Everything You Need to Know About Starting a Worm Farm
Worm farms are one of the easiest ways to keep your garden healthy and vibrant. This guide will give you the best tips for starting a worm farm the right way! And once you get going, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get your hands on some worm poop.
We will assume that if you are looking up information about starting a worm farm, you already know the many benefits they can deliver to your garden and plants.
If you haven’t yet discovered how beneficial vermicomposting is for your garden, check out our article HERE.
The key to running a successful worm farm is giving it the best start possible. You want to set it up with the right materials and in the correct order so your worm farm ecosystem establishes itself quickly and sustainably.
We can tell you’re itching to start (like we were), so let’s jump in.
How to Start a Worm Farm – Step-by-Step Instructions
We have good news for you, building a worm farm isn’t complicated.
The main challenge with starting a worm farm is the self-control and required patience to allow nature to do its thing. And it is probably the most common mistake first-time worm farmers make – rushing their worm farm.
However, following our step-by-step instructions for starting a worm farm will provide you with a blueprint for success.
1. Set up Your Worm Farm Container
Selecting your container type and material is probably the most taxing part of how to start a worm farm.
The truth is you have many options.
Ready-Made Worm Farms
You can buy a pre-built worm farm from your local nurseries or online at Amazon.
Pre-made worm farms are good options for gardeners new to vermicomposting (worm farms) or those that want an instant solution. If you choose a pre-made worm farm, you can skip this step because everything has already been done for you.
DIY Worm Farm
The alternative (and more fun method – in our opinion) is to build a DIY worm farm.
The options for DIY worm composting bins range from styrofoam boxes to plastic boxes or even more advanced wooden farms. Each farm has varying demands. But the good news is there is an option to match any budget and skill level, from beginner to advanced.
The key to building ANY successful worm farm using containers is that it has drainage holes to allow excess moisture to drain. It also needs plenty of ventilation holes to allow air to reach the composting materials inside the farm.
For more information on setting up worm farm containers, check out our detailed guides.
2. Prepare the Bedding
The next step is to start preparing the bedding (or medium) with which you will start your worm farm.
The critical components of good worm farm bedding are:
- it is an organic material, and
- it has water-retaining properties.
Your worms will eventually munch their way through the bedding, so getting this right will get your worm farm on the right path to a happy, sustained home for your worms.
Which Bedding Should I Use?
We like to use organic materials like coconut coir or coconut peat to kick-start our worm farms. Some other suitable materials include peat or sphagnum moss, shredded newspaper, or even a combination of all the materials.
Coconut coir is readily available in all well-stocked nurseries, as it is a core material used by many gardeners. But if you cannot get down to a nursery, it is also available for home delivery in online marketplaces like Amazon.
Soft organic bedding is ideal for worm farms. Harder materials, like wood chips, will take longer to process. Meaning it will take your worms longer to produce worm castings.
Soak Your Bedding
Give your chosen bedding a good 20-30 minute soak in distilled or filtered water.
We prefer neutral water (without additives or chemicals) because worms are sensitive creatures. Any foreign chemicals may have adverse effects on your worms. It could even cause fatalities in some circumstances.
You can also use freshly collected rainwater or tap water left out for at least 24 hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate.
Once your bedding has become saturated (coco coir can expand up to 5-7 times its size), grab a handful and begin wringing out the excess water by hand. Place the squeezed-out bedding material into a separate container, and repeat the process until you have squeezed all your excess water out of your bedding.
Ideally, we want the bedding to be moist, like a sponge. But not completely saturated.
3. Structure the Worm Farm
Now comes the fun part – constructing your worm farm.
If you are going down the homemade worm farm path, we recommend placing a 1-2 inch layer of pebbles or crushed rock at the bottom of your container covered with a fine mesh material (like fly wire screens). This will allow any excess water to drain to the bottom of the container. And at the same time, prevent the worms from drowning. Ready-made worm farms will have drains or taps installed for this very purpose – to extract the excess moisture.
Fill two-thirds of your worm farm with the moistened bedding from the previous step.
Next, sprinkle some kitchen scraps onto your bedding. Only add one or two cut-up fresh banana peels or apple skin and cores. The idea is to encourage and cultivate the microbes population in your worm farm BEFORE we begin adding worms.
GARDEN BENCH TOP PRO TIP
We like to add fresh worm castings along with the food scraps in this step to give our newly built worm farm a head start. Worm castings are full of microbes and already have the required microfauna community we seek to cultivate. Adding worm castings into the mix when starting a worm farm can cut the waiting times in the following step by half!
Finish layering your worm farm with more moist bedding, cover your worm farm, and now you have reached the most challenging part of how to start a worm farm…waiting.
4. Wait – Important!
Set your newly built worm farm aside in a location that isn’t exposed to direct sunlight or extreme temperature fluctuations.
Leave your worm farm for 5-7 days to allow the microbes to establish in the bedding.
While you are waiting, you can organize the show’s main star – your worms.
We use worms from our existing worm farms and migrate them into the newly established ones.
However, if this is your first venture into vermicomposting, you may not have a ready source of worms. You can sometimes source worms at large garden centers in the composting section. Alternatively, there are many reputable worm suppliers online.
