Red Wiggler Compost Worm Bin

When I first got into vermicomposting with red wigglers 5 years ago, my first compost worm bin was a styrofoam cooler with about 1 square foot of surface area.  It worked for a while, but my colony eventually died out.  I think the primary reason was the container was just too small to allow the red wiggler worms to move to the areas that best suited them.  I’ve also tried plastic compost worm bins, but I find that the plastic makes it easy for the bin to stay too wet.

Hemlock compost worm bin from the side - 38" long

Hemlock compost worm bin from the side - 38" long

For the past 4 years or so, I’ve been building my compost worm bins out of wood, and making them large enough that there’s plenty of room to bury the food scraps and for the worms to move around as needed.  My preferred material now is rough-sawn hemlock, but any wood that is not chemically treated will work fine.  The wood will decompose slowly, but you should get at least 5 years out of it before it rots too much to be usable as a compost worm bin (and then you can still re-use it as a flower or herb bed).

Hemlock compost worm bin from the end - 14" wide

Hemlock compost worm bin from the end - 14" wide

The size of compost worm bin I recommend (and offer for sale when I’m at a Farmers Market) is 38″ long X 14″ wide X 12″ deep.  That provides inside dimensions of 36″ X 12″, or exactly 3 square feet.  Three square feet of surface area is sufficient for 3-4 lbs of red wiggler compost worms — so if you start with 1-2 lbs, you’ve got room for the colony to expand.  It’s always better to have a compost worm bin that’s a bit too large for your current needs than a bit too small.  The bigger the bin is, the better it keeps at the correct moisture level and the less often you need to empty it.

Hemlock compost worm bin from inside - 11" deep

Hemlock compost worm bin from inside - 11" deep

There’s no need to ensure that the joints of the bin are 100% tight and worm-proof.  As long as you maintain good conditions in the bin, the red wiggler worms would much prefer to stay in the moist, food-filled inside than to venture out.  I also don’t use a tight-fitting lid — I usually just lay a piece of cardboard over the top of the compost worm bedding to keep moisture in and light out.  I’ve never had a problem with compost worms escaping from a setup like this.

It’s practically impossible to completely worm-proof a container, anyway.  Even plastic containers with snap-on lids have enough gap around the lid for the worms to escape.  All but the largest red wiggler compost worms can even squeeze through standard window screen.  It’s far better to concentrate on creating good living conditions for your red wigglers than to try to create a “cage” they can’t escape from.

It’s pretty easy and inexpensive to build your own bin if you’re fairly handy.  I also offer them for sale sometimes — contact us for more information.

Happy worm farming!


7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Deb Malgeri said,

    I recieved my worms about 4 weeks ago. Proceeded to set up my composter a
    Gusanito Vented Roof Design. We have now gone into the 3rd bin with food scraps and am unsure when to havest etc.
    The good news, the worms are still alive. The bottom drawer still has lots of worms and the compost is dark, a little more than moist but not what I would consider wet, I could squeeze some liquid from it.
    The next drawer up has began to decompose however there is still scraps and lots of worms too. The third drawer we have put some bedding and scraps and a small number of worms have made their way up.
    I am worried that I am building too fast. A few fruit flies are hanging around.
    Any suggestions.

    • 2

      wormy_acres said,

      Hi Deb, thanks for writing!

      I don’t have a lot of experience with those fancy multi-level worm bins. As you can see above, I prefer a simple wood worm bin design. Sounds like things are going pretty well in yours, however.

      From what you describe, I would guess that you’re feeding a bit too much for your worms. Many people cite 1/2 pound of food scraps for each 1 pound of worms per day, but I’d suggest something closer to 1/3 of a pound of food scraps per pound of worms, especially as you’re first getting started. It’s much better to underfeed slightly than to overfeed (creates smell, excess moisture, pests, and all sorts of problems). Underfeeding your worms will just make them grow a little slower.

      I’d suggest being patient and feeding a little bit less right now. If that means throwing away some food scraps — so be it. You’ll be a lot more successful in the long run if you give the worms only as much as they can comfortably handle at any one time.

      As for when to harvest, I’d wait until the bottom bin seem like it has almost no food scraps and very few worms. The idea behind those multi-level setups is that you’re not supposed to have to separate the worms out of the compost as you harvest. That’s one of the trickiest things for new worm keepers to get the hang of.

      Have fun with it, and don’t hesitate to write again if you have questions!

  2. 3

    Paul said,

    We’re thinking about starting a vermicomposting bin. I am concerned about having enough newspaper for the bedding, which is what I have seen recommended for the red wiggler bins. Is there other material that can be used? What about other paper that would go in the recycling? I know glossy paper cannot, but what about regular copier paper? The kids bring home so much school work that just ends up in the recycling.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    • 4

      jaseroberts said,

      Hi Paul, thanks for writing. The reason newspaper is recommended is that it is minimally processed and not bleached or treated with (many) other chemicals. It is also thinner than regular paper, so breaks down quicker. It’s also very easy to tear into strips.

      One option would be to ask a local convenience store or other place that sells newspapers if you can have their unsold papers. Once a paper is a day old, they just get recycled.

      I’ve used chopped dry leaves with a lot of success (mixed with newspaper).

      I think regular copier paper would probably be fine, also. Maybe give it a shot in 1/2 of your bin, so the worms can move to the other side if it doesn’t work out.

  3. 6

    Linda said,

    I was wondering about food scraps. How do you store scraps before hand when you are saving some to start a worm compost? I am keeping food scraps in a plastic bucket with lid right now but worried about spoilage. It is in the house right now.

    • 7

      jaseroberts said,

      Hi Linda, I think your best bet is probably to freeze the food scraps if you need to keep them more than a few days. If you just let them sit in a bucket, they will spoil and get really nasty. That apparently will produce an acidic environment that is not good for worms.

      When you first get your compost worms set up, feed them very sparingly for the first couple of weeks. Overfeeding is probably the #1 cause of worm bin failure.

      Once your compost worm bin is going, storing the food scraps in a closed container on your kitchen counter for a couple days at a time is fine. Many people find that an old cooking pot with a lid works very well — something that’s large enough to conveniently hold your scraps, and easy to open with one hand. You want to make it as easy as possible to add food scraps as you’re cooking or cleaning up.

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