Ultimate Guide to Worm Farming: How to Start (Full Details)

Have you ever considered that investing in a worm farm for your home and garden might help you lower your ecological footprint? For many eco-conscious consumers, the environmental effects of chemical fertilizers are a major drawback to home gardening. These gardeners have turned to composting instead, and while it is certainly more environmentally friendly, most composting methods take weeks, if not months, to produce results.

But worm farming offers an effective alternative. That’s right: worms! And it’s easy to get started.

Drawing of an underground tunnel in a worm farm, with a worm wearing a farmer's hat and bandana.

While still a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States, vermicomposting is on the rise and there are many amateur worm farmers just wriggling to get started.

If you’re ready to join their ranks, read on. This ultimate guide to worm farming outlines everything you need to know about how to get started (with all of the details), as well as how to maintain your worm farm and all the awesome advantages of keeping these soil-dwellers happy in your home.

How Do You Start a Worm Farm?

It’s easy to start a worm farm at home, and best of all, you’ll be harvesting compost by the end of the week.

To get started, you will need to gather your materials, most of which can be sourced cheaply and sustainably.

DIY Worm Farm: How To Start Your Own Worm Farm

To build your own worm farm, follow these simple steps:2

  1. Gather Materials—Like any DIY project, your first step is to gather all of the required materials including a worm composting bin (the worm farm), bedding materials, composting worms, and readily available compostable materials.
  2. Prepare the Farm—To prepare the farm, first line the middle level with bedding materials. This can be as simple as cutting a piece of newspaper or cardboard to fit the level’s base. If you purchased a farm, it should include a bedding block which will need to be soaked in water for 30 minutes. Spread the contents across the bedding. If you are making your own farm from scratch, add compostable materials to the level.
  3. Add the Worms—Add the worms to the middle layer and cover them with more compostable materials and sheets of damp newspaper. Finally, replace the top level and wait for the worms to begin producing compost.

DIY Worm Farm: How To Expand Your Own Worm Farm

Once your worms have filled up the middle level of their farm, you can choose to add more levels.

To do so, add compostable material to the new level and cover it with damp newspapers or cardboard. Over time, the worms will work their way up to the top level which will eventually become their feeding zone. The compost will gather in the lower levels.

DIY Worm Farm: How To Maintain Your Own Worm Farm

It is incredibly important that you maintain your worm farm on a daily and weekly basis.3 However, this process shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes each day. To maintain the farm, do these two things:

  • Feed the Worms—The best thing you can do each day is provide your worms with new compostable material. There is no exact amount of food, but we suggest that you give your worms at least a handful a day.
  • Moisten the Bedding—Worms love a warm, moist environment, so if you notice that their bedding is beginning to dry out, use a spray bottle to apply water. Do not soak the bedding material, only moisten it.

Earthworm Farm Materials Needed (How to Build a Worm Farm)

You only need a few things to start a worm farm, and we’ve listed them all:

  • Location—Before buying a worm composting bin, you should determine where you intend to house the farm. Most worm farms are located inside, but a covered balcony or garden will serve just as nicely. During the summer, try to keep your worms out of direct sunlight and in a cool environment. While during the winter, they should be kept in a sunny area to maximize compost production.
  • Worm Composting Bins (Worm Farm)—You can use most any container as a starting point for your worm farm, but there are commercially available containers that are easier to set up and maintain. These containers are usually made up of three sections:1
    • Top Level—The worms feed on this level. However, it should only be added after you have already established the farm. Until then, the worms will feed in the middle level/s.
    • Middle Level/s—The worms reside on this level. Here, they digest their food and excrete casings, ‘worm humus,’ which are the nutrient-rich products of vermicomposting.
    • Bottom Level—Worm farmers often refer to this as ‘The Toilet.’ Liquid worm waste will gather here.
  • Bedding Materials—Before the worms are introduced to their composting bin, you will want to add bedding materials to simulate a healthy, natural environment. Bedding can range from shredded brown cardboard to yard waste but be sure that the material is not abrasive or sharp and that it allows air to flow through it.
  • Composting Worms—The Red Wiggler Worm is hailed as the king of vermicomposting, but it’s not the only subspecies that produces rich compost. You could also try using Epigeic Worms, Blue Worms, African Nightcrawlers, or Alabama and Georgia Jumpers. However, for the best results, we recommend using red wigglers in your worm farm.
  • Compostable Materials—Your worms are happy to eat any material that decomposes naturally but we recommend that you use vegetable scraps (raw or cooked), fruit, tea bags, coffee grounds and paper waste (including newspapers and cardboard). For the best results, cut compostable materials into small pieces. We recommend that you avoid adding dairy products or meat to your farm as these are less readily digestible and can produce a foul smell.

