Red Worm Composting Bins
There are a lot of red worm composting containers on the market. Finding the right one is often the first obstacle to overcome in vermicomposting (composting with worms). In general, there are two types of containers. You can choose between a stacking bin system or one large container. There are good and bad aspects of both types of containers. Let’s discuss the pros and cons when it comes to set up, maintenance, and harvesting your vermicompost manure.
But, let’s dive into a few red worm facts:
- Red worms live within the top 6 inches of dirt
- Red worms thrive in temperatures between 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit
- Red worms die in freezing temperatures and those above 85 degrees
- Red worms ideal ph level is 7.0 but can live between 4.2 to 8.0
- Red worms like damp, but not wet conditions (think of a wrung-out sponge)
- Red worms can consume their own body weight daily in food in the optimum conditions
- Red worms can mate any time of year
- Red worm eggs take at least 20 days to hatch
- Red worm eggs can contain up to 3 baby worms
Overview of Red Worm Composting Containers
As mentioned above, you can think of vermicomposting bins in generally one of two systems.
The most common and inexpensive way to get started with is a one bin system. Often people look to repurpose tote bins, recycling bins, or even old bathtubs. Because many single bin systems are made of upcycled and easily found materials, it is the more environmentally friendly way to get started. We recommend you pick a container that is wider than it is tall. For example, a tote bin is often easier to maintain than a trash can. Since these containers are not specifically made for worm composting, you will need to make some required.
If you would rather start with a ready-to-go system, you can purchase vermicomposting systems. Many ready to purchase worm composting systems come in the form of a tower or stacking containers. Tower systems are made specifically for worm composting. They have features to get rid of any excess liquids, and extra trays to add new bedding and compost.
Single Bin System
Tower bin system
Readying your container
Creating a cozy worm habitat
You will want to get your bedding ready a few days to a week prior to your worms arrive. This will a little time for beneficial bacteria to start making a home in your container. Be sure that you use gloves when handling your worms and their bedding from this point on. Overall, there are no dangers in worm composting. It’s just a good practice to protect yourself from bacteria in the bin and the worm bin from your bacteria.
After all of the dry bedding has been added to your bin, you will want to add moisture. If possible, use spring water (its pH balance is naturally 7, the ideal for worms) to hydrate your bin. Your goal is not to soak the bedding but dampen it. Think of it as the same level of moisture as laundry before you put in the dryer. Depending on your bin’s size and the amount of bedding, you can use a spray bottle to wet the material.
It is good to let this bin sit for a few days before adding the red worms. You want to make sure your bin does not begin anaerobic decomposition and raise the temperature to an unsafe level for your worms. Simply stick a thermometer into the bedding and make sure the red worm composting container is below 80ºF. If it does spike above 80ºF, wait a few days until the temperature reduces, and you’re ready to add your worms.
Special notes for do-it-yourself and upcycled worm bins
Add air flow
If you are making a do-it-yourself red worm composting container, make sure you plan for plenty of airflow. A common mistake people make before adding bedding, or their worms are not creating enough air holes. Without enough airflow, your bin can
Drill several holes with a large drill bit or hole saw around the bin’s top and in the lid. If you are concerned about pests getting in or your worms getting out, you can use a screen. Use some silicone caulk or staples to adhere to the screen to the bin.
Deal with moisture
Worms like a moist environment, but not wet, not soaking. It is common for people to drill holes in the bottom of their bin. This will allow leachate to drain from the bin. Leachate is a common composting product from vegetable decomposition.
It is important to note that you can maintain the moisture level of your bin without drainage holes. With proper bedding and feeding habits, you can keep a damp but not soaking moisture level in your vermicomposting bin.
Containers built specifically for worm composting are built with these considerations in mind.
Great items for worm bedding
You will want to get your bedding ready a few days to a week prior to your worms arrival. This will a little time for beneficial bacteria to start making a home in your container. Be sure that you use gloves when handling your worms and their bedding from this point on. Overall, there are no dangers in worm composting. It’s just a good practice to protect yourself from bacteria in the bin and the worm bin from your bacteria.
