If you’re looking for an inexpensive worm bin that’ll give you the same results as the big brands without the mouth to floor sticker shock, you’ve found it! I’m going to show you how to DIY a stackable tote bin worm composter that requires just a few minutes of assembly using supplies you probably already have around the house (except, for maybe the worms). This option is perfect for small spaces, beginner worm farmers, and is budget-friendly.
Is worm composting worth it?
100% YES! With a tote bin worm composter, you can create organic compost significantly faster than conventional container or kitchen scrap composting, which usually takes many months to break down into something you can use in your garden.
With castings, the worms do all the work of speeding up the process of decay. As the worms digest your food scraps they expel inoculated material (their poop) that contains beneficial bacteria sealed in a mucous coating that releases nutrients to your plants for months! This is what gardeners often refer to as “black gold” and that’s because…
Worm castings contain:
- higher concentrations of micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and sulfur than compost
- greater microorganism diversity than native soil or compost
- significantly more nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium than store-bought or homegrown compost
- tons of binding sites for micronutrients (so that they don’t wash away during watering or rain showers)
Once you introduce worm castings to your garden you’ll notice:
- improved seed germination rates
- more yields and faster-growing plants
- increased water retention in your soil
- reduced pest management (because castings contain properties that repel harmful insects)
Keeping a worm farm is especially practical if you’re a small space homestead dreamer like me. I’m using larger sized totes here in my townhouse, but you can easily apply this method to smaller stacking bins. Worms instrictically stop or increase reproduction depending on the size of their environment.
Now let’s build your tote bin worm composter! Want to see this build in action? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE!
How to Build a Tote Bin Worm Composter
- Drill bit
- 2 same size stackable bins (note: Light is any worms #1 enemy so don’t use anything that opaque. Container size should will be based on your needs, amount of scraps, garden size) For apartments, I recommend a 10-15 gallon bin size and for townhomes (or families of three) I recommend up to 40 gallon bins. Remember, you can always scale up or down with the addition or removal of extra bins.
- 1 lid
- Spray bottle
- Kitchen scraps
- Newspaper shreds
- Coco Coir brick (5-10 lbs depending on container size) BUT: If you prefer not to use Coco core you can use a mix of 50% topsoil and 50% compost.
- Composting worms (use only red wigglers or nightcrawlers)
- A cool, dark place
- Optional: Leaves, native soil
Before we begin: If you’re repurposing bins, thoroughly clean your containers using a mild soap cleaner to remove any residue that may be harmful to your worms.
DIY Tote Bin|Directions
- Line the floor of the first bin with a layer of newspaper. Cover with a 4-6 inch layer of coco coir. If you have it, add a little compost and several handfuls of damp native soil. Give things a good mix until everything feels moist but not wet. If you prefer not to use Coco Coir you can use a mix of 50% topsoil and 50% compost.
- Dig a shallow hole and add the worms. My preferred supplier is Uncle Jim’s worm farm, an online company that will ship your lil’ livestock straight to your door with a 3 day guaranteed alive promise. This company is EXCELLENT! I’ve made multiple purchases through the years and one time when I ordered 500 worms the same week as a snow storm, they replaced the worms, no questions asked, when only ½ of them survived shipping. Alternatively, you can pick up nightcrawlers from your local hardware store, if you want your worms immediately. Add soil/bedding back on top and cover with a layer of newspaper.
- Get your second bin. Create a pattern of ¼ drill holes across the base of each tote bin you plan to designate as a stacking layer. Space the holes about 2 inches apart top to bottom, left to right.
- Drill ventilation holes. Next, place your drill 3 inches below the top rim of the bin and drill 2 rows of ¼ holes spaced 2 inches apart around the perimeter of the bin.
- Secure the lid. Drill 1 row of ¼ holes spaced 4 inches apart on the lid. This will allow light to penetrate to the top of the soil surface. Because red wigglers will avoid the light, this will encourage them to remain sublevel and borrow deep into the bedding. The extra holes also ensure the worms have sufficient air flow. Secure the bin by placing the lid on top of the second bin.
- Keep it cool, dark, and damp. Store your bin indoors in a cool, dark area (maintain 55-70ºF environment) as they won’t do well in hot or extremely cold conditions. If your weather meets these conditions year round, feel free to keep them outside and away from curious pets. Repurpose a clean spray bottle to keep the bedding damp with water. I recommend avoiding anything with a pour spout because it’s waaaaay too easy to overwater and risk drowning your worms or encourage smelly smells. You want to keep things damp but not quite dry to the touch. But, if you accidentally add to much water, no worries, simply add some dry newspaper strips.
- Follow this feeding and maintenance schedule. After the first week, feed your worms on a regular cycle, adding consistent amounts of food (and not too much or things will start to smell). Make sure you cut food scraps into small pieces. Smaller sizes allow bacteria to cover more of the surface area and that makes it easier for your worms to “eat” with their itty bitty toothless mouths.
- What can worms eat? When you feed your worms always try to add equal portions of greens and browns! “Greens” consists of vegetable and fruit scraps, bread, pasta, coffee grounds and filters, teabags, dead plant matter from houseplants. “Browns” are things like paper, junk mail, paper egg cartons, cardboard, dry leaves. NO MEATS, BONES, OILS OR DAIRY PRODUCTS.
- Maintenance Tip: Set an alarm (or mark your calendar) to schedule weekly feedings and check-ins. Since worms aren’t like other living creatures that bark, move freely, or smell, you can easily forget about them. I maaaaay be speaking from experience. Or not. No judgment!
- Keep Stacking and Checking. The third (and any subsequent) bins will vertically stack on top of the base bin without holes.
- Always cover your scraps with a few newspaper shreddings, existing bedding material, and keep the lid closed to discourage pets.
- After 2-3 months your baby worms will grow and multiply and produce beautifully dark worm castings. When you reach this point, set up a new bin using the procedures in steps 3 and 4.
- Your worms will instinctively migrate up and into the new bin because that’s where the food is! Note: you can fill any gaps between your stacking bin layers with burlap or lawn fabric.
How do you harvest the castings?
There are a number of ways to do this, but I prefer to use a sifting screen to separate the worms and undigested scraps from the compost because it’s quick. You can store your harvested castings in a plastic container to have when you’re ready to use them.
How Do You Make Worm Tea?
You can easily make worm tea by submerging a large muslin bag filled with finished castings in a 5 gallon bucket where you can aerate and bubble it. I prefer NOT to add drainage holes to the base layer or attempt to create a drainage system because your bin should never be so saturated its leaking water. If it does, add newspaper to absorb excess moisture. A soaked worm bin isn’t good for good your worms and only introduces opportunities for things to smell. This, my friends, is why I avoid those risks by using the water bottle spray method. Plus, why use the run off from said overwatering that sits and collects at the bottom of “fancy” worm bins, when you use harvested worm castings that have a host of extra properties, on demand?
And now, let’s address the #1 question lingering in the back of your mind…..
Do worm compost bins smell?
NO! (Seriously) A properly maintained worm bin will only have a barely detectable earthy scent. But, any smell that does develop is always the result of your bin being too wet or the addition of too many food scraps. To fix this, turn the compost over a few times and layer with carbon material (like leaves) to absorb excess moisture or remove (and reduce) the quantity nitrogen based food scraps.
And there you have it. Your own self-sufficient worm farm, built for pennies on the dollar than those fancy brands with a result that will give you the exactly the same results, the coveted black gold! Have you tried this (or a similar method)? This fellow worm farmer (and potential worm farmers that need encouragement) would love to know! Comment below or take a picture of your system and hashtag it #becomingafarmgirl to share on Instagram!