Worm Farm Accessories (How to Start an Earthworm Farm)

While worm farms are easy to construct and maintain, there are a couple of accessories that will improve your farming experience. These are:

  • Worm Compost Thermometer—The thermometer is particularly useful for farms that are not inhabited by red wiggler worms. In particular, African Nightcrawlers and Alabama and Georgia Jumpers are very susceptible to certain temperatures. With a thermometer, you can measure the temperature of the food and bedding mixture and ensure that your worms are operating within the optimum setting.
  • Worm Compost pH and Moisture Meter—Like the thermometer, the pH and moisture meter allows you to monitor the worms’ environment. It provides you with information on the acidity and moisture content of your composting bin so you can adjust the environment to best support the worms.

Nature's footprint worm farm kit with all the accessories described.

The Advantages of Building Your Own Worm Farm

There are many advantages to building your own worm farm, but the number one reason for investing in vermicomposting is ‘worm tea.’ ‘Worm tea’ is a potent fertilizer made of worm excrement and water that is much sought after in the gardening community. If you haven’t already, you can start phasing out your chemical fertilizers because ‘worm tea’ is, hands down, one of the best fertilizers on the market.

What is Vermiculture?

Vermiculture, or vermicomposting, refers to the practice of producing compost by cultivating worm farms. These farms generate “black gold,” a type of compost that is rich in nutrients and microbes and is known to transform even the most barren soil into fertile gardening soil.

What is a Fishing Worm Farm?

It’s easy to modify a composting worm farm to a fishing worm farm.5 In fact, you can do both. A composting farm is the perfect environment in which to raise fishing worms. Here are some optional changes:

  • If you want easy access to the worms, keep the bin dark. This will ensure that at least some of the worms are near the surface. That way, you can easily grab a handful when you’re ready to harvest.
  • You can also change the type of worm. Some sites like Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm offer packs of mealworms, European Night Crawlers, and Red Wigglers.
  • If you are not using a composting worm, check whether any other changes must be made to the environment. However, you should still be able to produce both compost and worms.

How to Worm Farm and Be a Worm Farmer

You should now have all the information you need to start earthworm farming and as you’ll find out, the step-by-step process is pretty easy! In fact, vermicomposting can be fun for the whole family. This is a great way to introduce your kid/s to nature conservation through a simple, hands-on approach.

This next section provides you with the answers to some of your most pressing questions including what you should feed your worms, which composting bins are best for new farmers, and how to make your very own black gold.

What You Should Feed Your Worms

When feeding your worms exercise extreme caution. While we have provided a list below of dos and don’ts, it only covers so much and is not comprehensive.

We advise that you consult either the manual included with most worm farm kits or the internet to determine which food sources are best for your worms. Here are the most important rules for feeding worms:

  • Divide up large pieces of compostable material into smaller segments. Some worm farmers also microwave or puree food scraps to make them easier to digest.
  • Moderate how much you feed to the worms. A worm will eat the equivalent of its own body weight in a single day so if you have a pound of worms in your farm, you can add up to a pound of compostable material every day. However, we recommend that you feed them every other day just to be safe.
  • Try to add an equal amount of browns and greens. ‘Brown’ foods contain high levels of carbon or carbohydrates while ‘green’ foods contain high levels of nitrogen or protein. To test whether a piece of compostable material is brown or green, soak it in water and leave it out for several days. If it begins to stink, then it is green. If not, it is brown.

Optional: If you live in a place where fruit flies are a common annoyance and intend to have your worm farm outside, avoid adding fruit scraps.

Below, we have provided you with a list of compostable materials that you should and shouldn’t feed to your worms.4

Do Add This To Your Worm FarmDon’t Add This To Your Worm Farm
Coffee groundsMeat
TeabagsDairy (eggshells are okay)
Fruit (not citrus)Foods containing preservatives
Most vegetable scraps (not onions or garlic)Oils or greasy foods
GrainsProcessed foods
Cereal (no artificial sweeteners)Spicy foods
PastaCitrus foods
Fresh lawn clippingsSalty foods
HairNon-biodegradable items
Egg shellsPoisonous plants
Paper with colored ink or a glossy finish
Onions
Garlic

 

What’s the Best Environment for Worm Farms?

The best environment for a worm farm is one in which the temperature of the external environment is kept around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.6 In hotter climates, it may be possible to keep your worm farm around this temperature throughout the year. However, if you live in a place where the temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter, you may need to take some extra precautions.

