Worm Composting: A Beginner’s Guide

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

This is your quick and easy beginner’s guide to worm composting. This beginners guide is designed for my readers who want to compost in small spaces or their apartments. I’m not going to go into anything too in-depth in today’s blog. Instead, I want to give you an idea of what you need to get started. I will cover which containers to use, how to set up and maintain your red wigglers. You can convert a surprising amount of food waste into all-natural nutrient-rich plant fertilizer. with the right conditions

I’m always looking for new tips or tricks, so be sure to share your insights in the comments below

Now let’s get started. Let’s discuss what container you should consider when looking to get started.

Setting Up Your Indoor Worm Composting Bin

The type of bin you choose can make a big difference in how you feed, maintain, and harvest your bin. When you are looking at bins to store your redworms, you will want to look for something that will give you the most surface area. Redworms do not live deep in the soil like earthworms. Instead, these worms live between 6 to 12 inches below the surface. Sometimes in they can even live in the leaf litter on top of the soil in forested areas.

Beginner's guide to worm composting
Wide shallow bins are generally good
red wigglers do not prefer tall narrow bins
Tall narrow bins are generally bad

Beginner’s guide to worm composting tips for finding the right bin:

  • Worm bins can get heavy, so imagine how difficult it will be to move once full.
  • Make sure it has a lid. Does not have to be 100% secure, but a lid is a must.
  • If you do use a trash can style bin, it can difficult to scoop the finished compost from the bottom
  • Must be waterproof
  • Tote bins are easy to find, easy to upcycle and modify if you already have one

Making your bin worm friendly

Worms like a moist environment with a good amount of airflow. Before you add any bedding to the bin, you will want to drill aeration holes around the top inch of the bin. You can also drill holes in the top to allow for plenty of aeration. Bins that do not have enough aeration often lead to over-saturation, which will cause worms to flee the bedding in search of air to breathe.

Some people like to drill a hole in the bottom of their bin, which canto allow for drainage. Adding a place for excess water to drain prevents your bin from being waterlogged. If you choose to drill a hole in the bottom, place the bin on a waterproof surface. Think of a baking sheet or boot tray, depending on the size of your bin. If you use totes bins, you can nest the bin with holes inside a bin without holes. However, you should not need this to maintain your bin with the right aeration, bedding, and feeding schedule.

Materials For Vermicompost Bedding

Now that you have added air holes and a way for excess water to escape, you’re ready to add bedding for your worms. Ideally, get your bin’s bedding set up about a week before your worms arrive. Shredded shipping boxes (only the natural brown corrugated), newspaper, and office paper all make a foundation for your worm bedding. One of the amazing things about redworm composting is that it can divert many recyclables from the waste stream.

It is best to either shred, cut, or rip your materials into small pieces. If you add large pieces of bedding in your bin, it will give your worms fewer places to hide and make their colony. This could lead to a lower worm reproduction rate, as well as slower eating.

Many of the recycled items are great at trapping moisture generated from feeding your worms. You can also add a small mix of:

  • coconut coir (all natural if possible, well rinsed to remove any salts or byproducts)
  • peat moss (too much can raise the acidity)
  • composted manure
  • leaves from your yard (avoid leaves near roads or likely contaminated with pesticides)

I like to use 50% newspaper, 20% brown cardboard, and coconut coir to start my bins.

This beginner’s guide to worm composting would not be complete if I didn’t tell you not to add potting soil or dirt to your bin! This is a very common mistake. It is important to remember, these are not earthworms, and they do not prefer to live in the soil. They prefer to live toward the top of the surface and in the decomposing matter.

Adding Moisture To Your Bedding

Once you add your mix of recycled and natural items, you will need to add moisture to your bin. Worms like to live in a damp but not wet environment. What does that mean? Well, think of it as the same moisture level as a wrung-out sponge. It is damp to the touch but not soaking.

A few days before your worms arrive, you will want to add a small amount of food in one corner of the bin. The amount of food will depend on how many worms you are stocking the bin with. Even a few tablespoons of chopped-up table scraps can help your new worms get established.

Putting Red Wigglers In The Bin

After you have found your bin, added aeration, and a great mix of bedding materials, it’s time to add the worms. You are going to want to stock your bin with roughly .25 – .5lbs of worms per square foot of surface area. This will allow having enough space to establish themselves in your bin. With a little time, you will see your redworm population grow.

When you receive your worms, dig a small pocket into the bedding and release your worms in the pocket. It is a good idea to put them near (but not in) the pocket of food you planted days earlier.

