It’s time to meet the red wiggler worm, one of the composter’s best friends. Red worms can live in a simple, totally-enclosed bin in your basement, garage, or even kitchen. What’s the reason to invite in these wigglers? They’re one of the most efficient and neatest ways to compost, turning your kitchen waste into worm castings filled with nutrients for your garden and houseplant soils.
A worm bin is the secret to harnessing the composting power of red wiggler worms. A worm bin is where the red worms live while they compost. You can
purchase pre-fabricated worm bins or make your own using either plastic tubs or untreated wood. There are many free design plans for worm bins and instructions for “vermicomposting” with red wiggler worms available online, in university extension service publications. You can find these by trying a web search for “Worm bin university extension.”
Like other composting methods, success with a worm bin depends on maintaining the right ingredient mix. That means providing the best living space possible for your worms. They need moist bedding – but not too wet, which is why successful worm bins have drainage holes. Bedding materials can include shredded newspaper, small pieces of cardboard and shredded leaves. These are mixed with a small amount of grit, like topsoil or oyster shell, which will help the worms digest your kitchen waste. That’s because, like chickens, worms have gizzards!
According to worm composting guidelines from Oregon State University, a 14-gallon worm bin (big enough to hold about two pounds of worms) can process the kitchen waste generated by a two- to three-person household. Larger bins will hold more worms, which will digest more waste. A worm bin can be kept anywhere the temperature stays above 45F; red wiggler worms will probably be most active at temperatures from 55F to 75F. Worm bins must keep out the light; red worms are light-sensitive.
You’ll only need to buy a few worms; they’ll rapidly reproduce to provide the population you’ll need. In fact, you may end up with enough to start another bin or get your friends started into vermicomposting! Be sure to use the red worm varieties Lumbricus rubellus and Eisenia foetida, which both adapt to a bin or box environment. The best foodstuffs are most fruit and vegetable peels (but red worms don’t find potatoes and citrus too tasty), pastas and breads, coffee grounds and coffee filters. Avoid fatty and oily wastes, as in a compost pile.
There are several methods recommended for feeding the worms. You can put the kitchen scraps into a pocket in the moist bedding or add food in a layer, covering that with a layer of bedding. These techniques, and pretty much everything else you’ll need to know about worm composting science and techniques, can be found in a free manual from Oregon State University at: