Vermicomposting Worm Farm – DIY, Easy, and Frugal

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Making Dirt – Part 2

This is part two of a two part post on compost. Read part one – DIY kitchen compost bucket – here

That’s what we’re gonna call it. “I Got Worms!” We’re gonna specialize in selling worm farms. You know, like ant farms.  ~ Lloyd Christmas

This quote from the movie Dumb and Dumber was basically the same direct and hilarious approach I used when proposing our soon to be “Worm Farm” to my wife.  As you can imagine, she reacted with a sobering degree of skepticism – as any other sane woman may do when presented with the notion of her husband running a “Worm Farm” out of their garage.

To bring her along, like with many of my ideas, I simply had to explain the plan in detail, assure her that I was not going to quit my job to run the worm farm, let it marinate for awhile… then begin construction.

A Vermicomposting Worm Farm

Why in the heck would anybody want to make their own vermicomposting worm farm?  Well, I’m glad you asked…

Wikipedia defines “verimicomposting” as follows:

Vermicompost, is composting utilizing various species of worms, specifically red wigglers, white worms, and earthworms creating the heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, bedding materials, and pure vermicast produced during the course of normal vermiculture operations. Vermicast, similarly known as worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by the species of earthworm.

Containing water-soluble nutrients and bacteria, vermicompost is an excellent, nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. The process of producing vermicompost is called vermicomposting.

This article is also a follow up on a promise I gave to several Five Cent Nickel readers in my “Breaking Free From a Culture of Temptation” article a few months back.  I promised I would write a post detailing how I constructed my very own vermicomposting worm farm for very little money.  In the original article I mentioned how I was tempted to purchase a vermicomposting bin rather than make my own.  Here is the snippet from the original article:

A store-bought vermicomposting bin ($130) Instead of buying one, I decided to make my own. I spent just a fraction of what I would’ve paid in the store ($22), and it works great. I hope to put together an article about this soon.

Making my own vermicomposting worm farm — in order to enjoy the benefits of the nutrient rich soil — was very easy, inexpensive, and fun.  In my opinion, it is always an awesome thing to save a boat-load of money AND enjoy the feeling of building something yourself.  As I mentioned in my DIY kitchen compost bucket article, not everyone is into building things themselves.  If that sounds like you then I recommend purchasing one of these two prefabricated vermicompost systems:

Prefabricated vermicompost bins

  • The $130 option – The famous “Can-O-Worms” has a multi-level design that’s easy to assemble, easy to use, and can be kept both indoors or outdoors.
  • The $100 option – The Worm Factory employs a tray system that automatically separates food scraps from finished compost.  This system can also be used indoors or outdoors.

If I were not on a staunch mission to destroy my debt as soon as possible I would have probably gone with one of the above systems, but instead I opted once again for the DIY route!  (Prices posted were taken at the time of writing.)

My Frugal DIY Vermicompost Bin

The $21 option – Here are the actual costs and necessary parts for making a vermicomposting worm farm for just $21:

  • 2 dark, plastic, non-transparent 10 gallon storage bins – cost = $7
  • A drill with ¼” and 1/16″ bits
  • Shredded paper – I use a mix of paper from my shredder and newspaper
  • Red wriggler worms – I bought a pound from a local source I found on CraigsList – cost = $15
  • 4 equally sized blocks

1.  Start with your parts and tools (my worms are in the coffee can)

2. Drill 20+ ¼” holes on the bottom of both bins – for drainage and worm travel

3.  Drill 1/16″ holes along the side of both bins, near the top.  Then drill 30+ 1/16″ holes in the top lid of ONE of the bins (not both)

4.  Place bedding in ONE bin only (leave other bin empty) – mix shredded paper with a shovel full of black dirt and spray with enough water to lightly dampen

5. Add your pound of worms and stir it all up.  Cover mixture with damp piece of cardboard then place the empty bin on top of the cardboard and cover with the ventilated lid.  Place the non-ventilated lid upside-down, position your 4 blocks on top of it, then place the bins atop the blocks like so…

Some Detailed Info on our Worm Farm

The Jabs Worm Farm Inn has been successfully operating in our garage for over two full months now! (UPDATE: This worm farm was in operation for three years, providing us with rich compost for our garden and flower beds! When we moved out of state this worm farm was quickly snatched up by a fortunate responder to our CraigsList ad.)

We keep our DIY kitchen compost bucket under our kitchen sink until it is full, at which time we feed the worms by emptying the contents into the worm farm.  Be sure to bury your food scraps so you do not attract gnats and other flies.

We only put organic food scraps in so that our soil can remain free of chemical pesticide residue.  We are also careful in maintaining the balance of proper moisture in the bins.  You do this by adding more shredded paper when the mixture gets too wet.  You will know things are too moist if you start to notice odor or gnats.