Leaving the lid off for the first few days they are home can encourage your worms to explore the bedding. Eventually, they will start moving toward the food you left and take in some nutrients. During these first few days, it is important to keep the “wrung-out sponge” moisture level. Check on your bin daily, and spray with water if necessary.

If you choose to put the lid on your bin right away, your worms may want to escape. To encourage them to go back down to the bedding, open the lid for a few hours or days. The light and air often drives the worms back down to soil and shelter.

What To Feed Your Compost Worms

After a few days to a week, you will need to start adding more food to your bin. A good rule of thumb is never feeding your worms more than they can eat in one weeks’ time. If you do, it could raise the temperature and increase moisture because of decomposition. Many guides say that a worm can eat their own weight in food daily.

I have found that the best way to feed my worms is using the pocket system. This means digging a small pocket in the bedding in a different location each time you feed your worms. I prefer this system as it allows you to measure how much and how quickly your worms are eating. You can check the last place you fed the worms before you feed them again.

When your mixing your worm food you will want to include something called grit. Grit to help the worms digest the plant matter. Worms need the grit for their gizzard so they can break down and digest food. Small additions of coffee grounds, clean and crushed eggshells, crushed oyster shells can help your worms increase their ability to digest their food quickly.

Feeding Your Worms

Good Worm FoodBad Worm Food
Avocados, squash, watermelon, bananas, leafy greens, eggshells, coffee groundsAcidic foods (tomatoes, Onions, Citrus), meat, human waste, pest waste, potatoes
More about specific worm foods

I find that it is best to blend all of my food scraps in a blender and apportion the mixed goop into toilet paper rolls. I freeze the rolls and let them thaw 30 minutes before use. This method allows me to have food on hand along with keeping it neat, tidy, and measurable.

After you feed your worms, it is a good idea to add a layer of damp, unshredded newspaper & cardboard. This acts as a protective layer for the worms and reduces the likelihood that pests like fruit flies will be attracted to the bin.

Maintaining Your Worm Composting Bin

After your worms are established, and you’ve figured out their feeding schedule, you’ll move into the maintenance phase. They are happiest between the temperatures of 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. They can survive in warmer or colder temperatures, but they will not eat or reproduce as quickly.

Worm Reproduction

A healthy worm community can double at least every six months in the right conditions. It’s important to note that redworms can regulate their own population. Once the worm population reaches the bin’s carrying capacity, their eggs hatch less often.

Managing leachate

If you are noticing a build-up of water at the bottom of your bin, you probably need to add more dry bedding. This liquid is called leachate, an excess of waste liquids that have built up in the bin. This is not to be confused with compost tea or worm pee.

Adding Calcium

You should add a calcium buffer of one type or another regularly. For example, you could add it into your worm food or sprinkle it on top of the bedding. Items such as eggshells, crushed oyster shells, glacier rock can all add calcium to your bin. The added calcium helps your worms lay eggs stronger eggs and neutralizes the acids produced during decomposition.

Adding Bedding

Add new bedding as necessary. You will figure out the balance of how much bedding you need to maintain the moisture level of laundry after the spin cycle. There are many different strategies to how much and how often you should add dry cardboard and papers.

My personal strategy is to keep a small trash can of dry shredded bedding next to my worm bin. Then, when I pocket feed, I first add a handful of dry bedding at the bottom of the pocket. I then place the food on top of the dry bedding and top with a little extra dry bedding. This creates a little sandwich that allows the food to decompose and moisten the dry bedding.

Harvesting Worm Compost

No Beginner’s guide to worm composting would be complete without a little overview of how to get the worm poop out of the bin. You will likely have to wait at least 6 months to a year after starting your bin to harvest the worm manure. There are a lot of different techniques when it comes to separating the worm from the poop. Some people simply scoop out a handful of worm manure, pick out the worms, and store it in a plastic coffee can or pale.

Overall, I want to stress being gentle with your worms as harvesting the manure can be very disruptive to worms in your bed. One of my favorite suggestions involves feeding on one side of the bin for several weeks before your planned harvest. This way fewer worms will hang out in the location you plan to harvest.

After you harvest the area, add new bedding, and encourage worms to explore the new bedding through your feeding strategy.

Summary: Beginner’s guide to worm composting

No beginner’s guide to worm composting can give you all of the absolute right or wrong answers. There are a lot of different variables and you must be willing to experiment. Reach out to people in online communities and act as your own scientist.

Did I miss your favorite beginner tip or trick?
Leave your suggestion in the comments below

Happy composting!