Getting started

Step 1: Choose a Bin

Bin Size: The size of your bin depends on the number of worms you have and the amount of organic waste you produce. The bin should be deep enough to fully burry organic waste and have a large enough surface area to rotate the feeding location. A typical household vermicompost bin measures approximately 24 x 16 x 12 inches and contains 1 pound of worms.

 If you are producing more organic waste than your vermicompost bin can accommodate, increase the size of your bin or start a second bin.

Reuse, Build, or Buy: Reuse a bin you already have, purchase a plastic bin or build a wooden bin. Whatever type of bin you choose, drill holes in the cover to allow for air flow.

Bin Location: Locate your bin where it is convenient and easy to access, such as in or near the kitchen. Worms prefer a constant room temperature (15-25 degrees Celsius is ideal), so it’s important to keep your bin away from drafts and heating sources.

 Place a rug or piece of cardboard under your bin to provide insulation from cold floors.

Step 2: Make the Bedding

The bedding is where the worms will live. There are many different materials you can use including shredded newspaper, paper and cardboard, dried grass clippings, chopped straw, dried leaves and peat moss.

The mixture we suggest is as follows:

  • Natural peat moss (about 1/2 of bedding)
  • Shredded newspaper (about 1/2 of bedding)
  • A dozen crushed eggshells
  • Water
  1. Shred the newspaper by machine or by hand, tearing the sheets into 1-3 inch pieces.You can shred the egg carton used to collect eggshells and add it with the shredded newsprint.
  2. Crush the eggshells using a grinder, blender, or rolling pin. Eggshells make the acidic peat moss more neutral (powdered lime also works well) and eggshells provide the grit necessary for the worms to digest their food (a handful of soil will also serve as a source of grit).
  3. Mix the shredded paper and egg carton with the peat moss. Make enough bedding to fill your bin about 8-12 inches deep. Skip the peat moss by making your bedding entirely out of paper, or any of the materials listed above.
  4. Let water stand for 24 hours before adding it to the mixture, to allow chlorine to evaporate and the water to reach room temperature.
  5. Add water to the dry materials – the bedding should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Squeeze a handful of bedding to check the moisture. Little or no water should run out between your fingers and, when you open your hand, the bedding should remain in a ball in your palm.

Step 3: Add the Worms

You will need about one pound of red wigglers – that’s about 1000 worms! Gently add the worms to the top of the bedding, and watch as they make their way out of the light and into the dark, moist soil.

Once your vermicompost bin is established, if the conditions are favourable, your worms will begin to reproduce. You won’t need to worry about overpopulation as your worms will adapt to the space and food that is available to them.

For the first 2-3 days after adding your worms, leave the cover off your bin and a bright light on (a lamp or overhead light). Worms are sensitive to the light, and will move to the bottom in the dark bedding.

Next, replace the cover but leave the light on for another 2-3 days. During this time, you may notice some worms crawling up around the sides and cover of the bin. This is common, as they adjust to their new home. If this happens, gently put them back into the bedding. Once the worms have settled into their bedding, you can keep the cover on and the light off.

The worms may bathe in the condensation on the sides of the bin – this is not a problem as long as the worms stay inside the bin.

Where to find red wiggler worms:

There are two easy ways to obtain a supply of red wiggler worms:

  • Buy them from a worm farm.
  • Get them from a friend with an established vermicompost bin.

Trouter’s Special Worm Farm in Bay Bulls, Newfoundland sells red wiggler worms by the pound, as well as complete vermicomposting starter kits – which include a bin, a bag of bedding, and a pound of worms. They’re happy to show you around the farm and share their knowledge of worms and vermicomposting.

Step 4: Maintain your Vermicompost System

Your vermicompost system will require little maintenance. In fact, the less the worms are disturbed, the more productive they will be. And, unlike other pets, you can go away for up to a month and not worry about their care.

Before going on vacation, feed your worms and – if your house temperature will drop below 15oC – insulate the bin by placing a rug underneath and moving it away from exterior walls.

If your question is not answered in our FAQs, please email inquiries@mmsb.nl.ca to submit your question.

