Starting a worm farm is a great way to recycle food waste at home. It creates the perfect organic fertilizer for your plants and soil. And once you understand the fundamentals, worm composting is easy and fun. Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to start a worm farm.
- Worm Facts
- What is Vermiculture?
- Worm Castings
- Worm Tea
- Worm Composting vs. Normal Composting
- Choosing a Worm Farm
- Composting Worms: Where To Buy
- Worm Care & Maintenance
- Harvesting Worm Castings
- Worm Farm Problems
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Other Resources
Let’s get some worm facts out of the way to start:
- Worms will become paralyzed if exposed to light for too long
- Worms breath through their skin and have no lungs
- The average lifespan of a worm is about 2 years
- Worms are hermaphrodite – both male and female
- Adult worms have a ring called a clitella
- Baby worms hatch from cocoons
What is Vermiculture?
Vermiculture, or vermicomposting, is the process of creating compost using worms.
After worms digest organic materials, they release waste from their bodies called worm castings.
Worm castings are regarded as the richest natural fertilizer known to humans. Worm castings contain more nutrients and bacteria than any other fertilizer. It’s also a great soil conditioner; improving soil structure, water retention and drainage.
Some other benefits of worm castings are:
- All nutrients are water-soluble (immediate plant food)
- Helps to repels pests that feed on plants
- Protects plants from disease
- Aids nutrient absorption and stimulates plant growth
- pH neutral
- Heavy metal free
- Cannot burn plants
A liquid fertilizer, called worm tea, can be created by steeping a few handfuls of worm casting in a bucket of water. This can really give your garden a boost. Many people enhance worm tea using a fish tank air pump to increase bacteria.
Worm tea is often confused with worm farm leachate. Worm farm leachate is the the excess liquid drained from a worm farm. Do not use worm farm leachate as it can be more harmful than good for your plants.
Worm Composting vs. Normal Composting
Vermicomposting creates superior compost compared to normal composting. The finished compost, called worm castings, is also more versatile. You can create a liquid fertilizer called worm tea for instance.
Normal compost tend to be bigger and bulkier. Hence why you don’t see them indoors. A normal compost bin needs the occasional turning with a pitch fork or shovel. Compared to a worm bin which doesn’t require much effort to maintain. Normal composting generates more heat which can help to kill pathogens, weed seeds and bad bacteria.
Worm farms are more limited with the foods you can add. You can add citrus, onions and starch foods in a normal compost bin without problem.
Worm farm are more efficient at breaking down foods. You may need to wait only 2-3 months to harvest your worm castings. Whereas a normal compost bin may take 6-9 months until ready.
Choosing a Worm Farm
When choosing a worm farm, there’s a few things to look at:
- Price – This depends on your budget. In general, for higher quality or a larger size, you can expect to pay a little bit more.
- Design – Some worm farms are easier to use than others. Most systems use trays allowing you to easily expand by adding more trays. Flow-through worm farms such as the Hungry Bin and the Worm Inn are becoming increasingly popular.
- Air Ventilation – Airflow helps the decomposition process and worms need oxygen to perform at their best level.
- Drainage – A worm farm bin should also have a drain system. Insufficient drainage of excess liquid can lead to all sorts of anaerobic activity. Worms breathe in air through their skin and will drown if the bedding is too moist.
- Size & Shape – The shape of the farm can also be an important consideration depending on where you want to store it. If you only have a small amount of food scraps or not much space, then a smaller worm farm is more suitable.
Commercial Worm Bins
For most people looking at how to start a worm farm, there’s only 2 types of worm composting systems you need to care about:
|Tray based||A tray based worm farm consists of multiple containers stacked on top of each other. Food is added to the top tray. The trays are rotated when the top tray is full. The bottom tray is emptied and then added on top.|
|Continuous flow||A continuous flow worm farm usually consists of a single container or bag where the food is added to the top and the compost is collected from the bottom. The flow is a continuous loop.|
Product Reviews & Comparisons
We’ve done an big article on the best worm composter reviews with product comparisons etc…. Here’a a quick summary:
|Name||Image||Price Range||Description||Suitable For|
|Worm Factory 360||Medium $$||A high quality designed stackable worm farm with 4 trays expandable up to 8.||A good worm farm for outdoors that comes with lots of extras bundled.|
|VermiHut 5-Tray||Low $||Compact and comes with 5 trays.||A more affordable option.|
|Hot Frog Living Composter||Medium $$||A sleek and modern designed stackable worm farm for indoors which has 2 trays.||An indoor worm farm for small amounts of food waste that can be used all year round.|
|Can O Worms||Low $||Round with 2 trays. Medium size.||A basic worm farm for beginners.|
|Worm Cafe||Low $||A basic stackable worm bin that is rectangle with 3 trays.||A basic worm farm for beginners.|
|Hungry Bin||High $$$||A high quality innovative flow-through designed worm farm which has a large capacity. Can easily move around on wheels.||If you have a lot of food waste and need a larger capacity worm farm.|
|Urban Worm Bag||Medium $$||A unique flow-through designed worm farm that hangs from a stand and has terrific air ventilation.||If you’re looking for a worm farm that is highly breathable.|
For beginners, I recommend you get a Worm Factory 360. It’s reasonably priced, well designed and has a lot of good reviews. If you’re looking for efficiency and size, then go with the Hungry Bin. If you want to compost indoors, take a look at the Hot Frog Living Composter.
