Introduction: The Worm-A-Rater

Picture of The Worm-A-Rater

Having a vegetarian wife means we produce a whole lot of bio-waste. We decided to try our hand at organic gardening and that led me to vermi-posting (using worms to produce compost ). I started out with just a simple plastic box but soon found that we were producing more than the box would hold and the worms just did not seem happy. they tended to congregate on top of the bedding. After doing some research I realized that my worm bedding was to damp and way to hot for the worms liking. This was in early March and the temps here in north Texas were still quite pleasant. In the heat of the summer we will have temps in the 100 degree range and that is sure death for my wiggly little friends. If I was to save the worms from a cruel death by baking a solution was needed and the wife was certainly not going to allow those things in the house! Oh what to do?! Eureka!

Step 1: Enter the Worm Hotel

Picture of Enter the Worm Hotel

I just happened to find a very large discarded ice chest that was easily three times as large as the first box.
AS the worms digest the bio mass there quite a bit of liquid produced that must be drained to help keep the bedding dry. This worm juice is also a very rich fertilizer and I want to catch as much of it as I can so I constructed a simple stand from scrap lumber to elevate the box 14". Using a 2" hole saw I bored a hole through the bottom on one end and inserted a 2" PVC floor drain fitting and attached a 6" PVC tail. A bucket is placed under the tail to capture this wonderful liquid gold. (just don't smell it!) A 3"x3" piece of landscape fabric is siliconed over the inside opening to prevent a worm exidous into the bucket. A slight pitch was later added to the stand to ensure that the liquid drains properly.
Good air flow is also needed for happy worms so I bored a 2 1/2" hole in the lid and inserted a 2" PVC T using silicone to secure it in place. covered the inside with paint filter mesh to keep the bugs out. This allows warm moist air to rise and exit the box. For air intake I drilled 10 1/4" holes in the front with a paddle bit and framed around the openings with a yard stick. The same paint filter mesh was used to cover these holes as well. The mesh serves to keep the flys and other bugs out.
Success! I was once again blessed with happy worms producing what worms produce and doing it at a very rapid pace, for about 3 weeks then once again Worm Strike!
I found that the compost was heating up to the point that the worms wanted out. Here is where the story gets weird, after all why would some one really care about a bunch of worms going on strike because of unfavorable work conditions.
Well I consider myself to be a fair and reasonable worm manager and promised the worm union a solution to these deplorable composting conditions, they agreed to work even harder if a solution was provided. So I consulted with all the experts in HVAC and refridigeration that I know (exactly none) And found no solutions being offered so here is what I did.....

Step 2: Get the Heat Out!

Picture of Get the Heat Out!

Thinking about geo-thermal systems I realized that by simply circulating cool water through the inside of the box and out into a bucket I could pull a lot of the heat from the compost.

I just happened to have 12 foot of 3/8 copper tubing left over from another project that was formed into a coil that would fit inside the box with one end projecting through a hole drilled into one end.
The tubing spirals down and around three times and exits through another hole in the same end.
Poly tubing is attached to the copper pipe and connects to a small fountain pump on the upper and and a manufactured spray head on the lower. A five gallon bucket sits below the nozzle, in the bucket is the small pump. SUCCESS! compost temps dropped back to a level that the worm union was more than happy with. (78 degrees)

Step 3: A Breath of Fresh Air

Picture of A Breath of Fresh Air

To further improve ventilation in the Worm-A-Rated Hotel I added a small dc fan connected to a discarded solar cell that was used to power landscaping lights that died. The little fan kicks on after the sun goes down and pulls in the cooler night air further cooling the box.
The worm union is so happy they are now producing over a gallon of "Worm Juice" per week!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my wormy adventure as much as I enjoyed solving the challenges.



Bubbler (author)2014-05-06

Thanks for this Instructable. I have lost all of my worms in both of the last two summers here in South Australia. Worms are not cheap to buy IMHO, and even so, I have to wait at least three months to dodge the heat waves we get here, before buying the next lot. A friend has a fairly large worm farm, but this summer that has just ended, saw his all die as well. This has led me to dreaming up ideas of double or triple dairy cream bucket designs, so that I could ensure that a small amount of worms could be saved in the old beer fridge. I will try to work a way around this design of yours, and see what I can find at the tip. LOL