Why is it called vermicomposting?

Vermi is Latin for worm. Vermicomposting simply means composting with worms.

What is vermicomposting?

Vermicomposting is composting with worms. It is typically done indoors in a closed bin populated with red wiggler worms that eat organic waste and expel it as worm castings or droppings.

What is vermicompost?

Vermicompost is a combination of worm castings and decomposed organic material as well as worms, worm cocoons and other decomposer organisms. It is the end product of the vermicomposting process.

What are worm castings?

Worm castings are the worm’s droppings or manure. Worm castings contain decomposed organic material, soil and bacteria.

How does vermicomposting help the environment?

Vermicomposting lets us recycle just like nature does. A vermicompost bin mimics natural processes, allowing organic waste to break down into nutrient-rich compost, which can be returned to the soil to help new things grow. Vermicomposting helps the environment in the following ways:

  • Reduces Waste Sent to our Dump Sites – Up to 30% of our daily household waste is organic.
  • Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Organics buried in a dump site break down very slowly and without the presence of oxygen. As a result, methane gas (a greenhouse gas) is produced.
  • Reduces Pollution – When organics break down without the presence of oxygen, such as in a dump site, a toxic liquid known as leachate (the liquid that runs from a dump) is produced. Leachate can pollute our soil and water sources.
  • Reduces the Need for Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides – Finished vermicompost is natural fertilizer that returns valuable nutrients back into the soil, promoting the growth of healthy plants.

I’m squeamish around worms, can I still vermicompost?

Yes. You will need some comfort-level around worms, as you will see and touch some worms when you add food waste and harvest the finished vermicompost. With daily use you will rarely see many worms, as they like to stay below the bedding surface. You may notice that the worms aren’t as “gross” as you may have expected them to be and you may start to love worms.

Can I have a vermicompost bin in my classroom at school?

Yes. Composting with worms is a great way to show your students how organic waste breaks down naturally. Vermicomposting is fun and interesting for all grade levels.

How big do the worms get?

Mature red wiggler worms are small and thin, normally measuring between 50 and 100mm. As a comparison, nightcrawlers, which you usually find in your garden, are much larger, normally measuring between 110-300mm.

Can I use the worms in my backyard for vermicomposting?

No. The types of worms you find in your backyard – like nightcrawlers – are great for your garden and your backyard compost bin, but they’re not suited for vermicomposting. Nightcrawlers are known for burrowing and transporting organic material deep into the soil, as opposed to decomposing surface waste. In addition, nightcrawlers will try to leave your bin if they are disturbed. Red wiggler worms are surface dwellers that are specially adapted to the environment of decomposing organic waste and don’t mind being disturbed or kept in captivity.

Do I have to have a garden to vermicompost?

No. Vermicomposting is done indoors in a closed bin. For this reason, it’s the perfect solution for apartment dwellers who want to recycle their organic waste. You can use harvested vermicompost on your houseplants or give it away as a gift.

Will I always need to buy new worms?

No. Once you invest in a supply red wiggler worms for your vermicompost bin, you won’t need to buy any more. Red wigglers reproduce quickly and the worms and cocoons can be retained during the harvesting process for future use.

If my worms keep reproducing, will I end up with too many worms?

No. Although red wiggler worms reproduce quickly, you will not have an overpopulation problem in your bin. Worms will only reproduce when the proper conditions are present and populations will adapt to the amount of space and food available.

Do I need to get worms for my backyard compost bin?

No. You do not need to add worms to your backyard compost bin like you do with a vermicompost bin. Worms will naturally migrate up from the soil to populate your backyard compost bin. It is helpful, however, to add more worms (and other decomposers) to your backyard bin by adding a few shovels of garden soil.

If I cut a worm in half, will I get two worms?

No. Worms have the ability to regenerate tissue, but that ability is limited. If a worm loses a piece of its tail it can grow a new one, but a worm can’t grow a new head. Worms are living creatures and should not be intentionally harmed.

Will the vermicompost bin smell bad?

