While traveling in the Pacific Northwest, I met Peter Paul, who showed me the most amazing—and amazingly simple—idea for an outdoor worm composting bin. Using the help of worms to break down food matter (even meats!), Peter shows you a couple of simple methods for making great homemade compost.
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Not only that, this method creates a vibrant compost tea that gave Peter 7-foot-tall tomato plants! He also sometimes trades his “worm juice” for different items … even once for an iPhone (LOL).
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What Do You Think?
What’s your favorite bin for vermicomposting? Do you have any tips and tricks for success? Let us know in the comments below!
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on May 19, 2015.
Marjory Wildcraft is the founder of The Grow Network, which is a community of people focused on modern self-sufficient living. She has been featured by National Geographic as an expert in off-grid living, she hosted the Mother Earth News Online Homesteading Summit, and she is listed in Who’s Who in America for having inspired hundreds of thousands of backyard gardens. Marjory was the focus of an article that won Reuter’s Food Sustainability Media Award, and she recently authored The Grow System: The Essential Guide to Modern Self-Sufficient Living—From Growing Food to Making Medicine.
Awesome information here. I have a small in-ground worm bin but this has inspired me to make a large above-ground bin like Peter has put together so I can get me some “worm juice.” Thank you for this information.
It would be good to know how cold tolerant the worms are in a bin like this. I can’t imagine them liking a Missouri winter above ground like that. I have an old bathtub from a recent remodel so this looks like a great project for it.
I was thinking the same thing. Does anyone have a definitive answer?
I was wondering the same. WI winters get pretty cold even in a garage.
compost makes heat
It looks like it’s up against his house. That would probably keep it warm enough. If you have enough mass, I would think it would work even out on its own…maybe. I’m giving it a try in a 55-gallon drum. We’ll see how it works, I guess.
I think that the heat generated by the composting process might be enough. Otherwise a great experiment at keeping temperature records of compost contents during different seasons
Yes, I think it is a combination of being up against a wall of a heated building and that compost generates its own heat. Peter-Paul is in Southern Oregon it gets pretty dang cold…. but not as cold as say Colorado.
In colder places, put inside a garage or workshop could be good?
I would like to know how Heat tolerant the worms are. A compost bin or pile gets very warm and wonder if worms would get cooked in SE Texas.
I chip tree cuttings and pile around my trees. The worms are plentiful anytime I dig out some of the composted material for the garden but not near the top fresher/dryer layer of the pile.
Hey JJM, I live in blazing hot southern Arizona and the worms do fine here on the north side of a structure in full shade. It also helps if the bin is up off the ground so air can cool the bottom of it. If you use newspaper and shade cloth or geo-textile to cover the bin, it stays cooler than using a solid top like wood or metal that can trap heat in. Also, the worms will go deeper if it gets too hot at the surface, as you’ve seen with the mulch around your trees. I would also recommend using some geo textile or plastic window screen at the bottom of the bin so the compost doesn’t clog the outlet for the worm juice. It wasn’t mentioned in the video, but make sure that you buy compost worms instead of earth worms if you’re buying them in. They are different species and perform different tasks. I hope this helps you out a bit, good luck!
Joe! That was an awesome response! I live in northern burbs of Phoenix and I have been avoiding vermicomposting because of the heat. Can you tell me where you get your worms?
It is obvious this man has no idea how to make compost and this video only spreads wrong information about everything about compost. It seems to me that he is going through trial and error and you should not show this as a teaching video for any purpose. That you are posting this as an example to follow only tells me that you really have no clue about gardening.
Hi Laura – Sorry you didn’t like the video. What specifically do you think he is doing wrong?
One BIG item wrong with the video is the fact that the juice he is collecting is Leachate, (runoff water from the vegetables) and may not have even touched a worm. Leachate may even kill your plants. Master Gardeners suggest you dilute it 10 to 1 with water before using it. Google “worm tea” and watch the process of making compost or worm tea using the castings.
Helpful link here – Leachate vs Worm Compost Tea
I’ve done a lot of worm compost and love the results and ease. My only question here is the safety of using a galvanized tank for the compost. Any ideas? I much prefer an old bathtub.
I don’t know. It seems that, historically, the people that made the biggest discoveries were the same ones that don’t listen to conventional wisdom; that broke the rules. Even if he’s wrong, failure is a better teacher than success.