marian1936 (author)2010-08-15

Very clever instructable, and very clearly presented. I bought my starter herd while visiting my daughter in CA, smuggled them home in my luggage, and put them to bed outside under a tree. I'm in the Dallas, TX area, where we had more cold than usual last winter and more heat this summer. It's been in the 100s for days now. My worms spent the winter in a styrofoam box outdoors in the corner of the porch. I drilled holes in the lid and stapled window screen fabric inside to provide air, curtail elopement and prevent intruders. They survived the snows and, to my amazement, were still alive in the spring. I moved them into a hard plastic storage box with a top that closes like clasped fingers. The box sits on an expanded steel table with an umbrella in the center. It's next to the house, so it's shaded by the roof overhang on one side and the collapsed umbrella (somewhat) on the other. Not much sun. Home Depot sells some little little 1" louvered vents, which I installed on both sides, using a hole saw to make the openings. At one end, at the bottom, I drilled another hole and installed a spigot for draining off the worm tea. I use shredded newspaper for the bedding, and some corrugated box material or that pulpy material used for packing apples and oranges for the top layer. It's free at the grocery store. I add vegetable scraps at the top, lifting the box or newspapers or pulpy layer and placing the feast on first one side and then another. They have stayed alive without air conditioning or a heat pump, but I do think your ideas sound exciting. I tend to be rather frugal with my efforts, and haven't tried to care for their comfort, except to keep them alive. They seem to be reproducing rapidly, wiggling enthusiastically and creating black gold for my flowers. My kids and older grandkids have no interest and think Grandmother is a bit strange for having a worm farm, but I can live with that. Maybe the 4yo grandson will be interested. He likes to play with the water hose outside, just watering plants and himself. BTW, the table and umbrella and styrofoam box came from the "curbside variety store" the day before garbage pickup, so I'd call them "green". Keep on vermicomposting!!

eyerobot (author)2010-06-21

If the components in your solar fan are standard off the shelf electronic parts, Such as from radio shack. Then you can alter the circuit, To make it turn on in the daytime when its the hottest. And then it would just sit all night long gathering whatever little light it can until morning. Also the capacitors could most likely be replaced with larger value capacitors, That would store enough energy to give it the kick start that it needs when it first turns on, So you dont have to tap it anymore. Or it could all be in a microchip which would make this suggestion pointless. An alternative idea, Is to use a relay that is normally on, And when its powered it turns off the power to the fan, And just wire your fan through this relay, So that its on in the daytime, and off at night.

bigwayne (author)2010-05-24

I like it...I have an old cooler in garage that is now destined to become a worm hotel.  I'm thinking of maybe taking the radiator from a discarded fridge and shaping into the bed.  What do you think?   I will also, since living in the Chicago area need to be able to survive below freezing temps in the winter.

dirty_valentine (author)2009-06-11

This is a great instructable. I have been thinking about making one of these for myself, and this provides a great starting point. The only thing I'm not thrilled about is the fountain pump. It would be nicer to come up with a "greener" solution. One could get a large solar panel to run the fountain pump, but large solar panels don't come cheep. It seems to me that a better solution might be evaporation. This is not my area of expertise so I'm not sure how it would be done. I imagine a piece of cloth wicking up water, which then evaporates cooling a conduit, then the cooled air in the conduit could be blown by a solar fan into the worm hotel. Anyone with expertise here please chime in. Am I totally off base or can this be made to work? Great work COOPDADDI and thanks for sharing!

orion22 (author)dirty_valentine2010-04-29

What about a distillation sort of setup? The water at the bottom could be heated by a solar oven or the PVC pipe spray-painted black. The evaporated water would rise back up the original elevation where it could be condensed. The cooler water in the original container would absorb the heat from the soil and sunlight.

It works in theory.....

I agree that a greener solution would be better. I have purchased a solar fountain pump that works great when there is direct sunlight, but stops when a cloud passes by. The set up did not include any type of battery storage it is a direct power set up so I have been experimenting with with a couple of different options and will update when I have something workable.

ceramiceye (author)coopdaddi2009-06-11

Glad to read that, because I was concerned that this compost was counter-productive if it required the use of electricity every day. I would imagine that you could find a way to make the fan solar powered too, making this composter completely green.... even though it is technically brown and smelly.

coopdaddi (author)ceramiceye2009-06-11

the fan is already solar powered

mman1506 (author)coopdaddi2009-06-11

what about a rain barrel

coopdaddi (author)mman15062009-06-11

Not sure what you are thinking.

ceramiceye (author)coopdaddi2009-06-12

I think he is talking about a source for the water. That might work, but would require more work to get the water in. That's cool that the fan is already solar powered. did you build it yourself or buy one already like that?

mman1506 (author)ceramiceye2009-06-12

yup exactly .the wateris going to be cool and can be split so you can use some for a garden or plant watring system

coopdaddi (author)mman15062009-06-12

So you are thinking a continual out flow from the rain barrel? What happens when there is no more water?

mman1506 (author)coopdaddi2009-06-12

it matters how much it rains .you could make it drip watslowly but probbaly render it useless. it was 12:00 i was tired .

coopdaddi (author)ceramiceye2009-06-12

I already have 700 gallons of rain water storage. The cooler does not loose water except through evaporation, less than a gallon per week. I bought a little battery powered fan for $2 disassembled the batttery part and wired it into the cell. The cell contains three AA rechargeable nicads and has a photo sensor to turn on at night. There does seem to be an issue with start up though. I have to give it a little thump to get it started.