Once the bottom bin is full you can simply start a new mixture in the top bin.  Don’t worry about adding more worms, once they have exhausted their food supply in the bottom bin, they will naturally migrate up into the top bin through the ¼” holes you provided them.

Any excess “worm tea” will drain through the ¼” holes in the bottom bin and will collect on the upside-down lid.  Once a good amount of liquid accumulates on the lid I simply dump this tea into a container and dilute with water and use to water the plants in my garden.  It is a very powerful natural fertilizer.

For more detailed information about red wriggler worms and vermicomposting systems in general visit this informative article on Composting with Redworms.

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Matt Jabs

About Matt Jabs

Matt loves to inspire others to save money and live more sustainably. He is passionate about eating local, living simply, and doing more things himself. He also writes about Personal Finance at Debt Free Adventure. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and his +Matt Jabs Google profile.

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Comments

  1. Keith Gutierrez says

    I’m giving this a try to the dismay of my wife (she loves the science/nature part, not too thrilled of having worms in the garage/basement); I have it set up ready to go and the worms come tomorrow….Do the 1/16″ holes serve the purpose of aeration? Thx~Keith.

    • Matt Jabs says

      She may never be happy about the worms, Betsy never really was – BUT – she’ll thank you when you pull the juicy produce from your garden! Yes, the 1/16″ holes are for aeration. Did you make your bins and get started?

      • Keith Gutierrez says

        worms just arrived today, took longer than I thought (didn’t hit send on my payment–slap forehead!); will let you know how it goes…Thx again…

  2. Marian says

    Learned a lot from the “dumb” questions and the answers. Thanks for a great job and detailed information.
    I’ve been using only one bin and hate separating the worms from the compost.

  3. Trish says

    This is an awesome project for my homeschooled kids! Can’t wait to get started. Love your website and thanks for all the sharing of knowledge in a day in age where everyone wants money just to share how to survive and bring back our green world. You make a God sent virtual community. Many thanks neighbor!

  4. Sally says

    Have been worm farming for a while now and have started using Bokashi as well. I keep the Bokashi bucket in my kitchen and that works on the scraps (onion and citrus and leftover food etc as well) and when that has fermented (also no smell) I add it to my worm farm and they finish the job and love the fermented stuff. Am still having a problem with separating the worms from the vermicompost though but am persisting with the 2nd layer.

  5. Amir says

    Hello Matt, I’m new at your website, and enjoy it very much. I learn here alot and get inspired. Thanks.

    Don’t the worms get crashed by the upper bin? At least in the beginning of the process? Should I put inside some sort of stopper to avoid crashing?

    Theoretically- I could leave the upper bin aside until the lower bin is almost full and only then offer fresh food in the upper bin and start the cycle?

    Don’t the worms escape from the gaps between the two bins?

    Aren’t you worried about ink/chemicals in shredded printed paper, either hurting the worms or being passed to the humus/compost and into the plants….

    I apologize in advance for the multiple (possibly?) silly questions 🙂
    Thanks
    Amir

  6. Tanya says

    Got my totes and worms tonight for my worm farm!!
    Cant wait to get started! Thanks for putting this info
    on your site! I love it!

  7. steve says

    I just started a worm bin and followed your instructions however when I got home tonight after only having the worms for about 10 hrs I noticed that alot of them were escaping from the bin and were crawling on the ground. Is there something that I am doing wrong that is causing the worms to escape the bin?

      • steve says

        I have done that. The worms could no be in a darker place. I just checked again and even more are on the floor. I added more bedding on top and put a new piece of cardboard and even more food before and it did nothing

          • Samantha {Weirding with Wisdom} says

            Believe it or not, keeping them in a dark room can actually make them escape MORE. Since the worms prefer darkness, having them in a lighted room will deter them from leaving the dark confines of their bins! If they’re in a completely dark area, they might decide to go exploring. Also, make sure their bedding isnt too wet, or too dry.

  8. Sarah says

    My husband is concerned about the glues in cardboard and dyes in newspaper, etc. Would leaves make an acceptable bedding in the bins? We have a rather large organic garden and are very interested in your homemade worm bins. What do you think about leaves?

  9. Terry says

    Once the bottom bin is full and the worms have moved to the top bin, do you have to put bedding in the top one?

