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How to Make an Inexpensive Worm Bin from Plastic Buckets

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Traditional ready-made vermicomposting bins can be a convenient way to start turning your food scraps into compost for the garden. But there are often two problems with ready-made bins: either they're too expensive or they're too large. Worm bins can cost upward of forty dollars or more in many retail outlets. And while they work well (one example is the Worm-A-Way system) if I'm going to spend that kind of money, I'd rather spend it on plants.

The space issue is maybe even more bothersome. Often, the most convenient place to store a worm bin is inside a kitchen cabinet. They're out of sight this way, and it's convenient to just scoop your veggie and fruit scraps, or empty your coffee filters, right into the bin. But kitchen cabinet space is at a premium, and a large, tub-type bin just takes up too much of that space.

The solution to both the financial and space issues are to make your own worm bin. And five-gallon buckets, like you'd buy from your local home center, fit the bill perfectly.

Supplies for Your Bucket Worm Bin

This is a very inexpensive project. Here's what you'll need:

  • Three plastic buckets. The five-gallon size is best -- you don't want something too small or it will dry out too fast and you won't have enough space for your composting needs. You can also use two of those buckets that kitty litter comes in. The important thing is that they are of the same type, so they stack perfectly.
  • One lid for your bucket. You can buy lids for the five gallon buckets you find in most home centers. If you're going the kitty litter bucket route, just save one of the lids for this project.
  • A drill with a 3/16 and 1/8 inch drill bit.
  • Shredded newspaper or cardboard for your worm bedding.
  • Red wiggler composting worms. This bin will easily accommodate between 250 and 500 worms.

How to Make a Bucket Worm Bin

The way this works is that the worms will start out with bedding and food one one level and, as that level gets broken down and turned into vermicompost, you start adding food and bedding to the next level. The worms will migrate into that level, leaving behind finished vermicompost for you to use in your garden. You will just keep switching back and forth between two of the buckets, emptying finished compost then adding fresh food and bedding as the worms break it down for you. So what's the third bucket for? To catch any moisture from the other two bins -- you can harvest this "vermicompost tea" and use it to fertilize your plants. It is great stuff!

1. In two of the buckets drill a bunch of 3/16 inch holes in the bottom, about an inch apart. Leave the third bucket without holes in the bottom.

2. Drill a line of 1/8 inch holes near the top of each bucket. These holes will provide air flow for your bins, so they don't get too wet.

3. Drill a bunch of 1/8 inch holes on the lid, for added aeration.

4. Stack one bin (one that has holes in the bottom) inside the bucket in which you left the bottom hole-free. Add three to four inches of moistened shredded newspaper or cardboard to this bucket, then add your worms. You can also add some food scraps at this time.

5. Put the lid onto the bin, and let the worms do their thing. Add food as often as you need to. Once the contents of this layer start getting broken down, you can stack the next bucket (with holes in the bottom) onto the bin, adding fresh bedding and food to the new bucket and placing the lid on top. The worms will start migrating up to the top bucket for fresh food and bedding, and, after a couple of weeks to ensure that most of them have moved to the top bin, you can harvest the vermicompost from the original bucket. Then just keep repeating the process as levels get full.

Also, be sure to check the bottom bucket regularly for any liquid that has drained from your worm bins. It can be used on houseplants, container gardens, or just about anywhere in your garden.

Tips for Composting in a Bucket Worm Bin

This is a very simple system, but there are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don't let the contents get too wet. If they do, here's how to fix a wet worm bin.
  • Don't let the contents dry out, either. This is death for worms. The contents of the bin should feel as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  • It is a good idea to add a few handfuls of the original vermicompost to the new bins as you add them. This will introduce a few worms (and maybe eggs) to the new bin, as well as other beneficial microorganisms to help with the decomposition process.
  • You can have a bunch of these worm bins going for maximum composting capacity. Line them up in your basement or mudroom, and you'll always be able to compost your kitchen scraps!
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