Turn Your Trash into Black Gold with this Amazingly Simple Vermicompost System

Nature has its own way of creating resources out of waste. In the forest, leaves fall to the ground in autumn and eventually decompose with the help of tiny microorganisms. That decomposition ultimately feeds the soil, which in turn feeds the trees. Nature is full of awesome closed-loop systems that we can learn. At home, we typically resort to buying prepackaged compost to enrich our garden soil. There are many options on the market; some good and some not so good. It just so happens that you can effortlessly make the best compost at home, inside your home, with no foul odors. It’s true!

If mushroom compost is the Cadillac of compost, then vermicompost is the Rolls-Royce of compost. You may have logically deduced that mushroom compost is made from the spent substrate that mushrooms are grown in, but do you know what vermicompost is? I assure you the name sounds far more complicated than what the process actually entails. Vermicompost is similar to regular compost, except that worms play a large part in the composting process.

Vermicomposting systems are typically small, cheap and portable. Worms are brought in to an enclosed container to decompose organic food waste such as table scraps, and paper products such as shredded up junk mail. The worms turn the waste into a nutrient-rich material that is capable of supporting superior plant growth. Vermicompost enriches the soil, creates an ecologically safe system for food production, and raises the productivity of the land. Enough about how amazing this stuff is, let’s talk about how you can construct your own simple vermicompost system at home.

1Materials You Will Need:

  1. 1 Five Gallon Bucket, with Lid
  2. 1 Round Plastic Louver, 3″
  3. 2 Round Plastic Louvers, 1″
  4. 1 Length of Schedule 40 PVC Pipe – 1″ diameter, 10 3/4″ length
  5. 1 Plastic Spigot
  6. 1 Grit Guard Bucket Insert
  7. 1 Piece of Window Screen

Tools You Will Need:

  • Tape Measure
  • Power Drill
  • Small Drill Bit
  • 1″ Spade Drill Bit
  • 3″ Hole Saw
  • Hand Saw
  • Sandpaper

Step 1: The Lid

Take the lid off of the five gallon bucket and drill a hole in the center using the 3″ hole saw. Sand the rough edges and snap the 3″ round plastic louver into this hole. This ventilation will allow air exchange from the top of the vermicompost system.

Step 2: Drainage

Install the spigot on the side of the bucket, using the instructions that came with the spigot. Try to place the spigot as low as possible while still ensuring that the hole does not extend below the inside floor of the bucket. Also make sure that the spigot is not placed so low that it prevents the bucket from sitting flat on the ground. The spigot will allow you to drain out the valuable liquid that will collect at the bottom of the bucket when the system is in use.

Step 3: Build the Bottom

Using the top of the grit guard as a template, cut a circle shape out of the window screen. The final piece of screen should be the exact same size as the grit guard’s circumference. Insert the grit guard into the bottom of the bucket, and then lay the screen on top. The screen should lay flush on top of the grit guard. These pieces together will act as a false bottom in the bucket, allowing liquid to drain through but preventing worms and their bedding from falling through.


Step 4: Center Ventilation Shaft

Use the tape measure to mark a spot 5 1/2 inches from the bottom of the bucket. Mark the spot on the outside of the bucket, and make sure that the marked spot is well above the top of the grit guard on the inside of the bucket. Drill a 1″ hole here using the spade drill bit. Drill another hole on the other side of the bucket, directly across from the first hole.

Using the small drill bit, drill alternating ventilation holes in the 1″ PVC pipe, as pictured. These holes do not need to be pretty, or exact. When you have drilled the ventilation holes, sand the pipe to remove any roughness. Wedge the pipe inside the bucket horizontally so that the ends of the pipe align with the two 1″ holes on the sides of the bucket. Secure the two 1″ louvers from the outside of the bucket.

Let the Vermicomposting Begin!

Fill the bucket up to the brim with shredded paper that is moist but not soaked. Don’t use glossy print from newspaper inserts or weekly circulars. The moist paper will serve as your worms’ bedding. Your worms will live in this bedding and also eat it. Buy at lest 500 red wiggler worms from a local garden center, a bait shop, or an online worm retailer. The worms must be red wigglers, specifically. Most earthworms won’t survive for long in a bucket. If you can’t find a local source, don’t worry about shipping the worms through the mail; they don’t seem to mind being mailed at all. When you have your worms, go ahead and place them inside the bucket on the bedding. Leave the bucket uncovered for the first 24 hours and place it directly under a constant light source. The worms will go down deep into the bucket to escape the light. Without the light, the worms will probably try to escape the bucket – and you don’t want that.

