Worm Composting for Real – In 5 Easy Steps

Worm, or Vermi, composting is a process that allows any individual or family to turn kitchen waste into amazing soil amendment for plants in a garden or container.  Follow these five easy steps and you’ll be worm composting for real!

STEP 1.  Determine the type of worm bin you want to use.

Figuring bin size and or quantity of bins is important because a good system is a system that effectively deals with all of the kitchen waste you produce.  Your bin should be big enough to handle the kitchen green waste (napkins, egg shells, coffee grounds/filters etc) you produce on a daily basis.  If you are producing more than say a gallon container of green waste daily you may need a larger or multiple bins.  Bin overload puts more stuff in your bin faster than the worms can break it down.  You will soon be out of space to put more kitchen scraps.  The bin can also go ‘anaerobic’ (no air inside the green waste) and smell like rotten eggs.

Where you keep your bin is important.  The closer you place your bin to where you are creating the waste the easier and more certain it will be that you will use your compost bin regularly. I like a close-at-hand location like outside the kitchen door.  Worms will die out when they run out of food and/or their environment is too wet or too dry.  You need to use your bin regularly to see that those basic requirements are maintained.


32-gallon tupperware. ‘The Classic.’

Additionally, there are a few different types of worm composting systems available for home use.  Use a system you can get buy into.  Your enthusiasm will greatly aid success.  The 32 gal Tupperware container pictured with this article is one I recommend for a family or individual that produces a gallon of green waste or less daily.  It is a simple, cheap, light weight option.

STEP 2. Make sure your worm bin has these two key features.

-Holes high up on the sides of the bin small enough to keep critters out but also allow air to pass in.  Having holes down low can allow liquid (tea) accumulated in the composting process to run out and create a mess.  Especially no bueno if its near your kitchen door.

-A tight fitting lid will help keep your bin free of bothersome flies or other visitors like rodents or raccoons.

STEP 3. Provide bedding of some type for your worm bin.

Newspaper strip bedding

Newspaper strip bedding

Peat moss, shredded newspaper or dried leaves are materials most often used for bedding.  It provides worms with an interface between the kitchen waste, the worm castings they produce and the worms themselves.  I use newspaper strips because newspaper is an easy to get material.  Rip newspaper sections lengthwise to make long narrow strips as the pulp fiber of the newspaper sheets run that way. You’ll get random pieces if you try to rip the paper sideways. Oh, and don’t worry about lead in the print – it’s all soy based ink now – but avoid using the glossy sections.  Make sure to moisten the bedding sufficiently (like a fully charged sponge) but not enough to leave standing water at the bottom of the bin before you put the worms in. Place newspaper on bottom of bin when ready.

STEP 4. Place worms and their food together in your newly set up bin.

Once the bedding is in place, spread the worms out in an area on top of it.  You can start with a small amount of healthy worm culture (worm babies, adults, cocoons with some organic matter in various states of decomposition), say a handful, and nurture the colony along slowly.  You can also put in a good amount of worms, a 2-gallon bucket full, for faster action.  Place kitchen waste next to the worms so they have something ready to eat soon. Place a healthy amount of newspaper strips over the worms and food.

STEP 5. Harvest Worm Castings when bin is full.

Typical food waste/green waste

Typical food waste/green waste

When the green waste that you’ve been putting into the bin looks mostly like black rich soil it’s done!  It usually takes about two to three months to end up with a bin full of worm castings.  Worm castings, finished worm compost, can be taken out of the bin to use for your garden or container soil environments. Worms can be separated out by dumping the bin onto a tarp.  Worms are light sensitive and will move into the pile and away from light. Pull away the outer edges.  If you get a few worms mixed in just include them in the soil mix.  Make sure to return about one fourth the amount of worm culture back to the bin with fresh bedding and food to keep the process going.

Worms and their final product

Worms and their final product

If you’d like to learn more about worms and worm composting, my wife Tahara and I will be giving a worm composting workshop in Santa Barbara, Ca. on February 2nd at Art From Scrap. You can get worms and worm composting systems at the workshop.  You can also get them from me at the Saturday or Sunday Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market.  For more information about me, Healing Grounds Nursery or home food production, go to my website www.healinggroundsnursery.com.


-Oscar Carmona

Healing Grounds Nursery.

Oscar Carmona, owner and operator of Healing Grounds Nursery, has spent the last 25 years helping connect people, plants, and the planet. He has taught sustainable landscape courses, gardening classes and home consultation for better living throughout California. 



5 Responses

  1. Avatar

    Thank you Oscar, This answered a lot of questions that I had about composting with worms. I was wondering if one could use a smaller container under the sink with worms to rotate out to the larger bin? What about using worms for aerating lawns?

    1. Avatar

      You could possibly use something smaller if you produce less green waste and or are diligent switching out bins. Red worms are found in organic matter (leaves, manure etc) worms found in lawns are a different species.

  2. Avatar

    Thanks Oscar,
    We have two small raised bed gardens in the back of our rented house. I dug two holes. One in the garden and one next to a banana tree and sunk plastic lided containers with the bottoms removed on each container. I have been dumping organic kitchen waste daily. When it is full, I compress it with a brick, throw in a handfull of red worms, top it with 3 or 4 inches of garden soil after using the handle to pull out the plastic container. Then I dig another hole and start the process again. So far,the process is simple and takes little effort. thanks Bob

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