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Compost at lightning speed with a bucket worm farm!

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Picture of Compost at lightning speed with a bucket worm farm!
Using worms to eat your food scraps is a great way to make use of almost all of your food.  Red wigglers seem to work the best since they're so active.  One pound of worms can eat up to half a pound of food per day!

In this instructable I will show you how to create a slick looking worm bin which will fit under your kitchen sink.

QUICK UPDATE:  After over a year, the dudes are still going strong!  This design totally works great.

 
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Step 1: Stuff you'll need!

The materials for the worm farm can run you anywhere from $0 to $20, however you can find most of the materials in garbage piles if you wish.

You will need
  1. 2 Buckets - They should be 5 gallon, but I've used 2 x 2.5-3 gallon buckets.  I don't yet know if this will work with buckets this small.  Check your local bakery for free ones that they're throwing away.  I tried that but ended up having to buy a couple cheap plastic garbage cans.
  2. 1 Shopping Tote - This needs to be polyester because if it's cotton, the worms will eat through it.
  3. A newspaper and/or plain cardboard - A regular newspaper will do.  Don't use the glossy type.  Strip anything non cardboard (like tape) off the cardboard.
  4. Some water
  5. Some method of drilling or puncturing holes in the buckets - a drill, knife, hammer, force of will, etc.
  6. A small amount of leaves and grass clippings
  7. Worms - I'd start small with a half a pound (500 or so) and if you need more, get more after

Step 2: Drill holes in the buckets

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Worms need air just like most other living creatures, so drill lots of holes in both buckets for ventilation.

I put both buckets together like they are going to sit when they're finished and drilled holes through both of them so that they would line up.  The fit of the buckets was so tight on mine that I ended up folding some leftover cardboard paper and using it as a spacer between the buckets so that air could get to the inside holes.

Make sure you drill a few holes in the bottom of the inside bucket.  This will allow water to drain out so your worms don't drown.

This is why you have two buckets.  The bottom bucket catches the "worm juice" so you can use it on your plants to encourage microbial growth (this is a great thing!).  I haven't tested this, but I'm thinking you could dilute the worm juice in a 5 gallon pale with water and aerate the mixture with an aquarium pump and a tablespoon of molasses to create a type of compost tea.  If you try this, please let me know how it goes.  If you want to qualify your results, set one plant aside to try this on so you can see the difference in results.  Remember, compost tea's results are most noticeable in unhealthy soils.

Step 3: Sacrifice one of your grocery totes

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Take a fabric grocery tote and put it in the bucket.  I took the handles of mine, wrapped them around to the bottom of the inside bucket and secured them with parachord so the bag wouldn't move.  Feel free to use whatever means you wish to secure the bag.

The bedding and worms and "canopy" (for lack of a better word at the moment) will go inside the bag.  The bag allows water to drain out freely and air to get in, while keeping all the castings and bedding and compost contained.

Make sure the bag is made out of polyester! If it's made of cotton, the worms will eat through it.  This wouldn't be the disaster of a lifetime, but it would potentially make more of a mess than you want.

Step 4: Time to tear some paper!

Picture of time to tear some paper!
Find your least favorite newspaper articles and adverts and shred them into small pieces. Soak the paper in water for a minute or so and add them to the bottom of the bag.  Shake off any excess water.  This will serve as the bedding for the worms.

I'm sure you may be wondering about the newspaper print being bad for the worms as I did, however when I googled this, I found out that most newspapers use soy ink.  This doesn't include paper with shiny surfaces.  I'm talking about your typical newspaper...paper.

Feel free to read for yourself here, or google for yourself.  I'm not going to claim I know everything on this topic.  I'm only sharing what I'm doing and the research I did.

Step 5: Add your worms

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I picked up my worms from this nice lady.  She's more expensive than a lot of places, but she's local and fairly close to me, so I know my worms won't die in transit.  She's also very helpful.

The worms came in a bag with bedding and soil, so I just had to gently dump the bag into the compost bin bag.

Step 6: Cover the top

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In order to give my worms a forest floor feel, I went outside my apartment and found the first pile of leaves laying around which happened to be on a lawn next door.  While my wife and I were grabbing some leaves a lady who lives in the house came over and asked what we were doing.  We felt kind of awkward, but we explained about the worm farm and had a really good conversation with her about her garden and compost.  She was happy to let us take some leaves.

