Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vermiculture: Getting Started

When I first heard of vermiculuture, I seriously thought this was called "worm culture". Turns out, I wasn't too far off. Vermis is latin for worm and thus, vermiculture is the raising and production of earthworms for the purpose of both the worms themselves and their byproducts.

Why compost with worms? 

Black Gold; Worm Tea. Okay, I'd better explain because a friend of mine who's a chef thought I was seriously going to drink the worm tea!

The black gold I'm referring to is a combination of worm castings and decomposed garbage that is rich in nutrients and micro-organisms; wonderful for adding to your existing soil as an amendment to help your plants grow strong, healthy, and nutrient rich.

The worm tea is the liquid that drains off. Again, it's rich in nutrients and can be used to water your plants.

And of course, the worms, if they're happy, are making lots of baby worms and before long, you may have so many worms that you might want to share some with a friend! 

Personally, I like the fact that my children and I can watch nature up close and participate in the cycle of life that God has established in order to care for each of us and all of His creation. His works never cease to amaze me!

If you're an urban homesteader, particularly in an apartment, worm composting is perfect for creating your own potting fertilizer! Imagine a balcony or patio of healthy, lush produce!

Can you use any worms?

Not all worms are suited for composting. Earth worms do better directly in the soil, but red worms and European night worms are suited well for this container type composting. I was able to get my worms from a friend who had been composting about 2 years (thanks Maureen!). You can purchase them if necessary, but they're not cheap! Just think of this as an investment in your fertilizer for the year!

How does it work?

The worms help accelerate the breaking down of garbage by tunneling through the material. This allows more air to circulate and prevents you from needing to turn the compost so often. In addition, as they consume some of the kitchen waste, they add their own waste to the mix (castings). Just like chicken or cow manure, it's good fertilizer.

Making Your Own Worm Composter

You'll need:

2 large plastic bins about 18 gallons in size
1 lid to fit one of the bins
2 bricks or blocks
1 discarded screen or screening material you've purchased
a drill with a large bit
duct tape
compost bedding such as shredded newspapers, leaves, coir, saw dust, etc.
composting material such as kitchen scraps and coffee grounds
red worms

* This project cost me less than $10 because I used a reclaimed screen and got my worms from a friend!


Drill holes along the top of one of the bins to create air flow for the worms. 

Add the two bricks to the bottom of the other container so that the container with holes is sitting inside this container and is elevated (see photo above).

Drill more holes in the bottom of the same container that you originally drilled holes for air. The holes on the bottom are for drainage. The liquid from the compost will pass through these holes into the container with the bricks.

Cut the screening material out of the old screen or measure enough to cover the bottom and sides of the container with holes. 

Start taping the sides with the duct tape and then eventually tape the corners so that it is flush with the container. The screening material will allow the liquid to pass through, but not the worms or the composted material.

Wet the shredded paper. We used a wash tub with water but I don't recommend this method. Use a spray bottle with water instead. Also, there is some discussion on proper paper - newspaper with black ink only is best, but we went with what we had - recycled copy paper.

Place the newspaper in the bin.

Begin layering with other materials.

Add some coffee grounds. 

Add kitchen scraps and more coffee grounds (worms love the stuff).

Turn and mix a bit. This should be damp, but not soaking.

Now you can add your red worms!

Happy at home already!

Be sure to add your lid (sunlight can hurt these little creatures) and place your bin out of direct sunlight so that you don't cook your worms! They enjoy a moderate temperature - they are cold blooded, so they will be the temperature of your room. I have mine in the laundry room for now, but when summer arrives, they might be living in the garage!

I've barely scratched the surface on this topic, so if you'd like to learn more about worm composting, Red Worm Composting is a great site with lots and lots of information to get you going successfully. And they sell red worms, too. 

Don't forget to check your "tea" in the bottom container and remove it regularly so that it doesn't fill up too full. Just lift the other container out, set it somewhere (like in the grass!) and dump the tea where it can work for you. In a few months, you'll be able to harvest some of the castings. But be sure to get as many worms out as possible before you do. Perhaps I'll learn the trick to doing that easily and I'll report on it later!

And finally, as you add more kitchen waste, be sure to add more bedding and wet it with the spray bottle, keeping your bins at least half full. I'll talk in more detail about adding material in another post.

Anyone else interested in vermiculture? 


  1. Very nice set-up! I tried this last year in my garage, but black soldier flies took over. They work equally well for composting, but are a little gross. I ended up dumping the whole thing onto my outdoor compost pile.

  2. Great post Amy! A long time ago I did this and it was successful. I am a firm believer in composting, etc., and will be doing this again! Thank you! Worm castings are wonderful in houseplants!

  3. I'm so glad you posted on this! I've been becoming more and more interested in worm composting for my garden this year, but hadn't seen how to build a 'home' for them. I like that this is so simple and so cheap. I'm wondering if you could add some sort of a spigot (like a cooler has) to the bottom tote and seal the outside of it with caulk or silicone to keep it from leaking. Do you think that would make accessing the tea easier or just be a pain?

  4. Oh Amy, you keep me challenged!

    I am interested in this, just haven't had enough time to research. This helps.

    Right now, my hands are full with 9 kids, 3 "on the way" goats and hundreds of seedlings....maybe when the weather breaks I'll do this.