Great video. I am doing worm composting but on way too small a scale. I need to go bigger. This was a very enlightening video. Thank you for sharing the video.
Peter refers to his “worm juice” as worm tea. Please, please do not confuse the worm juice (leachate) with worm tea. There is a huge difference and the leachate he uses may contain pathogens that will harm your plants.
Worm tea is brewed worm poo and air and it creates good bacteria that benefit the health of the plant and soil not only promoting growth but protecting against diseases.
I also would like to know how cold hardy the worms are. I live 30 minutes from Buffalo NY and it gets cold here. I have a small indoor bin I use in the winter and would not want to start an outdoor bin if all the worms would die in the winter.
I hope it’s ok to post this here, but a great resource for work composting information is http://www.redwormcomposting.com, he also has quite a bit of information on worm composting them in cold weather climates too. He’s based in Ontario, Canada.
I’m in a subtropical climate (Brisbane, Australia) and have been worm composting for about 3 years now, and mine seem to cope with the heat OK. Although they will die (or escape) if it gets too hot. You don’t want it heating up like a hot compost pile, that will kill them, think of it more like cold composting. You would also not want the worm system exposed to the sun in hot weather. The set up of the system can affect things too, some work better in hot weather than others.
I’ll also second what the other Chris said, there’s a difference between leachate (as in the video) and actual work tea.
First I want to thank you for your awesome site. I love picking up tips from the articles and videos. I just watched the worm bin video and have a tip for you and your friend in Seattle.
A great way to separate the worms from the compost is to open the bin to bright sunlight and cover only one small end of it. The majority of the worms will go towards the dark end to avoid the light and then you just have to separate that part of the bin instead of the whole thing. You may have to start removing the compost from the sunny side so the light will get down into the deeper layers, depending on how deep the bin is, to encourage the worms to move. I picked this tip up from Geoff Lawton during my 2nd PDC. Please let your friend know, I’m sure he’ll appreciate spending less time sorting his compost. Cheers!
just to give you a hint
number 1 mistake YOU DO NOT PUT ANY MEAT, NOT EVER IN COMPOST, the same way you don’t put poop (not human, not cat not dog) That will rot and mold all your compost, fill it with dangerous bacterias, make it horribly stinky and attract unwanted scavengers. It is not good even for your plants. Now I know this website does not provide reliable information.
Be kind and respectful. When posting comments on someone’s website you should imagine that you are sitting in their house having a conversation with them in front of all future readers of your comment.
You can compost meat. Geoff Lawton does and he analyses his finished product under a microscope. If you have a large amount of beneficial bacteria it will overtake any bad bacteria that is introduced in small quantities.
You can, of course, compost meat. You can compost any organic material. With a little research you can identify several ways that people are composting meat successfully even in the big city. Black soldier fly larva are a popular method for composting meat. You can compost meat in worm bins, too, if the smell and the scavengers are not a problem for you.
Please feel free to unsubscribe from our newsletter if you don’t find the information here to be reliable. Thanks – Michael
Laura, you sound pretty upset. But really you can compost meat. All organic matter can be composted. A local pasture raised chicken producer near my home regularly composts all the remains he can’t otherwise utilize. It takes lots of ‘browns’ to balance out the ‘meaty greens’, but he does it every month after processing time. It is safe, there are no flies, no smell…
You can, in fact, compost human feces, if you know what you’re doing. It’s called Humanure, check it out here: http://humanurehandbook.com/
I was reading the replies, hoping someone would mention humanure. The safe composting of human waste would probably be one of the most responsible and useful things we could do for the earth. Thanks for mentioning it.
Hi Joe, yes I’ve used that tip before myself. It’s a good one. TNX for bringing it forward.
The only thing that bothered me was, it was so cold you could see her breath and yet she was barefooted. LOL
Laura sounds angry. I thought the video was awesome, this is definitely something I’d like to try. I’m glad he gave the proportions of worms to size of bin. Lots of good info, thanks!
I enjoyed his video so much I duplicated it on my own farm! It works! We got down to the teens and stayed there (Tennessee) this past winter and occasionally saw 1 and 4 degrees. I had placed a heat lamp under the trough and surrounded the trough with straw bales (not touching the lamp of course). The worms did fine. They found the level of warmth to go to and stayed there all winter.
Oh I was wondering about this! I am starting a bin this summer and thinking of putting it in the water heater room in the winter as it stays very warm in there… But possibly too warm. I will need to get a thermometer to check on it. Thanks for the input/tips!