Place the leaves on top of the worms to give them a nice homey canopy.

Step 7: You're done!

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Now place your lid on top of your buckets and put them wherever you wish...well sort of.  Keep them at room temp.

Place your finely chopped or blended veggie scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves etc under the leaves and watch them disappear.  Well that would be boring.  Just put the lid on after and trust they're disappearing.

A few notes:

What to feed your worms:

    Vegetable scraps
    Fruit scraps and peels (mold/rot is fine)
    Bread and grains
    Teabags
    Non-greasy leftovers
    Coffee grounds (and filters)
    Crushed egg shells
    Napkins, paper towels

What not to feed your worms:

    Don't overfeed citrus (no more than 1/5 of worm food.  I don't feed my worms any citrus)
    Meats, fish
    Greasy foods
    Dairy products
    Twigs and branches
    Dog/cat feces, cat litter

Keep an eye on the worms health and make sure they're doing okay.  I usually judge that by how wiggly and energetic they are.  Research worm farms for yourself and make changes if you need to.

Please share any ideas you have or edits you've made.

Thanks for reading!

Feel free to check out my website at http://www.starterpermaculture.com
or my twitter feed @starterpermie

Step 8: Update

I just wanted to post an update.  After 5 months, I've harvested compost twice and the worms are still going strong!

My wife and I went on our honeymoon for two weeks so we fed the dudes quite a bit of scraps, and they were still striving better than ever when we got back.

Major success!  Very happy with the project.
Awesome! Have you had any issues with smell at all?
calskin (author)  jessyratfink3 years ago
No, none at all. Just like fegundez1 mentioned, as long as you don't overfeed your worms and chop your food up well, it just smells like good healthy earth. Nothing unpleasent at all. And since mine is under the sink, I can't smell a thing. I actually have to put my nose right in the bucket to smell anything now that I think about it.
fegundez13 years ago
you wont have any smells so long as you use organic (leaves etc) don't put any citrus or anything that has been exposed to poisons. Your worms eat the bacteria that eat the stuff you put in so chop it up really well. another thing I do is to freeze all my worm food overnight at least this kills any fly eggs that may have been deposited when you weren't watching.
calskin (author)  fegundez13 years ago
That is a very good point and something I forgot to mention about the citrus. Thanks for bringing that up.

I made an addition to the worm pale to address other bugs after I wrote this. I noticed some spiders in there which may not be a bad thing, but I didn't want a bunch running around our apartment so I put in a sticky fly trap thing. This will also take care of fruit flies and the worms don't seem to care about it at all either as none have been stuck to it.

It's also a good point you made about chopping up the food. I forgot to mention that also.

Thanks for your comments.
kwetiaw made it!3 months ago

Hi,

I made it last week (first time ever having a worm farm) and I took the OP idea and modified it what I have around the house. Outside is garbage container (to catch the juice) and the inside container is a small garbage container. I didnt use a grocery totes (all i have is cotton based) so I opted out with leftover plastic flyscreen.

Do you think this will work?

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Do you keep them inside? I thought that I read that! How do you harvest the compost and separate them from the dirt? Just dump it?? I love your ideas!

Gabeuse1 year ago

I also heard that we should not give onion/garlics to the worms, what is your opinion?

talonsblade2 years ago
i under stand the leaves and grass help with the smell but everytime you add something do you have to pick up the leaves and put the new stuff below or throw it right on top. if you throw it on top, do you have to add more leaves
dynamozoe2 years ago
If you drill through both buckets then how do you keep the water from spilling onto the floor?
smw24203 years ago
How to you remove the finished compost from the bucket?
calskin (author)  smw24203 years ago
I would suggest the dump and sort method.

Dump the entire contents of your worm bin down onto a table (you may want to protect the table with a sheet of plastic first.) Put a light bulb above the table so the worms dig down (or use natural light.) Now remove any very fresh-looking bedding, and toss it back into the worm bin for the next go-round.

Then, make many small mounds of vermicompost. Watch and you'll see the worms move downward, away from light, and bury themselves in the bedding. After a few minutes, you can remove the outer layer of this mound, and put it in your vermicompost bucket. Again the worms will move downward. Just continue like this until you have many little piles of worms.
rimar20003 years ago
This is very interesting, thanks for sharing it.
calskin (author)  rimar20003 years ago
Thanks for reading it. Seriously, this being my first instructable I'm just glad people read it!