Now that your vermicomposting system is established, you can start to bury your table scraps in the bedding. Always be sure to completely cover all of the food scraps with bedding. If you juice, like I do, your worms are going to love you! If you’ve ever wondered what to do with all that fibrous pulp left over from juicing fresh fruits and veggies; your worms will gladly make sure it doesn’t go to waste. In return for the food, the worms will make you some of the best organic fertilizer you can imagine. And you can use this fertilizer to grow even more fruits and veggies. By doing this, we have officially created our own closed loop system of sustainability that mimics nature. Congrats!

Guidelines for Feeding Your Worms

Begin feeding your worms slowly. Don’t give the worms a giant feast that they consume quickly enough. They are voracious eaters, but if you give them more than they can handle, the food will start to rot before they can consume it. Rotting food smells bad.

Worms like most fresh organic matter. Leftover fruits and veggies are great for them. Also include some fine grit materials like coffee grounds, cornmeal, or crushed eggshells. The fine grit helps red wiggler worms to process their food better.

Avoid These Foods:

  • Fruits high in acid; like oranges, limes, and pineapples.
  • Onions and garlic
  • Proteins and fats; like meat, cheeses, and dairy products.


Harvesting Your Vermicompost

Several weeks after starting your vermiculture, you can begin to harvest the vermicompost that your worms are creating. You can apply worm castings topically on the soil as a slow release fertilizer. Worm castings also make an excellent soil amendment for potting soil and garden soil. Add vermicompost to your soil at a 1:10 ratio, vermicompost to soil. My absolute favorite way to use vermicompost is by making a home-brewed compost tea. This tea is for your garden, not for you to drink! Compost tea has easily doubled the size of my garden plants, in half the time it takes using other fertilizers. Want to learn more? Look out for my next contest entry where I plan to share my secret formula for compost tea. If you have any questions, let me know using the comment section below.

Remember that good planets are hard to find,

Brian from Back to Basics


This article is an entry in our January – March 2015 writing contest.  Be sure to rate this article – your vote is an important part of picking the winners!

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  • Paul Kamalski

    Jennifer fruits told me to check it out and write a contest entry and I read and checked it out and its a good website keep the good stuff up

  • Thanks Jennifer fruits for suggesting this wonderful article <3

  • Merry

    Really well written, entertaining while being clear with instructions and photos! Didn’t think I’d ever want a bucket of worms in my house but now maybe I do!

  • Richard Barrett

    Have a little charcoal (Bio-char) from a wood campfire to add to the compost to prevent smelling. The best time to make it is when the flame almost stops, you can throw water on the fire (nice glowing embers) before it turns to white alkali ash.

  • Floyd kennington

    I’ve been trying to learn how to do composting for the purpose of growing a humongous healthy garden here in IL. I would like to someday be able to donate some fresh organic produce to the homeless and to the local food banks. Thank you – I like your website and I’ll be on here a lot.

  • I was reading a real old cook book and one recipe made me laugh. Its for a black berry pie. The first thing you have to do is find a bear eating black berries and kill it.

  • selene

    Very clear instructions. …Good to know.

  • John H

    I liked this worm growing article. I have an idea about how you could recycle the worms too. I would suggest that you take a second 5 gallon bucket, drill several large holes in it, and place it within the first bucket after the first bucket has been completed eaten by the worms. Fill the upper bucket with additional scraps. The worms in the lower bucket will gravitate to the upper bucket. You can then take the castings from the lower bucket and use those for fertilizer. Then pour the contents of the upper bucket with the worms in it back into the lower bucket and you can start all over again. Make sure you have enough ventilation in the upper bucket for the worms who traverse there.

    Grow and live.

    Uncle John

  • Laur

    Wondered information! Cannot wait to get started!

  • Ruth

    I understand that chunks of corrugated cardboard are a great addition because the worms like to lay their eggs in them and are easy to lift out of the finished vermicompost and into a refreshed system to aid the cycle of wriggler life.

  • DaveM

    Would it be possibly to put a “hatch” near the bottom so that the most completely composted material could be removed rather than emptying the entire bucket? Has anyone tried this? One could then separate and reintroduce the worms, making the system continuous.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      That’s a great idea Dave. I wonder if anyone has already worked this out. If not maybe you can take a stab at it and let us know what you come up with.