Marjorie, this is excellent stuff, I can’t understand why anyone would be upset or disturbed about it! The only changes I would advise are; 1) to shred the leaves, using a readily available leaf blower machine on the vacuum setting, this would speed up the composting action quite a bit. 2) put the kitchen scraps into the blender and reduce them to a slurry before dumping them into the bin.
I’m in the Philippines, so cold weather is not an issue here. We produce 200-300 kgs of very high quality vermicasts daily using composting worms, Eudrilus eugenie, that live in bins under roof open on the bottom to native soil and built with dry stacked concrete blocks. Our bedding mix is coffee grounds, weeds, leguminous tree leaves, banana plant trunks, vegetable scraps and organic hog and quail manure. We make vermitea in 200 L drums for use as a foliar spray and soil drench on the organic vegetables we grow. Worms are separated from the casts with a small trommel using bicycle rims and powered by a fractional horsepower motor.
At my house I maintain vermi in styrofoam boxes used to ship table grapes from California. Each box produces 5 kg of vermicasts every two weeks from landcape waste, kitchen scraps and a bit of organic hog manure. Excess vegetable scraps go into either a bokashi bucket or the black soldier fly larva bin. The bokashi eventually ends up as a component of the vermi bedding. The larva feeds chickens and ducks.
Thank you for all the efforts you put forth to bring us so many kinds of information. What a learning tool. What we do with the gifts you give, is up to us individually. I am always amazed at the things Marjorie does with bare feet. It is one of the first things I look for in her videos, does she have shoes on.
Never stop this adventure. It is like living a dream come true being able to follow you. I once heard that a person should tread so softly on the earth as to never leave their footprint, so those who follow in the next generation can create their own path.
where do you find this tub? I am in Québec. Great idea.
Hello Lisette! Sorry that no one has answered you sooner, but you can get these “stock tanks” from farm supply stores. Good luck.
This is a great idea. I live in zone 4a where a bin like this would freeze solid in winter if outside. Do you think moving the vermiculture inside a garage would be enough protection that the worms could make it through winter?
Sue……It looks like an aluminum tub, wouldn’t that contaminate the compost?
Question. So does only the juice and not the compost from the worms? Does he ever remove the compost and use on his garden beds and refill for the worms? I’m not grasping the whole picture I think.
He said that he uses the juice most of the time and once a year in the spring separates out the compost to use. That was my understanding!
I love this idea! It will keep my back yard more tidy and who does not a galvanized tub as part of farm-like decor?
I think I will have my husband make a top that has a handle on it so I can lift it up myself with ease. Thanks for sharing this.
2 questions about the composting worm bin: 1. does it need to be watered to keep it moist and for lots of worm juice? I would think that it gets hot and dried out in that metal bin, which would drive the worms out or kill them. I live in an area that frequently stays above 110 for days in a row. Question 2: in the spring when you do separate out the worms, is the entire bin ready to be turned out, even if a last addition was just added? Comment: I remember reading something about separating worms from compost; they go where the food is, so you make your last addition at one end (and make that the shady end as someone else pointed out in another comment), and the worms will all migrate to the good place so you can easily remove the rest of the bin!
My questions are about temperature and moisture. I live in zone 5 and we just had some below zero temps here. I am concerned that, even with fresh composting materials, it might be too cold for the worms. The other question, as above– is it necessary to add some moisture periodically? My guess is that you could monitor that and add if the ingredients are on the dry side. Thanks! This is great sharing!
Why buy worms? Build it and they will come.
Earthworms and compost worm are different a common compost worm is the red wriggler. Regards Russell
So this looks very efficient and easy to start. That is a stock tank he is using, right?? The worms are earthworms? We get some really cold weather here in North Alabama, would the heap generate enough heat to protect the worms?? Marjory, you offer excellent information! Thank you.
Marjorie, I have a traditional worm composter that works just fine. Recently I wanted to have another, a bigger one so I got a plastic bucket, drilled holes in the bottom, got kitchen scraps and put worms inside. I then placed the buckey near aa Acerola tree and also my garden, holes in contact with the soil so tea would filter to plants. Two days latter all my worms were dead! Any Idea what went wrong?
Think it’s time to give it a try. I have a half barrel that was the watering trough for our horse many years ago. Should work great.