DIY Worm Farms
It can be more affordable to create your own DIY worm bin.
Probably the most common and practical method is to use tote plastic containers. Drill some holes in the bottom, add a spigot tap and you’re set. Wood is an excellent material for a DIY worm bin.
I don’t recommend using styrofoam or polystyrene boxes as it wont last.
If you’re a novice with how to start a worm farm, some accessories will help you along the way:
- a pH meter to check acidity levels
- a moisture meter to ensure the bin is not too wet or dry
- a worm farm thermometer
- a fridge magnet guide for feeding worms; handy to have
Composting Worms: Where To Buy
Red Wiggler worms are the most popular species of worms for vermicomposting because they are:
- prolific breeders
- very tolerant to varying environment conditions (more than other species)
- don’t mind the occasional disruption or handling (unlike other species)
- live in the top later of material only
Nightcrawler worms tend to burrow deeper in the soil and only come to the surface at night to feed. Blue worms and African Nightcrawler worms are more suited to warmer climates. Whereas European Nightcrawler worms prefers cooler conditions.
If you’re in the US, I recommend you buy 2000 Red Wiggler worms from Uncle Jims online. In Australia, you can buy a box of worms from Bunnings.
It may take a week or two until your worms settle into their new home. You do not need to add any food initially.
Worm Care & Maintenance
Once you know the basics, maintaining a worm farm is easy and fun. When you’re reading about “how to start a worm farm”, don’t take things too seriously. Keep it simple! Worms are very forgiving 🙂
Be conscious of what you feed your worms. Worms thrive on a balanced diet and prefer to eat their food as it begins to decompose.
Keep a 50:50 balance between Greens and Browns. Greens include vegetables and fruits whereas Browns include paper and cardboard.
It’s very important not to overfeed your worms as this can lead to serious worm farm problems. Remember that worms can only eat roughly half their body weight everyday.
Here’s a list of foods to feed your worms or avoid:
|Add||Do not add (avoid)|
Worm Bin Bedding
Compost worms live near or on top of the soil surface. Worm bin bedding creates a habitat for your worms to thrive in.
Worm bedding is a long term food source for worms. In fact, up to 50% of a worms diet may consist of its bedding.
It’s best to add a variety of bedding material in the worm bin. The Carbon-to-Nitrogen ratio in a worm bin should be 20-35:1 or higher. To achieve this, add about the same amount of bedding as the food you add in. When in doubt, add more paper.
Here’s a list of some bedding materials you can use:
- Brown cardboard (cut into small pieces)
- Paper (not bleached white office paper, shredded)
- Newspaper (not colored, shredded)
- Aged compost
- Aged horse or cow manure
- Coco coir or coco fiber
- Peat moss
- Straw and hay
- Fall leaves and other yard waste
- Wood chips
Some worm farm kits include some starter bedding material. If not, go and get yourself a coco coir block.
It’s important to regulate the temperature in your worm bin. Compost worms can tolerate a wide temperature range, but they like the same temperatures as humans, between 59° – 86° Fahrenheit or 15° – 30° Celsius.
When the worm bin temperature is not ideal, worms will become less productive. And in extreme temperatures, your worms will likely suffer and perish if no action is taken. In Summer, I move my worm farm indoors to prevent a mass extinction.
|Category||Temperature Range||Affect on Worms|
|Extreme hot||> 95° F or 35° C||Worms will start to die off|
|Too hot||81°-95° F or 27°-35° C||Worms will eat less and reproduce less|
|Ideal||60°-80° F or 15°-26° C||Worms are most productive|
|Too cold||59°-40° F or 15°-4° C||Worms will eat less and reproduce less|
|Extreme cold||< 40° F or 4° C||Worms will start to die off|
Keep check of the moisture level in the worm bin. Worms need moisture in order to breathe oxygen through their skin. If a worms skin dries out, they will suffocate. And when it’s too wet, they can drown. Too much moisture will deprive oxygen and create a toxic environment for your worms.
Make sure any excess liquid, called worm farm leachate, is drained. It’s not uncommon for the worm bin drainage holes can get clogged up with worm castings. I always leave my spigot tap open to prevent flooding.
You should not need to add any extra water into the worm bin. There should be enough moisture supplied by the food scraps you add.
Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables and their percentage of water content for reference:
The “squeeze test” is the standard. Squeeze the worm bedding in your hand and check whether any water drips out. The bedding material should feel like a damp sponge, moist but not dripping. Or you can buy a moisture meter.
