Vermicomposting Basics: What You Need to Know About Composting with Worms

By Teresa J. Frith & Priya Agarwal

vermicompost

Vermicomposting, also known as worm composting,  serves the same ultimate purpose as conventional types of composting. They each use a natural process to break down organic materials. But while conventional composting methods rely on fungi and microorganisms, with vermicomposting it’s worms that do all the work.

Another difference between the two is that conventional composting breaks down organic materials via heat that the microorganisms generate, then what’s left has to cool down so it can cure and thus produce the end result of fertilizer for your garden or lawn. That process can take about six months. In vermicomposting the worms eat kitchen and lawn scraps and poop out castings to create a very rich and powerful type of fertilizer. That process takes two to three months.

 What Is Vermicomposting?

Vermicompost itself is the end result of the worms breaking down the scraps and converting it into the lovely, rich fertilizer. The scraps fed to the worms to produce this fertilizer include things like vegetables and fruit peels, cores, etc., as well as bread, coffee grounds, tea bags, coffee filters, egg shells, and other organic materials like grass clippings and leaves. 

Just don’t feed your worms things like fats, bones, dairy products, meats, fish, or animal or human poop. Regular paper is ok if it is shredded, i.e. shredded cardboard is great bedding for your worms and they likely will eat it as well. Avoid pungent foods like onions or garlic unless you don’t mind the smelly results.

Vermicompost Pros and Cons 

Pros

  • Vermicompost is full of several things which assist in getting seeds to germinate quicker as well as grow stronger roots. This includes plant growth hormones, phoic acids and humic.
  • The compounds found in vermicompost appear to provide plants with protection from diseases and pests.
  • Plants have been shown to grow larger and produce bigger fruits and vegetables if grown using vermicompost.

Cons

  • If you add in too much food and other scraps, the bacteria will multiply too fast and heat up your worm bin. This could kill the worms, so you only should add around an inch of scraps to  your bin once weekly. You must keep the worm bin between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit to keep  your worms healthy and happy.
  • You must take care of your living composters – the worms. You do this via making sure they have a proper bin to live in with appropriate moist bedding, enough air flow so they get the required amounts of oxygen and of course the right foods.

 Kinds of Vermicomposting Techniques

the worm bucket worm bin

There are three kinds of vermicomposting techniques: beds, windrows and bins. A bin can be just about any size, it depends on how many worms you are housing. You keep this bin above ground and must make sure the temperature stays between 55 and 77 so your worms won’t die, so must keep this bin indoors in an appropriate place.

Beds consist of long troughs you dig into the ground or put into the ground. Beds retain a more consistent temperature than bins, plus the worms are in their natural environment. However, you have to dig into these beds to get the worm castings, so it’s harder to harvest it.

Windrows are a mix of the two methods. They consist of large, long mounds which sit on the surface of the ground. They are large so can resist rapid temperature changes and it’s easy to harvest the castings since it is above ground.

 Vermicomposting products

Vermicomposting produces three things: worms, worm tea and fertilizer. You can double your worm quantity about every two months if you feed them well and take care of them. You may wish to sell some of your excess worms as fishing bait to make extra money. The other two products are useful for fertilizing and nourishing plants. Worm tea is the liquid which drips out of a worm bin and like the fertilizer (castings) it is full of great nutrients for plants.

Vermicompost Harvesting 

worm tea

It’s easy to harvest the castings or worm tea. Just put some type of plate or platter under the bin to catch the worm tea, and you can scrap the food or other scraps to one side to look for the worm castings, or gently comb through the mixture to take out worms to sell. You can store any unused fertilizer or worm tea if you don’t use it up right away. The castings can be stored for about six months and the worm tea for about half that timeframe.

Why should you do vermicomposting?

So, why should someone choose vermicomposting? For one thing it keeps those scraps from being dumped into a landfill. It also produces nearly free fertilizer you can sprinkle on your garden and lawn to make it healthier. Plus, it’s actually a fun activity for kids too.

So, no matter if you want a garden full of healthy and nourishing fruits and vegetables, are keen on being more eco-friendly with your food and lawn scraps or want a fun project for your kids, vermicomposting is the way to go. 

Vermicomposting is great for you and the planet. It produces high-quality fertilizer for your garden and reduces food waste, keeping garbage out of landfills and ultimately toxic gases out of our air.

Although the answer to “Should I vermicompost?” is clear, deciding which method to use in your compost bin can be a little trickier.

So, let’s break down why a worm compost bin is a great choice!

What is a worm compost bin?

worm bin for vermicomposting

There are three main methods of composting: aerobic (with air), anaerobic (without air), and vermicomposting (with worms).


Vermicompost requires the use of a worm bin. A worm compost bin is exactly what you think it is—a bin full of compost and worms (and no, it’s not gross at all).

When you vermicompost, you add food scraps, dry leaves or paper, a bit of moisture, and red wriggler worms to a worm bin. Then, the magic happens!


What are worm castings?

Worm castings are the final product you’re looking for when you vermicompost in a worm bin. It’s basically worm poop, but that title doesn’t give this stuff the credit it deserves.


Worm castings:

  • improve soil aeration and drainage ability
  • increase water retention in soil
  • repel garden pests like aphids and spider mites
  • add essential nutrients to soil to help plants grow
  • are gentle on plants and can be used in any garden

The Four Main Types of Worm Bins

Although all worm bins produce worm castings, not all bins are the same. Here’s a quick guide to the four most basic types of worm bins.

Really, any container can be turned into a worm bin. It doesn’t need anything special or fancy, except it will need a few holes for proper aeration.

A recycled plastic trash can or an old wooden drawer would both work as great containers for a worm bin—as long as you maintain your compost properly!

