Vermicomposting 101: How to Start a Worm Bin System

Consider vermicomposting during the winter to provide container plants with nutrient-rich fertilizer.

| January/February 2014

  • Compost food scraps and reduce the amount of garbage you send to the landfill.
    Photo By Veer

Composting outdoors is wonderful, but it requires space and, in most climates, the warmer temperatures of spring, summer and fall. Just because it’s winter or you don’t have much outdoor space doesn’t mean you have to send your kitchen scraps to the landfill. You can easily compost indoors with helpful wiggly worms.

For help on starting your worm bin read 7 Tips for Setting Up a Worm Bin.

Using earthworms and microorganisms to convert organic waste into black, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich humus is known as “vermicomposting.” The whole vermicomposting process is simple, and it results in wonderful fertilizer for your container plants and compost for your garden.

Vermicompost is the compost you get from a worm bin system, which includes both castings and decomposed matter. Castings are the nutrient-rich waste worms create. They are excellent as a topdressing fertilizer for container and garden plants. Along with worms, a vermicomposting system has naturally occurring microorganisms that help decompose kitchen scraps and, over time, the worms’ organic bedding material.

What Do Worms Need?

Many kinds of worms break down garbage, but for vermicomposting, red worms (Eisenia fetida, or “red wigglers”) are best. They can be shipped easily. Order them through Worm’s Way or Green Greg’s Garden and Worm Farm. To make your worms happy, consider these conditions. 

Temperature: Red worms convert waste best at temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees, but they can also plow through garbage in a basement bin with temperatures as low as 50 degrees.

Bill Bryant
1/12/2014 7:42:35 AM

I use a milk crate lined with fine mesh hardware cloth. I sit this on top of a new bin with fresh bedding. I then dump the contents of the old bin into the milk crate and let the worms migrate to the new bedding on their own.

1/9/2014 9:29:34 AM

Mary Appelhof was a friend and associate. We met just a I started composting with worms 19 years ago. My comment is that in separating the worms from the vermicompost, a better procedure is to remove the bedding from the top of the bin and set it aside, then make long rows of the bin contents in the sun on a black plastic sheet. Allow several hours for the process. Once you've made the long rows, just wait while the bright light and low humidity drive the worms down. After half an hour or more, go through the rows scraping the drier worm-free vermicompost off the row. Scrape until you see the first worms. Then allow another drying time for the worms to retreat. Repeat this process until there is a thin layer of vermicompost covering a bunch of nervous worms. Collect all the worm-free vermicompost and then lift the plastic sheet and dump the contents back into the bin. Use a spray bottle of de-chlorinated water to float all the baby worms down into the bin also. Questions? -also visit my worm blogs on Mother Earth News website.

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