While this idea is intriguing I think the bust solution is going to be a dual pump lifting to a reservoir that flows into the tubing. one pump being the solar and the other being a small clacker style windmill that builds a column of water.

1ofakindwork (author)2010-04-27

Nice work, but the way i see it you have to put ice in the bucket to cool the water then use electricity to move the water.  Why not just install two 4" tubs running vertically from top to bottom with a drain plug.  You could then just Fill them with ice each day.  Or even better make a cylinder that you can freeze and just replace the cylinder every other day or so.  Just some ideas.  I may have to make me one of these boys....Thanks for the great idea!

paulschulman (author)2009-06-04

I once used worms to produce compost also. they were very happy for a period of time, wiggling really nicely. Then before not too long, they were dead--burned. the compost got too hot. Your solution is too ingenious. Brilliant.

coopdaddi (author)paulschulman2009-06-05

AWW Shucks twernt nuthin! Thanks for the complement! Friends and family really think Im nuts though

lowekeykid (author)coopdaddi2010-04-22

composts actually produce their own heat and if you needed something heated you could "kill two birds with one stone"

koyaniskatzy (author)coopdaddi2009-06-13

They always do. I'm in Central Florida and our temperatures are quite high too. All I can think for a very green and inexpensive solution would be a breezeway, like they used when building "cracker" houses. I love your instructable, it's very inspiring. I'm done "making the beds" and now I'm moving on to stinkier business - compost, worm farm, manure pit - so I'm open to all ideas and suggestions. I'll experiment with a "worm-cracker-house" and see how it goes (my gardening budget includes a solar powered fountain pump, but that one is for the pond). Also, and this one is for people knowledgable in AQUAPONICS: since this design needs a constant source of running water, would it be viable to somehow make it part of an aquaponic system?

coopdaddi (author)koyaniskatzy2009-06-13

Yes it would work with an aquaponics set up. You will just need to make sure that the worms are in the shade. A higher flow rate such as found in such systems would be even better than the small pump that I am using.

koyaniskatzy (author)coopdaddi2009-06-13

AHA! Thanks. I fell in love with the idea since I read about aquaponics on Organic Consumers. It's a project for the winter, so I hope to have it running and ready to share with everyone in the spring.

coopdaddi (author)koyaniskatzy2009-06-13

then you should check this out first...

twiztedreams (author)2009-07-01

Fantastic instructable! What a good wormy manager you are! This would be a great solution for our heat here in Oklahoma during the summer months. The only thing I would have to worry about would be my 3 year old nephew flipping things over looking for "wormies" and stumbling across my little creation and collecting them up for himself. **Holy trap! ah huge wormy hole!!** He would then put them all in his 1/2 gallon wormy bucket with dirt and then leave them outside for a couple of days, playing with them every day, until they all died. He really does mean well, as he began collecting them for him and his daddy to fish with, but he doesn't understand the importance of same day picking, and his facination doesn't allow that to happen. My nephew, I'm sure, hopes to become a diligent, caring, wormy manager, such as yourself, someday. But, until then, all wormies, including my future ones, are up for grabs!

Anyway, great job on keeping the worms, and in turn, yourself and your wife, happy. It is a fantastic ideas for areas that don't get much of the cold weather, if any at all, some years!

papalevies (author)2009-06-11

Now all you need is some electrodes in their "brains" (cerebral ganglia) and you can keep them happy and productive by projecting them to an artificial reality tailored to satisfy their needs, a "worm paradise", if you will.

ja.dzado (author)papalevies2009-06-13

Sounds oddly like The Matrix...

coopdaddi (author)ja.dzado2009-06-13

does that mean that I am the one?

ja.dzado (author)coopdaddi2009-06-13

I think that means your the architect or something like that--bringing them down into captivity to suit your selfish purposes. :)

coopdaddi (author)ja.dzado2009-06-13

its all part of my evil plan ha ha ha haaaa!!!

coopdaddi (author)papalevies2009-06-11

can you provide an instructable for that as it is a little out of my experience! LOL!!

