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Build Your Own Worm Haven

A mess of earth worms on a table.

This activity will walk you through the steps to building your very own worm paradise with a little bit more detail.

Activity Supplies

  • Container (steel, iron, plastic, ceramic, wood)
  • Hammer and punch (or drill)
  • Tray larger than container
  • Carbon sources or brown matter (dried leaves, newspaper, paper or aged sawdust)
  • Good soil from your garden or finished compost
  • Spray bottle with water
  • Earthworms (red wiggler or tiger worms suggested)
  • Food waste

Activity Steps

  1. You need to find some earthworm buddies! It’s true that you can scavenge and snatch up some earthworms straight from your garden, but that might be an arduous task. Plus, not all wild species will compost plant materials into soil amendments very well.

    Red wiggler or tiger worms are considered the best and most popular varieties – quick and efficient. These can be obtained from garden supply stores or online sources. They are usually sold by the pound.  There is no exact formula, but approximately two pounds of worms for every pound of food waste will get you started for optimal composting. They do reproduce quite quickly when they’re happy and thriving, so it’s better to start out with a more reserved amount than way too many.
  2. You’ll need a container for them to live in. A worm home can be stainless steel, galvanized iron, plastic, ceramic or even untreated wood, though it may absorb some fluids and begin to stink.  The size of the container can range from something as small as 20” long, wide, and deep, or as big as 3’ long, wide, and deep. Just note that larger containers with more food scraps will require more worms to breakdown to materials into soil amendments. The container should have a lid that seals and opens from the top.
  3. Drill, hammer or punch holes in the sides, bottom and lid of your container for aeration and drainage. Plan to make at least five to six holes in each side. Not only do microbes in the soil need air – so do the worms! Don’t worry about holes being big enough for the worms to escape. If they are happy, the worms won’t want to leave their home.
  4. Find a tray to place under the container to collect fluids that drain out of the worm haven (something like a lid, in which your container can sit snugly). Too much fluid in the worm haven can cause the worms to drown.
  5. Line the bottom of the container with carbon sources or brown matter, such as dried leaves, newspaper, paper or aged sawdust. Line container about one-third of the way deep.
  6. Add some good soil from your garden or finished compost, about a handful or two, or purchase a potting soil that includes active microbes. Adding sterile or chemically treated potting soil will not achieve this effect and might actually be detrimental!
  7. Spritz the soil lightly with water. Make sure soil and lining are both damp. A bit of moisture will be very good for their environment, but not too much.
  8. Finally, release the worms into the container. Simply scoop them into the lining and soil by hand, or open your purchased container and plop them right in (gently, of course).

Make sure to store your farm in a cool, dry place that is protected from the elements, whether inside or outdoors. When it’s warm, somewhere that tends to stay cool all year works well, such as the shade of a garage, shed or even your basement.  If indoors, keep it away from fans, heaters or chemicals that could hurt them or dry out their haven.

Check the temperature often, too. The most productive temperature for red wigglers is between 60° F and 80° F. 

Other Considerations

  • Each time you throw on more fresh scraps, make sure to cover them with a layer of brown matter. 

  • Depending on what you feed them, as well as the time of year, temperature and other elements, but you will have some fertilizing compost to use within about 1 to 2 weeks on average. 

  • Once all food scraps have been eaten and are gone, you can remove all the compost worm castings and place them in a separate container. Keep your worms in their original container in the meantime, leaving a bit of the soil-like compost still inside for them to move around and be comfortable in. Line the container with a fresh layer of carbon material like before, throw your scraps in, and watch the magic happen all over again.  

  • Some prefer having multiple composting bins for their earthworms – this makes it easier to transfer worms into a new compartment with fresh scraps, all without disturbing them too much while transferring fresh worm castings out.