Worm Composting Basics

Let worms eat your garbage! They will happily turn it into some of the best fertilizer on earth-worm compost, otherwise known as worm castings or vermicompost.

Vermicomposting is a fascinating, fun and easy way to recycle your food scraps. A worm bin requires very little work, produces no offensive odors and provides worm castings that help plants thrive.  Composting with worms saves money on garbage bills, improves the fertility and water-holding capacity of garden soil, benefits the environment by recycling valuable organic materials, and helps solve the crisis of over-flowing landfills.

After Getting Started (see below), you will want to learn about Feeding and Maintaining Your Worms and Harvesting Worm Compost

If worm boxes don't thrill you, don't despair! There are other great ways to recycle food waste described in our Backyard Composting pages and in these PDF downloads: Homemade Food Scrap Composter and Burying Food Scraps

Getting Started

Only a few things are needed to make good worm compost:  A homemade or manufactured Worm Bin (see Resources), Suitable Bedding Materials, Red Worms, and Worm Food.

Where to Put Your Bin

Place your bin in the shade and, if possible, under a tree or an overhang to protect from frost. As long as outdoor temperatures are between 30 and 90 degrees and you have at least 4 inches of moist bedding in the bin, your worms should be fine. 

  • Under a tree
  • Along side of house
  • Garage
  • Patio or deck
  • Under the eaves
  • Shed

Bedding Materials

The compost worm's natural habitat is in piles of fallen leaves or manure. You will need at least four inches of bedding to keep the worms cool and moist, to give them fiber to eat and to discourage fruit flies from getting into the food. For best results, make bedding from a mixture of materials, including brown leaves (no pine, redwood, bay or eucalyptus), straw, sawdust, shredded corrugated cardboard, finished compost, well-rotted and rinsed horse manure, coconut pith fiber or coir (available from nurseries), and shredded black and white paper (no glossy or magazines).

A handful of soil or powdered egg shells provides grit which helps grind food in the worm's gizzard.

Put the bedding in your bin, toss in a handful of soil, moisten with water and mix until evenly damp.  You are now ready to add the worms and food. Over time, the bedding and food are eaten by the worms and turned into rich worm compost.


Compost worms are called "red worms" or "red wigglers". They are often found in old compost piles, but are different from the earthworms you normally find in the ground. Their scientific names are Eisenia fetida and E. fetida Andrei.  These worms have a big appetite, reproduce quickly and thrive in confinement. They can eat more than half their own weight in food every day!  Common earthworms and nightcrawlers don't survive well in bins since they normally live under the soil surface. When purchasing red worms, one pound is all you need to get started. Where to Buy Worms