5. Make Your Worms at Home
Once your worm farm is flourishing with beneficial microbes, it is time to introduce your worms to their new home.
There isn’t anything complicated here. You can drop them onto the bedding surface with the delivered material. It is likely an organic mix of materials they will happily consume in time.
The worms will immediately begin exploring their new home and dig into the bedding. They usually shy away from light sources and instinctively head toward the decomposing food in the bin.
GARDEN BENCH TOP PRO TIP
Leave the lid off your worm farm in a brightly lit area (not in direct sun). The light will drive the worms deeper into the worm farm. They are less likely to explore around the worm farms’ upper rim.
6. Honeymoon Period
We understand there is a temptation to begin feeding your worms as soon as they have been introduced to their new home.
After all, we want to be gracious hosts and make them feel welcome.
However, this is a common mistake new vermicomposters make when starting a worm farm.
Your worms are settling into their new home and will be more interested in exploring their surroundings rather than eating. Plus, you have already prepared a few snacks in advance in step 3 of the process.
So, if you get enthusiastic and begin piling food scraps into the worm bin. Rather than being consumed, the scraps will start to rot and become acidic. This is terrible news for worms, who breathe through their skin and require a neutral pH environment.
We recommend giving your worms a honeymoon period of approximately seven days. We did say ‘waiting’ is the hardest part of how to start a worm farm.
Ensure you monitor conditions and moisture levels every other day during this period.
7. It’s Feeding Time (but slowly)
After your worms have made themselves a home, you can begin dropping in food scraps – FINALLY!
We like to process food scraps by chopping them into smaller pieces. For example, rather than throwing in a whole banana peel, we usually cut or tear it up, making it easier for the worms. It also means you can distribute it evenly across the worm farm, making it less likely to rot.
We recommend self-restraint in feeding while your worm colony is establishing itself and growing.
Begin feeding small portions and monitor if the worms are eating all the food within a week. If you notice the food is disappearing, gradually increase the amount of food scraps in the next feeding session.
If, on the other hand, you still see food from previous feeds. Reduce your portions and remove any food that may be beginning to rot.
GARDEN BENCH TOP PRO TIP
It will take a month to get a feel for how much your worms are eating. The biggest tip we can give you is to fight the temptation of over-feeding your worms.
Less is more in the case of worm farms – and this advice will save you from making many mistakes beginner vermicomposters make along their journey.
8. Progress Checks
Once you have your worm farm humming along and your worms are happily munching away on worm food, your sole purpose is to keep a keen eye on the conditions on your farm.
Here are the variables we monitor in our worm farms:
- Moisture – we mentioned earlier that the material in worm farms should be moist but not over-saturated to the point that it looks wet and soggy. Moisture can build in worm farms, especially if you add high water-content food waste, like watermelon peel. If you feel your worm farm may be too wet, try adding dry organic materials like newspaper or coconut coir. Also, make sure to periodically drain your worm bin of the juices (also known as worm wee, which is different from worm tea). We had the misfortune of experiencing a flooding event in one of our worm bins when egg shells blocked the drainage holes, allowing excess moisture to build and suffocate our worms 😭😭😭.
- Temperature – worms are reasonably tolerant creatures. However, extreme temperatures can cause issues for worm farms. The ideal space to maintain a worm farm is in a dark room or shady spot with a stable temperature between 55-80° Fahrenheit (12-27° Celcius). We use a soil thermometer to help us keep tabs on the worm farm temperatures.
- pH Levels – worms require a neutral to the slightly acidic environment to thrive and colonize. In pH terms, this is a 6.5 – 7 reading on a pH meter. The main risk is your environment becoming too acidic from rotting food. The best way to prevent your worm farm from becoming too acidic is to understand the feeding habits of your worms – which you should be doing anyway 😉.
There you have it – you are now well on your way to building a successful worm farm in your home.
Once you have mastered your first worm farm, expanding your worm empire with more worm farms is only natural, which is an easy rinse-and-repeat process using our 8-step guide!
Tips for Building a Successful Worm Farm
Throughout this guide, we’ve been dropping helpful tips and hints that we’ve learned along our vermicomposting journey.
But to make it easier to digest, we thought it would be helpful to put our favorite tips into list form (below):
- Feeding Moderately is the Key – keeping a vigilant eye on the amount of food in your worm farms at each feeding will allow you to gain an intimate knowledge of your worms’ eating habits. The most successful worm farmers treat their worms like family, constantly monitoring their diet.
- Watch out for Intruders – it is only natural for other insects, like fruit flies or soldier flies and their larvae, to invade your worm farm. After all, there is a ready food source continually being topped up. These insects are also nature’s composters, so don’t be too upset if you find them on your farm. Practicing manual removal to keep the numbers under control is a suitable method. However, if you have an infestation, you may need to complete a worm farm transfer and start a new worm farm.
- Keep it Interesting – like humans; worms can get bored with the same diet. Mix it up and keep it interesting for your worms by adding different organic materials. Keep adding other types of worm bedding material like newspapers, uncoated cardboard, and coconut coir. Your worms will appreciate the variation and reward you with rich worm castings or black gold!