ShaunHill (author)2009-06-13

Is it worthwhile going out into the garden to attract some worms to place them on top of the stuff I have just put in my new compost bin, to get the ball rolling so-to-speak? What does everyone think?

coopdaddi (author)ShaunHill2009-06-13

My understanding is that the worms found in the garden will not survive in the box. But heck who knows. I just found this site and you may be able to find someone local to you that will give you some to get started......

gregmonkey (author)2009-06-11

What about using the natural convection currents to drive the heated water up the copper pipe and placing an old computer heat sink on of a small cooling tower. The water cools descends to the bottom of the tower and starts the trip back up the copper pipe. During the heat of the day you can use a solar powered fan to cool the water more quickly.

coopdaddi (author)gregmonkey2009-06-11

Interesting idea. I think something other than water would be needed for that to be effective. A liquid with a better energy transfer, I will need to investigate that. How would the heat sink help with out power?

ja.dzado (author)coopdaddi2009-06-13

sounds like he is suggesting using the hot water/cold water temperature difference as the mode of moving the water around. The heat sink would allow the hot water to cool off quicker. Heat sinks come in pretty beefy sizes since they are made to dissipate sometimes up to 100W of heat from a microprocessor

squeakpickle (author)2009-06-11

WARNING!! Red Wigglers are European worms: non-native. This is going to sound so crazy, but, unless your land has already been invaded - keep your worms contained. Especially don't dump bait worms in the woods when you are fishin' at the lake. Worms naturally migrate a couple yards a year, that is all. However, with the help of careless or well-meaning humans, cute but invasive worms move into habitats where they don't belong. Then, they create havoc with the life cycles of forests. Naturalists are doing a lot to keep populations in check, but you can help them out just by not making the situation worse. Like worms? want to know more? the full skinny on vermiculture, Darwin's pet project, and intelligence in odd places? Read "The Earth Moved" by Amy Stewart.

coopdaddi (author)squeakpickle2009-06-11

Noted and I will check that out. I am wondering though, how can naturalist keep wild worm populations in check? If they are able to do that can they maybe do something about all the fire ants that have displace native species of ants in my yard?

Qwestor (author)coopdaddi2009-06-13

Good article. I have a small bin in my apartment. They seem to be doing ok. According to what I have read, the European worms hitchhiked on plants that came over on the Mayflower. So they have been here a while. Of course, the article could be wrong. I, too, will read the above mentioned book. Thanks for all the infomation.

annarch (author)2009-06-11

WARNING! I thought that stuff that drains from the worm bin was good for plants but it's not. It smells bad because it is bad. All the plants I put it on dropped their leaves and have not come back strong after 2 months. Worm tea is made from the worm castings being soaked in water. The liquid that collects in the bin is a waste product. The worm castings have the benefits to plants.

Vicious_mama (author)annarch2009-06-12

Sorry about your plants, annarch. But the liquid that comes from worms is great for plants if DILUTED at a 1:5 ratio, that's one part worm tea to 5 parts fresh water. Improper dilution of worm tea can lead to the agonizing plant death you have described. I hope your plants can recover from the horrible worm tea experience you've had.

kennydude (author)2009-06-11

Excellent article, great read. good job on your ingenuity!

coopdaddi (author)kennydude2009-06-11


Spokehedz (author)2009-06-11

Usually what I do to keep my workers happy is make more booze. Whoops... Sorry. Thought this was dwarf fortress here for a second. XD

coopdaddi (author)Spokehedz2009-06-11

I can see the headline now...Drunken Worms Make More Poo!

kstlfido (author)2009-06-11

Cool idea! Wouldn't it make more sense if the fan ran during the day? To stabilize the temp?

coopdaddi (author)kstlfido2009-06-11

Maybe so, but the battery's in the cell need to recharge and with the average daytime air temps in the summer here being over 90 I think that pulling in the cooler evening air is really better. I seem to be getting ample air flow from the wind during the day anyway but in the evening the wind tends to drop off.

trampart (author)2009-06-11

If you need more space, I have found (after 25 years of use) that a defunct chest freezer makes a perfect worm bed and recycle bin. You can recycle almost anything, including humanure, dead animals, heck, even spoiled vegetables. Close the cover and you never need to do anything, except harvest the worms when you're ready to go fishin'.

j0hnk377y (author)2009-06-05

I live in NC and while it's probably not as hot as TX, I've found the Red Wigglers can handle the heat just fine. I'm also "blessed" with a vegetarian wife and I like to fish so the worm thing worked for me as well. Very cool project!

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Bio: Native Texan, Navy Vet, over 20 years in sales and marketing, raised in the construction industry and have been taking things apart and putting them ... More »
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