Stackable Worm Condos/bins

Introduction: Stackable Worm Condos/bins

About: Art school drop out, owned my own ice cream truck company, been a taxi driver, currently an iron worker/welder and I help my wife with her jewelry business by doing some of the more mundane production work and…

"The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...."

Here I will show you how to build your own stackable worm bin. Why would you want to raise worms? Well lets us count the ways.

1) Reduce your waste. These little work horses (as if horses work as hard as these little guys do) eat just about anything: non-glossy paper, non-meat/dairy food products, cardboard. Although they don't really like citrus food, they'll get to it eventually.

2) Their worm poop (castings) is perhaps the best organic fertilizer available.

3) They work much faster than traditional composting methods in turning material into garden-ready amendments.

4) The juice is also a good liquid fertilizer (mixed 1 part juice to 10 parts water).

5) Extras make great food for chickens and pet fish.

6) You don't need to buy bait should you decide to go fishing.

I should also note that we are talking about red wrigglers (or as those trained in the arcane language arts would say Eisenia foetida). Other worms might work, but keep the nightcrawlers in the lawn and garden where they belong - they're happier there. Night crawlers are the Wild Ones of the worm world and like to be free and need room to move.

Step 1: The Old Way

Traditionally worm bins have basically been a box with worms. Harvesting the castings usually entails dumping the bin and picking the worms out by hand. Piling the dirt up on a sunny day makes the worms retreat and you're suppose to scrape the castings off the top until you end up with a ball of worms. More than a couple of pounds of worms and this is a dirty, tedious chore and really most unnecessary.

This "box" system also makes protecting the worms from predators like my chickens and dogs pretty difficult. A fully loaded tote like my old one here, is nearly impossible to lid. The walls of the box bulge out making the lid best used as a tray to catch the juice. But then you've got about 80lbs of worms, castings, and scraps on your juice tray which makes harvesting it more difficult. And if you're not on top of it, the juice will keep the casting wet which will make it smell bad and create an unhealthy environment for your worms.

The advantages of stackable worm bins is that they eliminate all the above problems. A stack of smaller containers wont bulge so it can be lidded. It makes the collection of castings easier since once the worms have eaten everything on one level they will migrate up the system to where the food is, leaving the valuable casting behind. Likewise, it's much easier to to get to the juice when only needing to move a couple levels of the "condo" to access it all.

Currently on the market are a number of stackable worm bins all of which cost $50-$150. Now I'm not only a little lazy, but I'm also cheap. And so I was determined to find a way to build one for next to nothing. And that my dear friends is exactly what I have done.

Not only is it dirt cheap, but it can also be easily adapted for nearly any situation. You can build one just as easily for a family of 10 as you can for the individual.

Step 2: You Don't Need Anything That You Probably Don't Already Have.

The only things you'll need are:

A Drill (you probably have one)

A Drill bit -I used a 3/8 in but anything 1/4 to 1/2 in will do. (again you probably have one)

At least 2 stackable buckets - They should have rings on the outside of them as these do so that when they stack there is an empty space between them. Size of the buckets can be adjusted to suit your needs. Also make sure your buckets are clean and if didn't originally contain anything too nasty. These were buckets that contained grout and though not something I would eat, shouldn't cause any problems for the worms. In fact since worms use a gizzard to digest, I suspect that any of the remaining grout will be used as grit to help the little guys eat. Or perhaps I'll end up with buckets filled with petrified worms, Only time will tell.

One bucket lid.

Optional tools:

Spray paint that works on plastic. Worms aren't exactly concerned with aesthetics, but you or your neighbors might be.

Step 3: It Really Is This Easy....

Don't touch one bucket leave it as is. This is where the juice will collect.

In the next bucket drill a bunch of holes in the bottom (and remember when playing with power tools always wear your safety goggles). Enough that it wont collect water or juice. The holes must also be big enough for the worms to crawl through. But don't drill so many that the bottom of the bucket will fall out with weight added.

Then go and drill a few holes into the side of the bucket with the holes on the bottom. This will allow for more air circulation allowing your worms to breathe (yes, they can suffocate). It will also help balance the environment inside keeping them happy.

Then drill a few holes into the lid. Though just a few to keep the air flowing.

If you are going to paint it do so before you add the worms or stack the buckets (to keep them from sticking together).