    Thanks for the information!

  5. This makes me want to try the same thing. You make it look pretty easy and painless.

    I have read about this a few time before and I remember an article that gave advice on harvesting the castings without throwing out most of your worms.

    The advice was to start feeding the bin way over to one side for a while (a couple weeks maybe?) so that all the worms would migrate to one small area of the bedding. Then you can take 75% of the material out to use as compost and only remove 10 or 20% of the worms.

  6. I started a worm bin a year ago. My kids like to feed the worms. :)

    The worms will breed and multiply too. I started noticing eggs and baby worms within a few months.

    Your site is so nice. I think I'm going to have to try some of those Tattler canning lids this year.

  7. I want to DO THIS. I LOVE worms. I really love worms. Thanks for sharing this info.

  8. I've been interested in "worm"iculture for a while now...and will someday have a tub of my own! Thank you for the made it look FUN!

  9. jimmycrackedcorn, thanks for the tip on harvesting the castings without the worms! That's a great idea and I'll be giving it a try when the time comes.

    Pam, I was wondering the same thing myself. Sure would be easier. I'll let you know if I give it a whirl.

  10. I am so glad you wrote this Amy. I have been meaning to post about it but just haven't had time. I will instead link to your post ;). You didn't mention anything about offering your guests worm

  11. My Handy Man and I have been talking about doing this for a while. You've made it look really easy. I'm printing this off for him to see. This will work great for us for two purposes - my garden and he loves to fish!
    You always have such interesting information. Thanks.

  12. Ahhh! The screen in the bottom! That is what I failed to do and the reason my worms escaped (or fell out!) I will try again with the screen. I do have a difficult time getting enough food scraps, though. Most go to my chickens. :>
    ~~~ Blessings!

  13. Oh Yes! This is next on my to do list! Thanks for the lovely pics and how to's!

  14. I've been wanting to do this for years! But my chickens eat most of my scraps anyway. But I love the idea!

  15. HI Amy~ love this post, as I do each of your posts...this is the most amazing bin you have built! I put worms in my compost pile/hole in a corner of the yard, but the dirt is so hard the worms only stay in the compost. It's great to see the green waste disappear; and the plants love the egg shells and coffee grinds....wishing you a lovely week...

  16. If you have rabbits, whose manure is excellent for gardening, then you can build your earthworm pit under the rabbit cages. That's our plan, eventually.....Once we get to that project ; ) Mother Earth News has a very old article about this.

  17. Neat Amy, I'm hoping to get my son to make us a regular composter real soon. Maybe we will try this instead. Hope all is well with you and your family! Blessings ~ Carmen

  18. Thanks for a great post on composting. I am definitely making one of these next weekend. Living a "homesteading" life is a bit challenging at 6000 feet. Our growing season is variable, to say the least, but we do the best we can.

  19. This looks very interesting - how many worms do you start with in this size container? Thank you. Heather

  20. Heather, I'm guessing I had about 50. I don't think it matters much how many you start with. If conditions are right they will multiply.

  21. Yeah I also agree. Actually its all about priorities. Thanks for this wonderful information!

  22. I LOVE my worms!! We've been vermicomposting for over six years now. I have multiple bins and take one to school every year for the kids to "sort".
    I keep my bins outdoors all summer (in the shade)but bring them in for the winter so the lovelies won't freeze. I added another tub to one of my bins so that I could have a three tier system; it makes separating the castings from the worms even easier because the worms climb to the top (where all the food is) leaving the lower tier basically worm-free.
    And, Pam, I haven't installed it yet, but I bought a spigot at a resale shop (on an old sun-tea jar) to install on my bin.

  23. Amy, this is perfect! On my list this year is to start getting serious with composting. I'm definitely making my own vermiculture and I believe I can order my worms through Azure Standard. Thanks for linking up and sharing this on Simple Lives Thursday!

  24. I wish I had known about the class that you and Mona went to. I keep a much smaller bin, so my worms don't suffer when I give scraps to the chickens. Also, I freeze then thaw any thing that I am planning to put into my worm bin. It helps things break down faster by breaking cell walls.

  25. I read something not long ago about making sure the worms you use are the smallish native ones NOT the large foreign ones. Evidently some of the eggs go out with the castings and the worms become invasive, crowding out the good guys in your garden. I wish I remembered where I read that article so I could link it.

  26. Carol, I believe you're right, that some of the worms, babies, etc. go out with the castings, but red worms do not do real well in most areas and only do well in composters from what I understand. So I think the chances of them becoming prolific in the garden are slim. There was a place somewhere up north where some kind of earthworm/redworm was upsetting a forested area, but I don't remember where I read that either. talks about the various kinds of worms and what application they do well in. Also has some great information.

  27. Amy I was wondering if you have any updates on your worm composting? My husband and I are starting one and I was curious if you had any suggestions on it since you have been doing for a while now. Thanks!

    1. So far it has been doing great! We just fed them and added some recycled brown paper from my bi-monthly produce box I receive. Lots of black castings in there and the worms have definitely been happy - multiplying dramatically! As soon as it's warm weather, I intend to harvest some of it and use it in the garden or in pots. This has been a very long term project to get started but sooooo low maintenance that it's worth it. I'll do a follow up post when I do.


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