  • Donna Lucy

    Should this compost be turned or rotated inside the bucket, and if so, how often? Should the compost just be harvested from the top? If turning or harvesting from the bottom, should the aeration tube be removed to facilitate this? Does water ever need to be added (to simulate natural rainfall) and if so, is there a way to keep it from running out of the aeration tube? Should added water sit out overnight first so the chlorine will evaporate from it and not stress the worms? I am assuming that it is okay that some of the worms go with the compost that gets used because they will reproduce.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Donna – Lots of questions here! Most worm bins need to be processed from time to time to harvest the castings and add fresh bedding. For this design, as pictured above, you’d need to dump the bucket out and process the contents outside the bucket. I wouldn’t remove the aeration tube – especially while the bucket is full. When you dump the bucket, use a bright light to move the worms where you want them – they will flee the light. So you move them to one side and process the side where they aren’t, then repeat that a few times. Then reset the container with fresh bedding and put the worms back in. We’re working on an article about this with more info and pictures.

      In my plastic worm bins, the problem is usually that there is too much moisture, rather than not enough. When you add fresh bedding to the bin, that bedding should be saturated with water. I doubt if you would need to add additional water to this set up, but if so you should use rain water or distilled water. Turns out that letting water sit out overnight isn’t a good solution anymore in most cities. Leslie Parsons wrote a good guide on this subject – A Guide for Using Tap Water in Your Garden.

      No worries if a few worms go out with the finished compost/castings. Just make sure there are plenty of healthy worms left in the bin when you’re done.

  • Helen

    I appreciate the simplicity of this system. Excellent instructions. Pictures most appreciated.

  • Farmer Phyl

    Most articles about worm composting are all about the clever bins. Worms have lived for millennia without any help from humans. The great outdoors is their natural habitat. A small pile outdoors is all you need, nothing fancy. I keep mine in my rose garden and no one ever notices it. It is only about 18 inches tall and 2-3 feet wide. The length depends on how much food and bedding you have on a regular basis. All you have to do is feed them regularly (every one to three weeks), keep the food covered with shredded leaves, straw or paper, and keep it moist. You can feed kitchen scraps or yard ‘waste’. When you want to harvest worm castings, start a new pile that is touching the old one. Stop putting food into the old pile. Wait a couple of months and the worms will move into the new pile. That’s it. Done! No bin necessary.

    • Fred Potato

      My outdoor compost is frozen for a good part of the year…so composting indoors would be a great help for me… I’d love to hear about a way to compost outdoors in Winter conditions, using the compost to heat the outdoor “bin” or pile, but with high winds, snow, etc. composting indoors can work too.

  • DaveM

    Has anyone come up with a simple means of separating the worms from the composted material when it’s time to empty the bin?

    • Farmer Phyl

      Have you tried to scoot the existing worm poo over to one side and then start a new pile right next to it. Stop putting food in the old poo and feed only in the new bedding. Give it a few weeks and you should be able to harvest the original poo by just scooping it up. Then you can add more bedding to the bin so you can, one again, use the whole bin instead of just half.

  • Mary Kay Anderson

    I will show this to my husband. He makes wine so we have lots of buckets. He also can make anything. I recently moved from the city. Had a big garden, composted everything. Have 4 acres now. I will keep you posted. Where do you keep it in the winter?

  • Our oldest daughter, a committed recycler, has been talking about a worm bin for the longest time and here is a good plan to carry out this project. Thank you from our family!

  • Tina

    Brian, where do you find the Grit Guard bucket insert at? I’ve located the other supplies, but haven’t found the bucket guard. Thanks

  • antonio

    mistake in top photo of vermicompost aeticle

  • C

    There is also no information as to what the spigot is for. If no additional water is added, there will be no runoff to exit the spigot. No information as to how to properly process the bedding. No information as to temperature requirements.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi C – I think this was really just about the one detailed bucket design. Sounds like you’re looking for an overview of worm composting altogether. For a quick and dirty deep dive check out this page: http://www.redwormcomposting.com/getting-started/. For a basic reference guide to keep handy I use Mary Appelhof’s Worms Eat My Garbage. There are more complete guides out there – but this one is a good introduction and good for quick reference. And one of these days we’re going to have a short class on worm composting you can take online…

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