Acidity Level (pH)
If your worm bin smells rotten and vinegary, then it’s likely the acidity in your worm bin is too high.
pH is a measure of acidity between 0 (acidic) and 14 (base or alkaline), where 7 is neutral. A good pH level for a worm farm is between 6 and 7 . However most species of composting worms and quite tolerant of acidic conditions.
A handful of agriculture lime of crushed eggshells will help to neutralize acidity.
Keeping It Dark
Composting worms are surface eaters are very sensitive to sunlight, so keep the worm bin dark at all times. Consider using a worm farm blanket to cover your worms. You can also use an old cloth, towell or heshian bag.
Harvesting Worm Castings
It can take 2-3 months until you can harvest your worm castings. But you can create worm tea with a just a handful of worm castings any time.
For tray based worm bins, simply empty the bottom tray full of finished worm castings. And then rotate the trays so that the bottom tray becomes the top tray. For continuous flow systems, simply release the bottom and the finished worm castings should fall out.
As an organic fertilizer, sprinkle a handful of worm castings on top of the soil surrounding the plant. Or use worm castings to rejuvenate soil and potting mix. Apply worm tea as an liquid fertilizer for your plants.
There are a couple of different methods how to harvest worm castings. Some are more effective are separating worms from finished compost than others. I just put my worm castings straight into the garden and pick up any stragglers. Having some worms in your finished compost is often unavoidable.
Worm Farm Problems
Every now and then you’ll encounter some worm farm problems. Proper worm care and bin maintenance will help to prevent issues from occurring. This includes:
- making sure you do not overfeed your worms
- stick to the right foods and providing sufficient bedding
- ensuring your worms are comfortable (i..e temperature, moisture and pH levels)
Here’s a list of common worm farm problems and how to solve them.
|Too hot – Worms will likely suffer and die if temperatures exceed 95° Fahrenheit or 35° Celsius.|
|Too cold – In extreme cold (i.e. 40° Fahrenheit or 4° Celsius), your worms will likely perish.|
|Too wet – Too much moisture can drown your worms.|
|Too dry – All worms breathe through their skin. If a worm’s skin dries out, they will die.|
|Too acidic – Can create a toxic environment with bad odors|
|Mold / fungal growth – Appears in acidic and moist conditions|
|Deformation – Also known as protein poisoning. Typically caused by overfeeding.|
|Pale in color or skinny – most likely caused by too much moisture|
|Springtails & mites|
|Fruit flies – Fruit flies are a popular pest|
|Slugs, snails, centipedes|
|Ants – Ants are a sign that your worm bin is not moist enough.|
|Blow flies & house flies|
|Earwigs, beetles, millipedes, soldier flies, sow bugs & pill bugs|
|Maggots or larvae – Eggs are laid on the surface of nitrogen rich material.|
|Land planarian flat worms|
Frequently Asked Questions
Worms are hermaphrodite – both male and female. While worms possess both male and female sexual organs, a red wiggler cannot produce offspring alone. Worms mate by lining up their heads and attaching themselves together at the clitella. A cocoon is then formed at the clitella band.
In very general terms, a red worm population can double every 60 to 90 days. Worm populations are largely self regulating. A mature worm can produce 2-3 cocoons per week. The hatchlings inside the cocoon can take up to 11 weeks to mature before they hatch. Each cocoon usually hatches 2 to 4 baby worms. Cocoons only hatch under the right conditions. Cocoons can be dormant for years if the conditions are not right.
Coffee grounds are organic in matter, which makes it a perfect food source for worms. Coffee grounds are slightly acidic. So it’s best to feed worms with coffee grounds in moderation.
Depending on where the cut is, a worm may be able to regenerate it’s tail. But most of the time a worm will die if cut in half.
The average lifespan of a worm is about 2 years, but they can live up to as long as 8 years.
Your worms may attempt to mass escape if conditions in the bin are inhabitable. I don’t blame them. The main issues are: too hot or cold, low or high pH (acidity) and insufficient airflow. Worms will actively move around the worm bin. So a few worms on the lid is nothing to worry about.
Some of my favorite websites (besides https://wormfarmguru.com):
- Worm Farming Secrets https://www.wormfarmingsecrets.com
- Red Worm Composting https://www.redwormcomposting.com
- Worm Farming Revealed https://www.wormfarmingrevealed.com
- Worm Composting HQ https://www.wormcompostinghq.com
- Urban Worm Company https://urbanwormcompany.com/
There’s plenty of books as well which talk about how to start a worm farm:
You can also connect with other vermicomposting enthusiasts on Reddit https://www.reddit.com/r/Vermiculture/
So now you know how to start a worm farm. Vermicomposting is not only good for the environment, it’s great for your garden. Owning a worm farm is inexpensive, easy to maintain and fun. I hope you’re convinced to start a worm farm at home and good luck!