All About Worm Composters
Setting Up Your Worm Composter
There are many composters on the market and they will all come with a manual to help you set up your specific bin. (The VermiHut Compost Bin is one we recommend.) With any kind of composter you will need the following:
- COMPOST BIN – clean and ready to use
- BEDDING MATERIAL – you can use readily available shredded cardboard and paper, however if you wish to avoid chemicals, we highly recommend using coconut coir, a more natural and ecological bedding. Please go to Our Store to purchase.
- SOIL – at least 3 or 4 handfuls
- ORGANIC MATTER – in the form of kitchen scraps. Please check the list of food your worms will enjoy on our Caring for your Worms page.
- Before installation, carefully select the location of your bin. It should be away from traffic and vibrations.
- Soak all of the coconut coir in a bucket of water until it breaks apart and then squeeze out as much water as you can. Bedding should be damp but not wet.
- Mix the damp coconut coir with the soil and the damp shredded paper to create your bedding. Bury a handful of food scraps within the bedding mixture. Add enough bedding to make a 3-inch layer in the first working tray. Always put the coconut fibre mat as the last layer. Set aside the remaining trays and place the lid on top of the first working tray.
- Letting the system sit without adding worms for a week to ten days is recommended. Otherwise, ask us to add food with your worms before we ship them to give them something to eat while your system matures.
You are now ready to add your worms!
- When the worms arrive, remove the coconut fibre mat and place them onto the bedding. They will quickly disappear under the surface. To help your worms adapt to their new environment, leave the coconut fibre mat and the lid off and place your bin in a well-lit area for the first 24 hours to encourage the worms to move down to the bottom tray. After the first 24 hours, keep the lid and the coconut fibre mat on at all times, only opening the lid for feedings.
Note: Don’t expect your worms to be at 100% of their productivity for the first month. Worms may take a week or two to adapt to their new environment. Be careful with the quantity of food that you give them.
You will quickly realize that composting worms dislike vibration. It’s important to make sure your composter is placed in a safe spot, away from shocks and vibrations. At the most, you will need to access your bin twice a week, so a closet, the laundry room or your quiet basement would be perfect.
FEEDING YOUR WORMS
Don’t expect your worms to be processing compost at the rate of ½ their body weight every day in the beginning. It will take at least a couple of weeks for them to get accustomed to their new surroundings and be fully productive. Be patient and take time to learn from your worms.
The less you disturb your worms, the better they work, so feed them just once or twice a week. To make sure you are not overfeeding, mentally separate your trays into 9 sections.
Feeding: Place a handful of kitchen scraps under the bedding in section 1, replace the bedding and coconut fibre to cover the food.
Repeat this action weekly, rotating from section 1 to 9.
Basic Rules: If the worms are not eating the food in the previous feeding section, do not add more food. Wait until the worms are crawling all over the food that you have previously fed them. If you feed your worms too soon or too much, they will not be able to eat everything before the food starts to rot. You will then run into problems such as odour and flies.
As the population of your worms grows, you will not need 9 sections to feed. Many find that 2-4 sections will work.
If you begin to run out of bedding to cover the food, add more shredded paper, natural fibre or coconut coir. Think about ordering more coconut fibre before you run out.
HARVESTING YOUR COMPOSTER
There are two different ways to harvest your composter. It can be done by hand or with machines. We will focus on three simple methods that you can do at home with little to no tools at all. These three different ways of harvesting are based on the fact that worms move away from light, so the key to harvesting is to give them enough time to crawl away from the surface.
Dump the castings from your tray onto a sheet of plastic. Make a few piles shaped like pyramids. As the worms run away from light, they will crawl into the piles. Give them a few minutes and then take worms from the top layer of the piles. Wait a little bit and do it again. You will end up with a bowl of worms that you can put back into your composter.
It’s okay if you don’t want to take the time to harvest the few worms left in the bottom tray. Just use the castings as is. Your worm population will regenerate itself in no time. Just remember, if you take a lot of worms out of your bin, you need to adjust the quantity of food in balance with the remaining population, to avoid over feeding.
From the tray (with a tray system)
Place your bottom tray- the one ready to be harvested- on top of your last working tray (remove your lid and coconut fibre mat first). Remove the first inch or so of castings. Based on the same principles (worms going away from light), the worms will crawl downwards. After a few minutes, scrape another layer. Repeat this until you empty most of your tray. You are now ready to use this tray like it was a new one. Feed your worms and cover everything with a layer of bedding material like you did in the beginning.
WHEN IS MY COMPOSTER READY TO HARVEST?
A good rule of thumb is to expect to harvest every 3 months, but it is not a problem if you wish to leave the castings for longer. Waiting longer between harvests will produce better quality castings.
During their composting process, most of the worms will migrate to the upper part of the bin for food, leaving worm castings behind in your the bottom of the bin.
With a tray system composter, if you are looking at a nice black rich casting in your bottom tray … it’s time to harvest and start rotating your trays!