Household items that can be used as bedding
- Corrugated cardboard (undyed, natural)
- Cardstock egg containers
- Toilet paper & paper towel internal rolls
- Newspaper (avoid pages with color ink or glossy pages)
- Office paper & mailers
- Coffee filters
- Used coffee grounds (acidic, use in moderation)
Natural items that can be used as bedding
- Coconut coir
- Leaves (in moderation)
- Composted manure (not ideal for indoor bins)
- Peat moss
Add-ins to help your worms
Worms do not have teeth, instead, they have a gizzard. Their gizzards store coarse materials to help them breakdown food. You can include these items when creating their bedding, and in future feedings.
- ground or pulverized, clean, eggshells
- diatomaceous earth (also acts as pest control)
- dirt (not potting soil)
Add red worms to the composting container
Now that you’ve added the materials and stabilized the bin, it’s time to add your red wigglers. We recommend digging a shallow hole to help some of the worms to better orient themselves in the soil. You can leave the lid of your container off for a few hours after adding your worms. Light encourages them to seek the darkness in the bedding.
It doesn’t matter if you have a single bin or stacking tower system; worms may try to escape the bin if you choose to put the lid on right after adding your worms. The sides of your bin are usually full of condensation, your new worms may seek the moisture from the side of the bin.
If you wake up to find all of your worms clinging to the side, leave the lid off. After a few hours or even a day, they will seek out the bedding.
Thankfully it is pretty easy to keep your composting worms happy, give them a diet of foods they enjoy, keep the bin damp (but not wet), and check the pH levels every once in a while.
If you have a single layer bin, it may be more difficult for you to achieve the right moisture level. When you add food to the bin, it will decompose, adding additional moisture. Be sure to add a little dry bedding with each feeding to help absorb any excess moisture, and prevent your bin from filling with leachate.
If you have a stacking bin system, they often have plenty of drainage holes, and a spigot at the base to help you drain leachate. If you do plan on using leachate for fertilizer, be sure to dilute it 10:1 and avoid using on edible plants.
The size of your bin, amount of worms, and the conditions of your bin will dictate when it’s ready to harvest the compost. Worm castings (worm poop) can help add vital nutrients and bacterias back into the soil. The vitamins and nutrients have been broken down and are now available to your indoor and garden plants.
You will want to store your worm castings in an airtight bucket to prevent them from drying out. Worm castings can be tilled into the soil, spread around the base of plants, or made into something called “compost tea.“
Harvesting a single bin
Over time, your bin will start to fill up. As you start running out of space, stop feeding for five to six weeks. This gives your worms time to breakdown more bedding and consumes all of the food in the bin. When your bin no longer has remnants of paper or food scraps, you know it’s ready to harvest.
Start your harvest by opening the lid to your bin, and even shining extra light directly on the surface of the compost. Light encourages worms to burrow deeper into the container.
After twenty to thirty minutes of exposing the surface to light, you can harvest the first inch of soil. With a gloved hand or spoon, gently scrape the layer of soil away. If you start seeing any worms in the compost, stop and shine the light on the surface again.
Complete this cycle of shining on a light on the surface and harvesting the compost. You don’t want to harvest all of the compost available. It is good to leave a few inches of the old compost in the bin.
After you’ve harvested what’s available. Add fresh bedding and food for your worms. They will be happy for some fresh food and bedding to start
Harvesting a single bin
The benefit of using a red worm composting container that is a tower system is that you can remove a layer of finished compost at the bottom, without disturbing worms at the top.
You when you notice a tray no longer has any unfinished bedding or food, you are ready to harvest.
Start by laying a tarp or trash bag on a table. Often the top layer of compost in your tower system is the least composted. Gently remove the top layer and place it on the tarp. Use this bin as a place to put any worms you find while sorting your compost.
Take out the bin below the top bin and flip it over on the tarp or trash bag. You can either start harvesting right away or use a light to encourage worms to burrow deeper in the pile.
With a gloved hand or spoon gently scoop the first inch of compost. Remove any redworms and cocoons you see from the compost. Return these worms into the top bin that should be on the tarp too.
Once you’ve cleaned out the middle tray, place the former top try in the middle. Add new bedding and food into the tray you just harvested. Place this tray on the top, and now your worms have room to grow, and you’ve harvested nutrient-rich compost.