Worm Bins - Set Up & Maintenance


Composting Worms

Maybe you would like to have your own vermicompost bin. You can feed the worms your kitchen vegetable scraps and the worms will give you some excellent soil amendment to use on your plants. It is a fun hobby that kids and adults can learn a lot from. The red wigglers can be used for fishing too. The bins can be kept in your cellar or some other dark place with a moderate temperature. They are relatively clean and should not have an unpleasant odor. The worm bins can be thought of as a low maintenance pet - that never needs to be walked! Below is what you need for a succesful bin.

How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Bin 

Keeping a worm bin does NOT have to be messy!
Messy, muddy little girl

The worms used in a compost bin are surface dwellers and live in the top 4”. They do not burrow deep into the ground. Eisenia fetida is a common type to use and that is the kind I sell. They are also called red wigglers and manure worms among other names.

Some important facts about red wigglers:
Are 90% water
Breathe through their skin so don’t let them get too dry or too wet
Reproduce every 90 days depending on conditions
Will regulate population depending on living conditions
Are hermaphrodites – have both male and female reproductive organs
Contain about 1000 worms in a pound
Mature at 8 – 10 weeks
One worm can produce 2 – 3 cocoons per week
A cocoon is the size of the head of a match
Each cocoon has 2 – 10 babies inside of it that will hatch in about 3 weeks
Cocoons change colors from pearly white to yellow to light brown to reddish brown as they develop
Hatchlings are whitish with a pink tinge and ½” long
Have a life span of about a year
Eat with the help of microorganisms
Eat up to a half pound of food a day under ideal conditions


There are very nice bins that you can buy. If this is your first worm bin I suggest that you just modify a plastic tote. They are inexpensive and they work fine.
A good size for a beginning worm bin is approximately 1’ x 2’ x 12” – 18” deep.
One square foot of surface area for a pound of worms is a good guide.
Drill ¼” holes into sides of bin about every 5”. If you are concerned about the worms escaping through these air holes you can affix screening to the holes.
It is often recommended to put a few holes in the bottom for drainage. If you do you can use the top of the tote as a tray. Cover the top of the bin with a piece of black plastic (a garbage bag works great for this).
I don’t drill holes in the bottom of the bins because then I have to worry about the leachate. Instead I monitor the moisture making sure the bin is not too wet looking especially for water sitting on the bottom.


The bedding has to be light to allow the worms to burrow and allow air to circulate. Suitable bedding includes, shredded newspaper (avoid a lot of colored ink), paper from a paper shredder, small pieces of cardboard, composted animal manure, decaying leaves, peat moss, straw, and coconut fiber.
Don’t use glossy paper from magazines.
You should start with 6” – 8” of bedding.
Since worms are 90% water the bedding should be quite damp. You want to be able to squeeze out a couple of drops of water. You want it moist but not soggy.
A general guide is the weight of water to bedding is about 2:1. Let the water soak into the bedding and add more as needed


You can feed your worms vegetables, fruits, ground eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags (remove staples), old bread and things of that nature.
Do not feed them meat scraps, grease, tobacco, citrus and dog and cat feces. 
Worms also will eat their bedding.
A hand full of soil for grit is good for them.
Pulverized eggshells will also give them some grit and is a source of calcium.
Food should be in small pieces to aid in decomposition. The worms eat the food after it has been broken down by microorganisms. The worms also eat the microorganisms. This is part of the food web that happens in a worm bin. 
When you add food cover the food with 1” – 2” of bedding to discourage bugs.

Assembling the worm bin

After you have prepared the worm bin and the bedding, gently dump the worms on top of the bedding. Expose the worms to light. They will slowly work down into the bedding. I suggest leaving a light on over the worms for a few days until they get used to their new home. Do NOT accidentally turn the light off or you will have worms crawling all OVER the place. I’ve done this and it looked like someone through a hand grenade into the worm bin. There were worms everywhere!!
Put a tray under the worm bin if you have drilled holes into the bottom
After a few days you can cover the worms


Red Wigglers like a temperature of 55 – 77 degrees with 68 degrees being optimum
Below freezing and above 86 degrees could kill them depending on the humidiy.
Locate the worm bin in a quiet, convenient spot that is within their temperature range
Feed worms once or twice a week depending on how much food is already in the bin
Add the food to different areas of the bin
When you feed them check on the moisture of the bin. If it is dry around the edges add water. If there is too much water you can do a few things. 1)Leave the top off for a few days 2) add dry bedding to the top, replace the lid and the condensation will redistribute the moisture 3) pull some of the bedding to the side and put in dry bedding

Changing the bedding

After a few months you will want to separate the worms from the bedding and give them new fresh bedding. If there are too many casts in the worm’s bedding they will not be healthy. The old bedding can now be used as vermicompost on your plants.
A couple of ways to sort the worms from the castings are:
1) Dump contents of bin on piece of plastic. *This is much easier if you can do this with the help of the sun. Leave as one big pyramid pile or divide into smaller pyramids. Leave a light over the pile. Worms will work their way down into pile. Skim the top layer off the pile. Keep doing this until as much of the old bedding is separated. Put the remaining worms into the new bedding.
2) Let the worms sort themselves. Pull the bedding over to one side of the bin. Put fresh bedding in the other side. Only feed the worms on the side of the fresh bedding.
Worms Eat My Garbage book
For the definitive guide to setting up and maintaining a worm bin I recommend Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. There are at least 10 easy to find editions of her book and all of them are full of helpful information.