (but defrost first) to reduce infestations of insects that live on the skins of fresh veggies and fruit. Keep the food in a thin layer and put in a different section of the bin.

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Add a layer of food on top of the bedding.

4. Add another layer of moist newsprint, enough to completely cover the inside of the bin. It’s okay for the layers to overlap. Worms do not like light, so they will burrow under the top layer of newspaper. Worms also use the newspaper as food if other food has been decomposed. Hence, worms can survive in this environment for weeks without your food scraps.

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Layer soaked newspaper on top of food scraps.
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Completely cover the inside of the worm bin with moist newspaper.

Put the lid over the newspaper layer. Now you’re ready to order your worms.

5. Add worms: When your worms arrive, read the instructions for adding them to their new environment. You’ll want to “peel back” the soaked top layer of the newsprint and add the worms here. Cover the worms with the newsprint again and allow them to adapt to their new environment for a couple days undisturbed.

What questions do you have about composting with worms? Ask them below!