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Feed Your Trash to Worms!

If backyard composting hasn’t worked for you, but you still want to turn your kitchen waste into nourishing compost, worm composting may be the answer. So easy, and no smell. Learn how it's done.

If backyard composting hasn’t worked for you, but you still want to turn your kitchen waste into nourishing compost, worm composting may be the answer.

How Is Worm Composting Done?

Worm composting is done indoors in plastic bins; and a well-run worm bin can be placed almost anywhere in the house without risk of worms escaping or other problems, such as unpleasant odors. It’s a great solution in areas with long winters, or for people who have trouble keeping pets or wildlife out of their backyard bins.

What Kind of Worms Are Used in Worm Composting?

The most common species of worm used for composting is Eisenia fetida, the “Red Wiggler,” also known as Red Worms, Manure Worms, and Tiger Worms. They can vary widely in terms of coloration and size.

The red worms that are used in worm composting will eat just about anything that comes out of your kitchen, including coffee grounds, baked goods, fruit peels, and leftovers. While you should feed your worms regularly, they are also very forgiving and will bounce back if left alone while you are on vacation. As long as they are not left for too long without food, worms have no reason to leave the comfort of their bin. On the rare occasion one escapes, it is usually because not enough food has been provided for an extended period of time.

How To Make Worm Composting Bins

You can make your own bin out of a large plastic tub with a lid, or purchase one of the many varieties available on the Internet and in some garden stores. A tiered bin system, where you can move and empty bins as they become full, is perhaps the easiest to manage. Once a bin is full, you simply put your food wastes in the next bin and the worms will follow, leaving behind nutrient rich compost.

All bin systems should have a spigot for draining off compost tea. Mix the tea with an equal amount of water and it makes a wonderful fertilizer for your houseplants. A simple piece of garden weed barrier placed underneath the bottom bin will keep compost and worms from sneaking into the tea collection area and clogging up the spigot.

You can have a bin system of just about any size, depending on the amount of waste you produce. Worm populations will increase and decrease based on food availability, or you can buy more and increase your system size to meet your needs.

Getting Started With Worm Composting

Once you have your bin, the worms will need bedding to get started. Commercial bins usually come with bedding, or you can use shredded newspaper. Once your bin is set up, you can order worms off the Internet or ask for suppliers from your local garden store. Your bin may even come with a voucher for worms! Worms will come right through the mail and can be immediately introduced to your bin.

Tips For Avoiding Pests

You are then ready to turn your food waste into compost. It may take some trial and error to discover the best method for feeding your worms. To avoid an outbreak of fruit flies or other produce-related pests, you may want to collect your scraps in a container in your freezer, making sure to thaw them before introducing them to your bin. Wrapping your scraps in newspaper or burying them in the bin will also help discourage pesky insects, and the newspaper will provide additional bedding for the worms. Being careful not to overfeed the worms will also help to ensure against gnats and flies, and will keep you from getting unpleasant odors. Over time, you’ll get a sense for how much waste your worms can process, and whether you need to increase your population.

Worms will eat just about anything that comes out of your kitchen; just try not to overload them on one thing, especially something acidic like citrus fruits. Because worms are very forgiving, if you notice that things are amiss in your bin, chances are you can easily get it back on track!

Good FoodBad Food
 Leafy greens Citrus
 Bananas, apples Fats, oils
 Veggies Bread and cereals
 Coffee grounds, tea bags Meat
 Brown paper, newsprint Sugar, salt, processed food
 Eggshells Garlic, onions

Lori Eschholz owns and manages the Ohno! Cafe©, a restaurant in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Chris. Her previous careers included journalism and politics. She now moonlights for an antiques auction company and as a freelance writer.

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TT

I have been wanting to do worm composting. This article really helped me decide to not do it in my house. I live in Ohio, can I still do it outside or in the garage thru the winter? Worms live outside in the ground here anyways. Will the worms you dig out of the ground work like this too? Thanks for the reply.

Susan Higgins

Hi TT, if the worms freeze, they won’t do their job. Granted, earthworms may be outside in the winter, but they’re not doing a lot of eating to turn trash into compost. So bin composting is done indoors for this reason. The most common species of worm used for composting is Eisenia fetida, the “Red Wiggler,” also known as Red Worms, Manure Worms, and Tiger Worms. They can vary widely in terms of coloration and size. We’ve added more to the story, including a video!

Pamela Saul

My Mom did this back in the 1960’s when we lived in W. Hartford, CT. She was single then, and loved her freedom and garden! She was also super cheap, and worms were plentiful. I guess ‘what goes around, comes around…’

Margo Wills

Does anyone have drawn out plans for this setup?

Buddy Hinson

Will wigglers work alsi

John

Great write up. Worm composting has certainly taken off, with a lot of manufactured bins now on the market. We use a Worm Factory at home. I put a handful of worm castings in each of our houseplants last May and they all exploded with new growth. What a great way to recycle and increase O2 levels at the same time. Hooray for worms!

FRANCES BOWEN

VERY GOOD QUESTION SUSAN.CAN I PUT THE WORMS IN THE GARDEN AS THEY MULTIPLY?ANSWER ANY ONE.

Susan

A friend just gave me a worm bin made out of a styrofoam meat box, with holes punched in it for air. We then put it into a large plastic storage bin, but there is no way to get the compost tea out without taking the worm bin out and pouring it out. Also what’s the best way to use the worm compost? Should I take part of it out, add it to the garden, then fill the bin with more shredded paper and kitchen scraps? Please send answer to my email above- thank you!

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