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  11. martha says

    THE WAY I HARVEST MY WORMS TO MOVE TO ANOTHER BIN, IS TO USE MELONS, WORMS LOVE MELONS MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE. GET A AMALL WATERMELON OR A CANTALOPE OR HONEYDEW MELON, CUT IN HALF PLACE HALVES UPSIDE DOWM ON TOP OF BEDDING, WAIT A DAY OR TWO AND LIFT THE MELON, YOU WILL HAVE GOBS AND GOBS OF WORMS A MOUNTAIN OF WORMS ALL ON TOP OF EACH OTHER, THEN JUST PICK THEM UP AND PUT IN ANOTHER CONTAINER. KEEP DOING IT FOR A WEEK OR SO TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE MOST OF YOUR WORMS HARVESTED. WORKS GREAT. MARTHA

  12. Shaina says

    I found this site several weeks ago and have been reading a lot of the posts. I was telling my husband about this article while we were at his grandma’s house and his aunt said that she just buries scraps in her garden and doesn’t bother with a compost bin. Have you ever heard of such? It doesn’t sound like it would get the job done, to me.

    • Kendra says

      In a more typical michigan winter than what we’re having now, that would be hard to do, lol..

      when we were kids, I remember having a long trench on each side of the garden… we’d throw our food scraps in and throw some dirt on top to keep the flies down. The following growing season, we’d always have melons or tomatoes or something growing up out where the old filled-in parts of the trenches were, lol. As I was just a kid, I cant vouch for its effectiveness, but it sure is a fun memory! 🙂

      • Matt Jabs says

        Yeah, all that is possible and if worms have natural access to the beds they would come naturally. “If you build it they will come,” and of course the worms are what speeds up the decomposition and provides valuable fertilization via their castings (waste).

  13. Kendra says

    okay… so many comments. I skipped most of them, and I shouldnt have because I found the answer as to why you use two bins. Very clever! We’ll try that next time!!!

  14. Kendra says

    Hey Matt!

    I am wondering what made you try the two levels.. When the kids and I did ours, we just used one bin (I laughed when I saw yours because ours was the same one, lol).
    Is it just to give them more room? or to drain the drippings?

    We kept ours in the basement, so they didnt get to warm or cold, and if you keep em happy they breed like crazy. You’ll be up to your ears in worm farms soon! If you forget to scoop out the new baby worms and give them a new home, they’ll escape! 🙂

    Also, What are the best ways to use/dilute the worm poo?? I found that when we used ours directly in the soil, it often made the soil hard, which is frustrating…

    • Matt Jabs says

      I sun dry the worm castings and mix them w/a little black dirt before using as fertilizer, works great. We use two bins so when the bottom bin is full we can start filling the top, when the worms are done w/the food source in the bottom they will crawl through the holes in the bottom of the bin into the top bin and start feed on that. It is a great way to get the worms out of the dirt without having to do it manually.

  15. Michelle says

    Hi! My husband and I also live in Michigan but do not have an attached garage. Is this something we could do in our shed or will the worms freeze in the winter time?

    We planted our first garden this year and absolutely love it! This would be a great way for us to compost with the limited amount of space we have!

    Thanks so much for an awesome site! We’re looking forward to trying out some of your natural recipes!

    • Matt Jabs says

      Cool Michelle, isn’t Michigan great (except Jan-March!) 🙂

      We actually take our worms into the basement in the winter, you should do the same. Congrats on starting your garden, make sure you process all the food! Betsy and I bought a pressure canner and taught ourselves how to use it, what a great skill.

      • Michelle says

        I’ll be nice and not answer your question about Michigan being great! =) It’s something alright but I don’t know if I’d describe it as “Great!” LOL!

        Thanks so much for answering my question! I couldn’t imagine finding a bin full of frozen worms! I would feel terrible!

        I am so jealous of your pressure canner! I’ve been wanting one but haven’t wanted to spend the money! I’ve been searching for a used one but am a little worried about how well a used one would seal. This is the first year we tried canning and I’m in LOVE! We’ve made all kinds of things including strawberry jam, raspberry jam, dill pickles and pesto! I’m waiting for my peppers to ripen so that I can ~ can some salsa! I also planted a bunch of green beans, broccoli and carrots to harvest in the fall. Hopefully I’ll have enough to freeze for winter! I have been looking at food dehydrators so that I can use the herbs in my garden over the winter months!

        We’ve been transitioning into an organic and self sustaining lifestyle and really have been feeling the benefits. Our bank account is much happier and so are our bodies. We both have so much more energy and are not tired all the time!

        I’ll be reading your posts and occasionally leaving a comment or two! Thanks again & please keep up the great work! =)

        • Matt Jabs says

          You should be jealous of our canner, it’s awesome! Think of it this way, that $199 is what you probably spend on gas in a month but if you spend it on a canner you’ll have it for the rest of your life. You can even pass it on to your children – AND – it saves you money and helps you improve your health by preserving your own, healthy food!

          PS… and Michigan IS awesome! 🙂

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