No. The vermicompost bin will have a fresh, earthy smell. The only time offensive odors will be present is if the wrong material (like meat or dairy) is added, the bin is overloaded with food or the food is left exposed on top of the bedding, or if the compost has too little oxygen flow. Following the proper procedures will ensure your bin stays odor-free.

If the worms leave the bin will they get all over my house?

No. In the unlikely event that the worms do migrate from your bin, they won’t get very far. You may find them alive around the bottom of the bin, where you can pick them up and place them back in the bedding. Otherwise, you may find them dried up on the floor surrounding the bin.

What do I do with my worms when I go on vacation?

Before going on vacation, feed your worms and, if your house temperature will drop below 15 degrees Celsius, insulate the bin by placing a rug underneath and moving it away from exterior walls. If you will be away for more than a month, arrange to have a friend or family member take care of your bin.

Can I leave my vermicompost bin outside?

It is not recommended. Although vermicomposting can be done outdoors, our climate in Newfoundland and Labrador makes it a bit difficult. Worms prefer a temperature between 15-25 degrees Celsius and don’t like to be in drafty areas or under direct heat. If you do keep your vermicompost bin outdoors for part of the year, make sure it is properly insulated.

Can I keep my vermicompost bin in my basement?

Yes. You can keep your vermicompost bin in your basement if you keep the bin insulated from drafts and cold floors. It is, however, recommended that you keep your bin in a location where it is convenient and easy to access, like near your kitchen, where you will be producing organic waste.

Troubleshooting

Here are some common issues and solutions that you may experience with your vermicompost bin:

Problem

Possible Cause

Solution

Bedding too wet Not enough absorbent bedding material. Add more paper, cardboard or peat moss to absorb extra moisture.
Condensation is building up inside bin. Leave the lid off the bin until the bedding reaches the ideal moisture level (as moist as a wrung-out sponge). Keep a light on to encourage worms to stay down in the bedding.
Too much food waste. Refrain from adding more food waste until the current feeding is consumed. Add more paper, cardboard, or peat moss to absorb excess moisture.
Compost is ready to be harvested. Follow the harvesting instructions (click here) and mix up a new batch of bedding.
Bedding too dry Not enough food waste. Add more food waste to the bin, especially materials with high water content like moist fruit and vegetable peels and scraps.
Cover is left off or bin is too close to a heat or draft source. Use spray bottle of water to moisten the bedding until it reaches the ideal moisture level (as moist as a wrung-out sponge). Move the bin away from heat and draft sources.
Worms crawling up sides and cover of bin Worms adjusting to new surroundings. Gently brush the worms off the sides and cover of the bin and replace them in their bedding. This problem should rectify itself as the vermicompost system matures.
Worms migrating from bin Bin is resting on a cold floor or near cold exterior walls. Move the bin to a location with a warmer floor (or walls) or insulate the bin by placing a rug under (or along the sides of) the bin.
Bedding is too acidic. Add crushed eggshells or powdered lime to balance out the acidity of the bedding (peat moss and coffee grounds are acidic).
Material is ready to be harvested. Finished vermicompost can be toxic to the worms. Follow the harvesting instructions (click here) and mix up a new batch of bedding.In the unlikely event that your worms migrate from the bin, they won’t get far. You may find them alive around the bottom of the bin, where you can pick them up and place them back in the bedding. Or, you may find them dried up on the floor surrounding the bin.
Unpleasant odour Bin is overloaded with material. Make sure the last feeding is almost consumed before adding the next feeding
Improper materials added. Avoid adding meat, fish, bones, dairy products, fats, oils, and sauces.
Not enough oxygen present – anaerobic decomposition Fluff up bedding with your hands; make sure the bedding is not too wet; make sure the holes in the cover of your bin are exposed
Fruit flies around bin Food is exposed on top of bedding Cover each feeding with at least two inches of bedding.
Visibly moudly material Food is scattered throughout the bin Place feedings in concentrated piles and cover feedings with at least two inches of bedding.
Avoid mixing up the bedding around feeding locations.
Mould is a natural part of the decomposition process and will be present – though you likely won’t see it – throughout your vermicompost bin.