DIY Worm Composter for Tiny Spaces
Move this innovative worm-hotel into your space and enjoy an endless supply of natural garden fertilizer from your very own vermi-composter. This project uses items you probably already have and were about to toss into the trash. By recycling a couple of empty plastic jugs you’ll be saving a landfill while also granting new life to some old kitchen scraps.
But, why worms?
Nature is a dynamic tapestry that relies on the presence of each character playing their part to produce the best product that it can. For plants, who get their nutrients through a root system searching through soil, there are a myriad of micro-organisms within the soil that decompose organic matter and fix it into the plant-loving nitrate compounds that the plant can use. Worm castings (the by-product or excrement of worms) contain thousands of different species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microbes to give life to your soil. By introducing worms in a compost bin you are effectively producing a nutrient rich and species diverse soil composition for your plants to thrive within. And all of this is done by capturing food scraps that would have otherwise made their way to a landfill.
Here’s a little more conversation about why to use worms rather than synthetic fertilizers:
By partnering with worms you tap into a free and present nutrient building system for your garden.
Where do I start?
Worms are a quiet critter that don’t require too much attention. They’re perfect kitchen-mates when tucked away in a cupboard, under the sink or towards the back of a shaded countertop. So, find a spot that stays room temperature, is away from direct sunlight, and will be close enough to your cutting board that you can easily reach over and drop in the daily scraps. There are many worm-compost-bin designs out there that you can make or purchase… but I absolutely love being able to give what is otherwise household trash a new function, so, this Worm-Motel is a pleasure to put into action.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 – clean plastic jugs with lids (I used emptied gallon-sized water jugs)
- Something to cut the jugs with (i.e.: serrated knife, scissors, razor blade… etc. whatever you feel comfortable using safely)
- Metal pin, piece of wire, or wire coat-hanger
- candle and lighter/matches
- Kitchen scraps that worms like to eat
- Egg carton
- Distilled Water
- Worms (I got mine from the fishing aisle since it’s winter here and all the native worms are deep beneath the frozen earth right now – but you could dig your own worms up from the soil)
- Gather two jugs with lids.
Make sure your jugs are clean and have well fitting lids. Don’t use jugs that previously contained materials that might be toxic to worms, i.e.: soaps, detergents, dairy, salts or oils, etc…. Emptied distilled water jugs are a great choice. Be creative and use what you have on hand that would have otherwise gone off to the landfill. If you don’t have something to use, be friendly and try to retrieve suitable containers from a friend or restaurant. Who knows what change you may inspire in your own community by bringing up such a unique request.
2. Cut those jugs.
Once you have the containers, use your cutting tool (scissors or a blade) to carefully make a cut disconnecting the base of each jug from the top of the jug, with the handle remaining fully intact and included with the top half. Please, be very careful and always cut away from you. If you need help with this step, please ask someone else who is more confident for help. If you are a child, please, ask your parent or guardian for help with this step.
3. Make holes.
Now that you have each jug cut in half, it’s time to make some air and drainage holes in those lids. Take whatever large guage wire you have (like a wire coat-hanger) and straighten it so you have a nice piece to poke through the plastic lid while still having a piece to hold onto. Light your candle and move the tip of the wire into the flame for a few moments. Once the wire is heated, poke the wire through each plastic lid to create 10-15 holes. Re-heat the wire as needed to keep it moving easily through the plastic.
4. Stack that Worm Hotel!
Set one of the bases on your countertop with the cut/open side up. Turn one of the top sections over, upside down, with the lid still attached, inside of the base. This will be where all of the action happens! In here you’ll place your kitchen scraps and worms. As they process the scraps some liquids will run down through the drainage holes in the cap and be collected in the base. Rinse this base liquid out often by removing it from the Hotel, swishing some water in there, and dumping it onto a nearby potted plant!
Here’s a diagram of what you’re making – but this uses a 2-liter soda bottle instead of a 1-gallon jug:
5. Add food.
Here’s a good run-down on what foods to give to worms: https://unclejimswormfarm.com/top-five-best-foods-worms/
Tear up part of an egg carton and soak the torn pieces in distilled water. You only need enough water to cover the torn pieces. Let this soak for at least 20 minutes then discard any excess water. Mix these pieces into your initial kitchen scraps and add to the upside down top.
6. Welcome the worms!
Time to introduce worms to their new home. Worms can be purchased from worm-farmers, found at your local supermarket in the fishing/hunting section, or scavenged from your own garden! Wherever you find your worms, know that they’ll eat their weight in scraps each day. So, add the amount of worms that will match the amount of scraps you typically have to feed them. You can just lay your new worm friends right on top of those scraps and they’ll make their way down into wherever they’re happiest.
7. Cover it all up!
Lastly, take the second top with the lid secured and bend it gently to fit just inside of the upside down top that’s now filled with worms and scraps. This acts as a sort of lid, provides air via those air holes you created, while also locking in warmth and humidity.
Place your Worm Hotel in a spot it’s easy to get to from your cutting board and out of direct sunlight. Add scraps as you have them. As the worms devour the scraps the bottom layers will become castings (worm excrement/soil) while the upper layers will be new scraps. How much should you feed your worms? They’ll eat their weight in scraps each day – so, put an equal amount of scraps as you have worms each day. If you have 1-lb of worms in your container, then add 1-lb of scraps. Keeping this feeding-balance also eliminates odors because the worms are able to eat the scraps before they begin to rot.
8. Use that fertilizer! Yay! You did it!
You partnered with the worms!When you’re ready, open the lid to the upside down jug top and remove castings. The worms will be occupying the upper layers, where there’s still new scraps to eat.Take these castings and soak them in water overnight. The next day, you’ll have what vermiculturists call “liquid gold” that can be used to water your garden. Enjoy many bountiful harvests knowing you are an integral part of this bountiful food web. May you carry on many years loving and protecting your worm guests as they lovingly care for you.
Browse around other great ideas by The Innovative Agriculturist!