There are many commercial worm bin/systems to buy, however many of these systems are pricey and often you may not want to spend that type of money. If you are new to worm composting, making your own DIY bin can be a great option and is relatively cheap to do. In this post I will share the steps to creating your very own tote-style worm bin on a budget, step by step.
- Choosing the Type and Size of Tote
- Preparing the Tote
- Choosing a Bedding
- Preparing the Bedding
- Prepping the Bin for the Worms
- Adding the Worms
Let’s get started.
1. Considering the Type and Size Bin to Use:
When it comes to DIY worm bins, you can use a variety of things that you may already have laying around the house. Many people use Rubbermaid (or similar tote-style bins) to make their worm bin. You can also use things such as mortar trays, plastic barrels, crates, or even something as simple as a grow bag. For sake of this particular post, I am going to talk about Rubbermaid totes.
When purchasing or using a Rubbermaid tote, size definitely matters! You want to take into account how many worms you will have in the bin and what your end-goal is. Do you want the most possible castings, do you want to grow the biggest and fattest worms, or do you want to start small to experiment with the hobby on your own?
I made a tote for my African Night Crawlers. African Night Crawlers reproduce quickly and are voracious eaters. Because of this, I chose a larger 18 gallon tote. I also plan to use these worms for bait as well, so a large bin will give the worms plenty of space to grow large and reproduce. Keep in mind that a tote of this size will get very heavy as it fills with compost. If you think you will be moving your tote around frequently or have limitations to how much you want to carry, you may decide that a smaller tote is more suited to your needs.
Your tote should be opaque as the worms like a dark environment. Worms shy away from light and thus clear bins (although cool for kids to see through the bin) are not best suited for worm composting. Keep in mind that roughly a pound of worms need at least 1 square foot of surface area living environment. If you want them to reproduce, they will need even more.
2. Preparing the Tote:
Regardless of the type of bin you decide to make, you need to keep in mind that worms need an environment with plenty of aeration. Some people choose to leave the lid off of their tote completely but others (as myself) chose to drill many holes in the sides and lid to provide the air-flow needed.
To drill the holes, I recommend using nothing smaller that 1/4 inch. I used a drill bit and drilled approximately 18 holes on each side of my bin (in 2 rows along the upper portion of the bin below the lip. I also drilled holes on either end in the same fashion.
I drilled holes covering the entire lid of my system as well. This will ensure that the bin doesn’t get overly wet and that the worms have an environment suitable to their needs. As worms breathe through their skin, they need moisture but also lots of air!
If you create a bin and find that your worms are crawling up the sides, oftentimes this is a sign that they need more oxygen. There are other possible reasons as well, but start with adding more holes if this problem arises.
The next thing to consider after drilling holes in your tote is to decide what type of bedding (carbon material) you want to use in your bin. If you want to use things you already have, this is a great way to recycle and turn your trash into beautiful worm castings for your plants and garden.
Bedding can consist of shredded newspaper or junk mail (avoid the glossy ads), egg crates, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, and cardboard. These are all 100% free options that I use frequently in my own bins.
Other options for bedding include leaf litter, manure (aged), peat moss, dried grass clippings, garden waste or coconut coir. Keep in mind that things such as manure, leaves and grass clippings have the potential to introduce bugs to your bin. This may not be a problem if you are composting outdoors, but for indoor bins these may not be ideal.
4. Preparing the Bedding:
Once you have made your bin, providing adequate aeration and once you have decided on your bedding, you are ready to prepare the bedding and place it in the bin.
An ideal worm bedding should be moist like a wrung-out sponge. I used egg crates, shredded cardboard, and coconut coir for my bin. I soaked the bedding in water for about 20 minutes. I then picked up a handful of bedding and squeezed it. I added water until when I squeezed the bedding mixture I got 3-5 drops of water from it but no more. If you over-moisten your bedding you can wring it out before adding it to your bin or you can add additional dry bedding to soak up the excess moisture.
Once you have the bedding moistened, add several inches to the bottom of your bin. I try to fill my bin approximately halfway to provide lots of living space before adding my worms.
5. Prepping the Bin for the Worms:
Ideally, you will set up your worm bin prior to the arrival of your worms. Allow the bedding to sit in the bin for several days with a small amount of food mixed in. This will allow the bacteria and microbes to get to work before the worms arrive. This creates an environment that allows the worms to get to work right away after being introduced to the bin. If you order a pound of worms, simply start with a small amount of food (no more than 1/4 cup). Make sure that all food in your bin is adequately covered with bedding material so that fruit flies or other pests don’t enter the bin.
If you didn’t prepare your bin in advance, don’t worry. Simply introduce your worms and wait a few days before adding any food.
6. Adding the Worms:
Once you have finished preparing your bedding and allowed the bin to rest for a few days, it is time to add your worms. If you ordered worms, keep in mind that the travel through the mail can have them quite stressed. As mentioned earlier, worms shy away from light. Simply dump your worms (gently) onto the surface of the bedding and allow them burrow down on their own. Keeping the lid off and light on for a few days above the bin should minimize the risk of any adventurous worms trying to leave the bin. After a few days if the worms seem to be doing well, you can place the lid on the bin if you desire.
You can easily set up a worm bin in an hour or less. A simple Rubbermaid or Sterlite bin should run you no more than $15 to $20, often even cheaper. Use a free source of bedding around the house and the only further expense may be the purchase of your worms. An even better option is to reach out to local gardening clubs or farmers markets to see if you can get worms locally. Many worm farmers are more than happy to share worms with newcomers, as mentioned before, worms multiply quickly!
Enjoy the fruits of your labor and feed your worms weekly. Make sure that all of the previous feeding is (mostly) gone before adding more food. Adjust to the worms needs according to how much they are eating. Remember that bedding is also a food source for your worms. Under-feeding is much better than overfeeding. Worms are pretty forgiving and before long you will be cranking out compost like an old pro!