  • Move Inside—If you have an outdoor worm farm, consider moving it inside during the winter. This will protect the worms from cold spells or other unexpected weather events.
  • Insulate the Farm—If you cannot move the worm farm or are unable to find a warmer location, wrap the farm in insulating layers. Make sure to leave gaps in the insulation to provide fresh air to the farm. For some locations, this might not be enough. You may need to purchase a heater to provide additional warmth.
  • Leave Them Be—If neither of the previous precautionary measures can be taken, you can leave the farm outside. However, you should not expect this generation of worms to survive unless it is a particularly mild winter. If the worms do die, they will leave behind eggs which will hatch during the thaw. It is unlikely that there will be enough eggs to repopulate the farm so you may want to order some more worms for the spring.

Best Earthworm Bins for Composting

You’re ready to build your first worm farm, but you haven’t bought a composting bin yet. There are just too many choices. But worry not, the ultimate guide has you covered. We’ve put together a list of the top three earthworm bins based on price, quality, construction material, worm farming features, and size.

1Worm Factory 360

Worm factory 360 composter product image shwoing layers and accessories.
Why We Love This Worm Farm: This is our favorite earthworm bin, and we strongly recommend that you give it a try. The downside is the plastic construction, but it houses thousands of earthworms, and when properly maintained, produces several pounds of black gold each week. The base model is highly modular and can be expanded to six by following the provided directions. It comes with bedding material and an accessory kit (including a thermometer, hand rake, and scraper), and even an instruction manual and DVD with step-by-step directions for new worm farmers.
Price: $131.95
Rating: 4 out of 5

2Worm Farm Compost Bin – Continuous Flow Through Vermi Composter for Worm Castings, Worm Tea Maker, Indoor/Outdoor, 20 gallon

Worm farm composting bin, green, with large capacity showing from cut out.
Why We Love This Worm Farm: This composting bin is not for the faint of heart. At 28 pounds and capable of processing 4.4 lbs. of waste per day, this is only for consumers who are already comfortable with vermicomposting and ready to step up their production. The Worm Farm Compost Bin is made of eco-friendly materials and comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Price: $369.00
Rating: 5 out of 5

3The Essential Living Composter

Essential Living composter, three layers green plastic for worm farm.
Why We Love This Worm Farm: This is our top budget pick. It is made of recycled plastics and is designed to be used year-round indoors. While smaller than our other picks, it does contain some unique features. The best by far is the series of migration tunnels that extend down through each level to all the worms to easily migrate between them. The amount of compost it produces is necessarily limited by its size, but this is still a great purchase.
Price: $89.99
Rating: 5 out of 5

Frequently Asked Questions about Worm Farming

If you’re just getting started with worm farming, don’t worry, you’re not alone! There are thousands of others taking their first step into vermicomposting. So, if you have a question, odds are that someone else is looking for that same answer.

This is the ultimate guide to worm farming, so we want to provide you with as many answers as we can. That’s why we’ve dedicated this next section to doing just that.

If your question isn’t listed here, we can assure you that there are hundreds of hobbyists just waiting to help you out on your journey.

Can I Use a Worm Farm Kit when Starting a Worm Farm?

When starting your new career as a worm farmer, we recommend that you use a worm farm kit. Building your own worm composting bin can be gratifying, particularly if you’re really into DIY, but it can also be incredibly time consuming.

If you’re ready to start your worm farm today, there are plenty of environmentally friendly worm farm kits to get you started. Better yet, many of them are designed to be expanded as you add more and more levels to the farm. This way, you get to decide just how much compost you want to produce.

Kits can also be more accessible for elderly or disabled people, and it’s a great first step into worm farming for anyone who isn’t ready to build their own farm.

What Are the Best Worm Farm Kits?

While we suggest that you create your own DIY worm farm kit, some retailers do sell complete kits that come with everything you need to get started.

If you decide to go this route, we recommend investing in Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm Kit which includes 1,000 composting worms, starter bedding, feed supplies for 1 month, moisture-retaining burlap, plastic composting bin, and detailed instructions for $99.99 USD. [13]

This is the absolute easiest way to begin your vermicomposting journey and is readily accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

Uncle jims worm farm kit with accessories and starter package.

Is Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm a Good Worm Farm for Kids?

If you are looking to introduce your child to worm farming and conservation efforts, consider checking out their “Children’s Vermicomposting Kit.”3 This kit is specifically designed to teach children about vermicomposting by providing them with hands-on experience.

The kit comes with everything your child needs to get started including 100 red composting worms, bedding, three months of feeding material and other accessories.

This is a great way to introduce a child to vermicomposting and if they continue to show a passion for worm farming, there are many other kits available including the “Worm Farm Kit” and the “Worm Ranch Kit.”

