Editors Note: This article has been reprinted from Red Worm Composting for your convenience. There are a number of similar articles on the internet with lots of videos on YouTube. I felt this one was quite extensive and would get you started the right way.
I have added my own article at the end of this one with photos to give you an idea of how I have set mine up and what the end results look like. See Composting My Set-Up Part Two
The purpose of this page is provide you with an overview of worm composting. Be assured that I will also be providing many other articles and blog posts that explore the various aspects of vermicomposting in much greater detail.
Here is a video I made not too long ago that discusses what I feel are the “fundamentals” of worm composting. If you are looking for a quick and dirty overview of this topic you may want to check it out:
Below is a more detailed description of some of the more important components you’ll likely want to consider before starting up your first vermicomposting system (keep in mind that this section was actually written LONG before I made the fundamentals video).
Once you have read through those sections you should be well on your way towards being able to set up your own worm composting system. I have also included a section on building & setting up a worm bin, where I’ve included some YouTube videos I made.
There are a wide variety of options when it comes to choosing the type of worm bin you want to set up. If you are the handy type you may want to build your own creation, OR if you don’t mind spending the money perhaps you will opt for purchasing a complete worm bin system (which may come with bin, bedding and worms).
For anyone interested in simply trying out vermicomposting (or if you want to save some money), I would recommend heading to your local hardware store and grabbing yourself a standard Rubbermaid tub (with lid) or something similar.
Some things to keep in mind when you choose your vessel – 1) Light penetration, 2) Surface area vs depth. An ideal bin will be opaque (ie not allowing in light) and will be relatively shallow.
Red worms (and earth worms in general) are very sensitive to direct light – it can lead to considerable stress and even death if they unable to escape from it.
As far as depth goes, you don’t need to worry too much about exact dimensions but you definitely do want to put more emphasis on the surface area – this allows for greater oxygenation of the bin and also allows the worms to spread out more.
In other words, a Rubbermaid tub will be much better than a bucket.
Something I would recommend is either setting up multiple small bins OR one decent sized bin. The larger the system the more buffering capacity it will have. For example, I have a very large outdoor bin (5X3X3 feet). All worm composting experience aside, the sheer size of this system makes it very worry free. Even if there are unfavorable conditions in one section of the bin, the worms can easily move into many other favorable zones.
Similarly, I tend to keep 2 or 3 small indoor bins at one time, plus an “overflow” bucket (for excess food waste), thus making it much easier to ensure that balanced conditions prevail.
All that being said, there is nothing wrong with a single worm bin in the size range of a typical ‘blue box’ recycling container. This size of bin should be large enough to provide both buffering capacity and waste-processing potential for a typical household (especially if you use an overflow bucket and/or an outdoor composting heap as well).
Another important thing to mention is aeration. If you are using a typical Rubbermaid type of bin its not a bad idea to drill some holes in the lid and along the sides prior to adding your bedding/worms etc. This allows for more air flow in and out of the bin. If you have your bin sitting on some sort of tray you may even desire to drill a few holes in the bottom of the bin – a great way to ensure bin contents don’t get too waterlogged.
Composting worms not only need food, but also some sort of habitat to live in – bedding materials provide both. Ideal worm living conditions can be created initially by adding lots of bedding material with a decent amount of waste material (and likely some water to ensure adequate moisture conditions).
People often refer to the ideal composting moisture content as being similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. Higher moisture levels do tend to work better for worm composting, but this is definitely a good guideline to start with (especially when using a water-tight bin).
Some great materials for bedding include shredded cardboard (my favorite), shredded newspaper, aged straw, coconut coir, fall leaves and peat moss (although I prefer not to use this material since it is not harvested in a sustainable or environmentally-friendly manner). Worms seem to absolutely love rotting leaves, so definitely don’t be so quick to kick those bags to the curb in the fall. The downside of using leaves (aside from seasonality) is the fact that they don’t really absorb much water – this is why my ideal bedding will consist of a mix of leaves and brown cardboard (another material worms seem to have a real affinity for).
Bedding materials will typically need to be moistened before worms are added. In fact, a practice I highly recommend when starting a new bin is mixing bedding with a decent amount of moist food waste, then simply letting the mixture sit in a closed bin for a week or so before adding worms. This way you are creating a very friendly environment for your worms to live in. Aside from activating the important microbial community, this also allows for moisture to makes its way throughout the bin materials.