Got Worms? Make a Worm Compost Farm Out of Buckets.

Got Worms?  How to make a worm farm out of buckets.

Worm compost sure sound like a boy thing, doesn’t it?  Funny thing though, the only one really interested in having a worm farm in my house is me.  The only girl.

Worms are fascinating!  Sure I don’t like to touch them, but I love the great compost they make.  I always get excited and I see little worm eggs.  That means my worms are happy and I’ll have more worms to feed the scraps from my kitchen.  A family of 6 creates a lot of scraps, especially in the summer when produce abounds.

I’ve had a couple different vermicompost (vermi=worm) bins.  My first was a simple plastic tote with holes drilled in it.  Biggest problem with that system was digging through it to get the composted material out.  Also the “worm tea” (liquid that leaks out but is an excellent fertilizer) pools in the tray I kept the bin on and just wasn’t convenient.

The second bin I owned was a worm tower.  This system uses trays that lay on top of each other.  Once you fill a tray with composting material and can’t add anymore, just put a new tray on top and begin adding compost to that tray.  As the worms finish eating the first tray, they migrate upwards to the new tray.  Keep adding trays as you need them.

The tower system worked beautifully for me.  No digging around in the bin.  If a bin had no worms, it meant the compost was ready to go in the garden.  For a large family like mine who creates a lot of kitchen scraps, I just added as many trays as I needed.  The worms were able to keep up just fine.  There was a spigot at the bottom where the worm tea collected so draining the worm tea was easy and mostly mess free (just keep the spigot turned to a wall so the 2 yo doesn’t open it up for fun).  The only con to the worm tower was the price.

But I now need a new worm bin.  2 years ago the river near our house freak flooded due to a massive amount of rain upstream.  It came up just enough to fill our basement and our garage.  My worm bin was outside at the time and most of it floated away.

So instead of buying another expensive unit, I made my own.  5 gallon buckets are cheap (or free if you are lucky).  I was able to get enough buckets to get started for under $20 and if I need more levels, more buckets are easy to find.

Got Worms?  How to make a worm farm out of buckets.

Bucket Worm Tower

Materials:

  • 5 gallon buckets, at least 2 (if you are getting used ones, make sure no chemicals were stored in them)
  • 1 lid
  • spigot (optional, I got mine off of an old ice tea jar that wasn’t being used)

Tools:

  • Drill

Instructions:

Use as many buckets as you think you’ll need.  Remember, you can always add more.  Start with at least 2 buckets.  One bucket will be to collect the “worm tea” and the others will house the worms.

Bottom Bucket

The bottom bucket is where the other buckets will drain to.  It’s purpose to to collect the liquid that will drain from the composting buckets.  The other buckets that contain the worms and compost material will stack on top of this bucket.  You can add a spigot if you would like for easy draining.  **Do not drill holes in the bottom of this bucket.**

Optional: For the tea collector bucket, drill one hole with the larger drill bit about 1″ above the bottom.  To know how big of a hole to drill, measure the diameter of your spigot.  Screw in spigot (make sure it has rubber washers).

Worm Farm, drill holes in bottom.

Composting Buckets

For the remaining buckets, drill a whole bunch of holes in the bottom. Lots! I used a 5/32″ drill bit. Place them about 1″-2″ apart. This is a good job for the kids (under supervision of course).  Once the worms are done eating on this level, they will be able to crawl through these holes to the next level.  Upward migration.

Drill holes in the lid.

Drill a few holes in the lid and that’s it.  Worm tower is complete.  Now to add your worms.

Adding the Worms

First you’ll want to get your worms.  Red wigglers are what you are after.  You can order them online or better yet, find a friend who already is a vermicomposter and ask if they are willing to share some worms with you.  About 1 lb of worms is enough to get you started.

In your first bin, lay down a single layer of newspaper.  Add a little bit of aged veggie matter and your worms. Add a few old leaves or garden compost to add soil bacteria to help the worms out.  Top with a generous amount of shredded newspaper.  Spray newspaper with water to moisten.  Cover and let the worms work their magic.

Keep adding scraps as your family makes them.  Once you fill a bucket about 1/2 to 3/4 full, place a new bucket with holes drilled in the bottom on top of the filled bucket.

Add a little bit of composted material from the first bucket, top with shredded moist newspapper and start adding your scraps to this bucket.  As the worms finish eating their way through the first bucket, they will begin to travel up to the next bucket.

You can keep adding buckets to your tower in this fashion.  After a couple months, your first bucket should be ready to add to your garden.

The worm tea that collects in the bottom bucket is excellent for adding to your garden and house plants as well.  Just add a little to your watering can when you water them.

Worm Tower, vermicomposting.

Worm Care 101

I’m just going to go over the basics.  If you want more in depth worm discussion, a great place to learn is www.redwormcomposting.com.

What to feed them:

  • Vegetable Scraps (limit citrus)
  • Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes (starchy foods) in moderation.
  • Crushed egg shells, in moderation.
  • Coffee grounds (aged or composted is best)
  • Tea bags (with no metal staple)
  • Shredded newspaper, cardboard and paper egg cartons

What NOT to feed them:

  • Meat or dairy
  • Human or pet waste (composted animal manure is ok)
  • Oil/fats

The worms like their food starting to rot or broken down somewhat so instead of placing fresh scraps in the bin, keeps scraps in a bin under your sink and add to the worm bin weekly.  Another option is to freeze your scraps and add them after they’ve been thoroughly frozen.  Freezing causes the cell walls to break down making it easier for the worms to eat.

Part of Traditional Tuesday.

5 comments to Got Worms? Make a Worm Compost Farm Out of Buckets.

  • This looks like such a fun project, especially with boys! Thanks for sharing. We might just have to try.

  • “Once you fill a bucket about 1/2 to 3/4 full, place a new bucket with holes drilled in the bottom on top of the filled bucket.”

    I’m confused. When these buckets are stacked, they wouldn’t leave room for half or 3/4 of the bucket to be filled. Help? do you mean 1/2 to 3/4 of the space between the stacked buckets?

    • Melanie

      It’s just an arbitrary number. Just don’t fill the bucket too full with compost so that when they are stacked, they tip over. I usually start filling a new bucket once the first one is a little more than halfway filled. Does that help?

  • Rachel

    Great, informative article! Thanks. Couple of questions: if I used stacking clear Rubbermaid tubs, would I be able to see the worms tunnel through (like an ant farm)? I’m thinking my little boys would love watching the worms. Also, where should I keep this? Can it be in extreme hot/cold/rain or does it have to be inside?

    • Melanie

      Yes, this works great for totes as well. I would suggest using dark totes though because even though it would be fun to see the worms tunnel, they don’t like light. It could stress them and they would avoid the sides anyway so you couldn’t see them.

      They should be kept out of extreme temps and out of the rain. The healthy running bin won’t smell bad, just a pleasant earthy smell. The only problem we had with having the bins inside was fruit flies occasionally. So we keep the bins in the garage. They can be kept outside as long as they are in the shade and under something to keep the rain out and it doesn’t freeze. They can handle cold temps but just not freezing.

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