A Flow-Through Worm Bin

With a flow-through design, there are separate compartments that allow the worm castings to flow downwards. In this type of worm bin, you feed your worms food scraps from the top compartment.

In a flow-through worm bin, the worms can move freely throughout the entire system. As the worms wriggle around, the smaller worm castings naturally fall downwards, thanks to gravity.

Stackable Worm Bins

Not to be confused with flow-through worm bins (which also feature a stackable design), stackable worm bins are a combination of flow-through designs and basic container designs.

With stackable bins, you’re meant to feed your worms in a new compartment once they’re done with the old one. You continue “moving up” as you harvest from the bottom. This design ensures the worms are disturbed the least.

Worm Composting Beds

This type of worm bin is typically found outdoors. Any open space can be used to create a worm composting bed, and you only need some lumber or brick to create one yourself.

DIY Worm Bins vs. Buying a Worm Bin

Worm Bucket worm bin

Whether you want to DIY a worm bin or purchase one is up to you and your needs!

While DIY options tend to be cheaper, I’ve found that DIY solutions often lack the little details that make specially designed worm bins worth the money.

With a DIY worm bin, you might experience:

  • worms escaping (they’re explorers!) 
  • difficulty harvesting the worm castings, especially if using a simple container
  • problems with ventilation

If you’re on a budget, DIYing a vermicompost worm bin is easy and cost-effective. But if you want a solution that is convenient to set up and maintain, consider purchasing a pre-constructed worm bin.

  Which Composting Worms Should I Buy?

compost worm

When most people hear the word ‘earthworm’ they likely imagine a pinkish, squirmy little creature found buried in their backyard or as bait on the hook of a fishing line. But did you know there are more than 4,000 different species of earthworms throughout the world? As an aspiring vermicomposter, it is important to know which species of earthworm will be most effective in your worm bin to ensure vermicomposting success.

Eager to get your worm bin up and running, you may be tempted to head to your own backyard and collect earthworms for your worm bin. Is this an option? The short answer is no. Not only are there thousands of different worm species, but there are also three different types of worms. 

Earthworms are one of three types: deep burrowing (anecic), lateral burrowing (endogenic), and surface-dwelling (epigenic).

Deep burrowing worms are known to burrow four to six feet underground through a series of vertical tunnels. A commonly known species is the Nightcrawler, that worm we mentioned earlier that you will find at your local bait shop. They also tend to grow quite large and do not thrive in large populations.

earthworm

Lateral burrowing worms are the backyard garden worms you may have first pictured. They are fantastic in gardens to help aerate dense, compact soil, but they are not ideal for your worm bin.

It is important to know the burrowing habits of worms so you can choose a worm that is appropriate for your bin. So when thinking again about the worms in your backyard, you have to consider how different that environment is from the worm bin you are building. Deep burrowing and lateral burrowing worms would not be happy in your household worm bin and will ultimately not be productive.

The best worm for successful vermicomposting is the surface-dwelling, red wiggler.


Another reason red wigglers are the champion of the worm farm is that they readily reproduce in a worm bin with the right balance of: moisture, bedding, food, temperature, etc. The reproduction cycle of the red wiggler is just 27 days, so that means that in the right conditions your worm population could double in about two months. These worms can also regulate the population in your bin by slowing down reproduction when they are nearing capacity.

All of these qualities combined are the key reasons why red wigglers are the best worm partner for your vermicomposting system. When you set them up for success, they will turn your table scraps into ‘black gold’ right before your eyes.

You may not have known it, but there are about 2,700 types of worms. One of the best kinds for doing composting or for fishing are red worms. Red worms are quite common and can live for up to five years, which is one reason people like to use them. Some of the other names they go by include tiger worms, manure worms, brandling worms, and striped worms. 

Feeding and care of red worms

As you can see by their name, these worms are red in color, and when they stretch out that’s when you’ll notice the striping on their bodies. They are easy to care for and maintain. Some of what red worms eat include

  • Shredded leaves
    apple core
  • Vegetable scraps and peels
  • Coffee grounds 
  • Coffee filters
  • Fruit skins and cores (no citrus fruits)
  • Moist tea bags
  • Breads (moistened prior to use)
  • Dry dog food (moistened prior to use)
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Ground up egg shells (sparingly)
  • Grass clippings

 Things not to feed red worms:

  • Dairy products
  • Meat products
  • Processed foods
  • Fish products
  • Grease or oils
  • Human waste

 Uses for red worms

fish

As stated earlier red worms are mostly used for fishing bait and composting. Red worms can actually convert organic elements into a rich all-natural fertilizer via earthworm castings, which are their poop. In only a day they can generate about 75 percent of their body weight in these castings. This is like gold for producing healthy and large fruits and vegetables, as well as for a green and lovely lawn.

When it comes to using them for fishing bait, they are great for fish such as perch, trout, bluegill and crappies, but other types of fish will happily eat them as well. Fishermen love them because they can survive submerged under water for much longer than some other breeds of worms used for fishing.

 Breeding red worms

Red worms are simple to breed and very prolific. They can lay a single egg capsule once a week and each of these capsules holds about 3 or 4 baby worms. So, as long as you keep your worms healthy and happy, you’ll never run out of them. You just need a container such as a five gallon bucket, bedding, appropriate food and moisture and you’re set for raising red worms.

Just remember to not keep the bucket in direct sunlight and keep them in a warm, dark area like a basement for best results. Be sure to weekly fluff up their bedding of shredded papers or other materials so they get enough oxygen, and spray their enclosure with water if it looks too dry, but don’t drown them.

All in all, red worms are a kind of common earthworm used mainly composting and as fish bait. They are easy to feed, breed and maintain and can be kept in your basement or outside if the temperature is warm enough for them. So, if you want the best gardens or to catch the most fish, be sure to get yourself some red worms today.