Now place the holey bucket inside the non holey bucket and put a lid on it.

As your worm population grows simply make another holey bucket and place in the other holey bucket, then put "the" lid on the new one. Keep making new holey buckets till you find the balance you need.

Guess what you are now done. And the worms are ready for their new digs (ha ha get it?!?).

Step 4: Now Simply Add Worms....and You're Done!

Though I was transferring my worms from one bin to another I used the same methods as establishing a new bin.

Since each of my buckets leaves about 4 inches of spaces when stacked. So in the bucket with all the holes I fill it up with about of 2 inches of shredded newspaper (not the glossy stuff). Then I put in the worms and scraps for them to eat 4-6 inches from the bottom of the bucket. Then do the same with the rest of the holey buckets.

To harvest simply remove the buckets till you get to the lowest bucket and set them out to dry before putting them on your beds. Should only take a day or two for them to dry if you are going to store them for awhile. Or simply scatter them and lightly rake them over you veggie beds. Don't worry if you set a few free.

A couple worm farming tips:

If things start to smell in your bin add more dry matter. And hold off on feeding them.

If you are having fruit fly problems try putting the scraps into the microwave for 30 seconds to kill the eggs before giving them to the worms.

Though not necessary, the smaller the food scraps the faster they get eaten. Though I admit I'm lazy and just reintroduce anything that doesn't get finished the first time around. As far as I can tell they don't mind leftovers.

Red wigglers eat their body weight in about a week. So if you typically have 5 lbs of veggie scraps and coffee grinds a week, you'll need roughly 5 pounds of worm. But you can start with one pound a week and slowly increase the scraps to keep up with the growing population.

Red wigglers can be bought in some bait shops, or ordered online. And are often sold by the pound. Sometimes you might luck out and find some for free on Craigslist like I did. But don't worry, the investment pays for itself in no time. Price a bag of worm castings and worm tea and see what I mean.

Good luck and thanks. This is my first instructable, lemme know how you like it and how I might be able to improve it. I will also try to answer any questions if you have any.

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    11 years ago on Introduction

    how big do the red worms get??

    I'm used to night crawlers that I use for fishing....

    I bought a Frabill worm containment system($30.00 plus commission for congress) & it has EVERYTHING I need for 12 DOZEN worms...I have yet to add the worms, so that is why I ask how big do the red worms get??


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    not too big 2" long max. The picture on the first page is a good example. Consider that they are in a 5 gal bucket. I've never really measured one or really thought about it much. But definitely much smaller than the night crawlers.


    11 years ago on Step 4

    to get the biggest bang for your buck, newspaper is best. 1 sunday newspaper will last a long time for about $2.00; or you can put the word out with family & friends & collect their newspapers when they are done with them for free!


    12 years ago on Step 4

    Don't the worms need some sort of grit for their digestion?  Sand or dirt...


    13 years ago on Step 4

    Great idea! I'm wondering about winter and how low of temperatures the worms in such a system can tolerate. What has your experience been? Also, what do you notice in the way of odors from the stack-o-buckets?


    Reply 13 years ago on Step 4

    Well, I haven't over wintered them in this system yet. However since the system is portable, I can move it where I please. Though my climate seldom gets below freezing, I do plan moving it into my detached and unheated garage for the winter. As for odors, it depends mostly on the composition of your worm feed. Odor is usually a symptom of too much moisture in the mix, so drying it out with dry amendments is usually your best bet. I typically try to add a mass of shredded newspaper to my scraps when I deposit them (but my feed is usually pretty wet--we drink alot of coffee in this house). And the odors are usually contained well until opened. Covering the food scape with dirt will help control the odor and any fruit flies. Right now ours is perched on a patio within 6 feet of our picnic table in the back yard and the odor isn't an issue. Though I can't honestly say one way or another if you were to try doing this inside a living space. But I don't see where using this system indoors would be any different than any other indoor system. You might consider making little "pillows"or satchels of charcoal (found in pet stores for aquarium water filtration) that you could put on the top of the pile but under the lid if indoor odor issues are a problem. Good luck and I hope this helps.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Just what I was looking for, thank you very much. I'm cheap and lazy too and I've got some old 5 gallon drywall mud buckets just laying around the place. Perfect solution to recycle the buckets and table scraps too.