Will the Worm Garden Be Okay If I Go on Vacation?

Don’t be afraid to leave your worms for a well-earned vacation. So long as their needs are met, you’ll find a happy and healthy worm farm when you return home. A well-prepared compostable bin will work independently for two to four weeks so long as you follow these steps:

  • Extra Bedding—Add additional bedding materials to the farm before you go on holiday. This is to ensure that they have a well-oxygenated area in which to live. Moreover, it helps to absorb the additional moisture produced by the extra compostable materials.
  • Plenty of Food—After adding the bedding, you will need to calculate how much compostable material the worms will eat and excrete during your absence. You don’t have to be exact but ensure that there is an equal amount of greens and browns for their diet. We recommend adding an additional layer to the farm if you are planning on being away from home for more than two weeks.
  • Move the Farm—If your worms may be exposed to dramatic shifts in temperature, move the farm into a suitable, stable environment.

This should be enough preparation but it’s okay to ask a neighbor or friend to check in on the worms. This might even be an opportunity for you, an experienced worm farmer, to introduce someone else to the world of vermiculture!

How Do I Use Worm Leachate for My Garden?

You might remember that the bottom level of the worm farm is dedicated to collecting liquid worm waste, often referred to as ‘worm leachate’ or ‘worm seepage.’ While some farmers suggest mixing the leachate with water and using it as fertilizer, most experts recommend disposing of it. The worm castings will reward you with far better fertilizer.

How Do I Use Worm Tea for My Garden?

This is the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Finally, the farm is filled with hundreds if not thousands of wriggling inhabitants all producing black gold. But how do you make the most of their efforts? We’re going to lead you through the process:

  1. Fill a porous bag (Uncle Jim’s worm bag, a fine mesh bag, or even nylon stockings or a large sock) with your worm castings and tie it shut.
  2. Place the bag in a container of water (5 gallons will do) and let it sit overnight.
  3. When morning arrives, the water will be a light brown—congratulations, you’ve made your first batch of worm tea!
  4. Strain the liquid into a spray bottle and liberally apply it to your plants or garden.

That’s it: you’re a worm farmer now and pretty soon you’ll be using vermicomposting to feed your whole garden. Take a moment to celebrate this fact, but remember, for the best results you will want to take a couple minutes everyday to maintain your worm farm.

There are many good reasons to get into vermicomposting, not the least because it is a safe, sustainable, and environmentally friendly source of fertilizer.6 By investing in a worm farm, you have taken a step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and demonstrated to chemical fertilizer companies that you are no longer willing to spend exorbitant amounts of your hard-earned money on their products. (To learn more about your emissions, use an ecological footprint calculator to figure them up, then contact one of the top carbon offset providers about purchasing a tree planting carbon offset to completely erase them.)

While worm farms can’t fix climate change all by themselves, they are a step in the right direction for reducing waste and your emissions, and with this ultimate guide to worm farming, you have everything you need to get started.


References

1A Beginner’s Guide to Worm Farming. (2021). Retrieved November 3, 2021. Web. <http://www.foodwise.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Worms-ONLINE-1.pdf>

2B, D. (2021). Get Started Worm Farming: A Beginner’s Guide. The Squirm Firm. 3 November 2021. Web. <https://shop.thesquirmfirm.com/contact-us/>

3Children’s Vermicomposting Kit! (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021. Web <https://unclejimswormfarm.com/product/worm-kits/new-childrens-vermicomposting-kit/>

4Composting Worm Feeding Guide: Best and Worst Foods. (2017, February 17). 3 November 2021. Web. <https://unclejimswormfarm.com/worm-feeding-best-foods-composting-worms/>

5Sherman, R. (2021, September 28). Raising Earthworms (Eisenia fetida) for a Commercial Enterprise. 3 November 2021. Web. <https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/raising-earthworms-successfully>

6Worm Farm – Should You Start One? (2021). Rural Living Gardening | Hydroponics | Generators. 3 November 2021. Web. <https://rurallivingtoday.com/rural-living/worm-farm/>

7Image Source: <https://www.amazon.com/Factory-Composting-Wigglers-Infographic-Refrigerator/dp/B019MFSYDI/>

8Image Source: <https://unclejimswormfarm.com/product/worm-kits/worm-ranch-kit/>

9Image Source: <https://www.amazon.com/Hungry-Bin-Flow-Through-Worm-Farm/dp/B01CRJGUOG>

10Image Source: <https://www.naturesfootprint.com/worm-factory-360-worm-bin/>

11Image Source: <https://fcmponline.com/products/hotfrog-essential-living-composter>

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