Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

How To: Make A Worm Hotel

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I think everyone knows how good compost is for your garden because it contains all the nutrients that your plants need to grow.  But what about all that paper waste in our house like toilet paper and paper towel rolls, newspaper, etc. that is recyclable?  What if you could just toss that into a bin in your house and have it magically turn into the best compost you can get?  If you're a gardener, how would you like to have a 173.5% increase in plant growth?  Then read on, my friends, as we enter the wild world of vermicomposting, or worm composting.
I mentioned in my earlier post that I had lucked into a handful of red wigglers and, after letting them hang around in a paper bag for a couple of days, I thought I had better get on my duff and make them a permanent place to live. Setting up a worm bin (I prefer worm condo, myself) is insanely easy.  You just need a few simple things and no more than an hour of your time.
Materials Needed to Make a Worm Bin:

  • Two 8 to 18 gallon plastic storage boxes with tight-fitting lids (dark colored and not transparent)
  • A drill with 1/4" and 1/16" drill bits
  • Newspaper or shredded paper
  • Red wiggler worms, a pound or so (Elsenia Foetida)
  • Cardboard that fits within the bin that you selected
  • Bucket of water  

Where Can I Get Worms?

Believe it or not, you can buy these little guys locally or right off the Internet (just Google "red wigglers").  Red Wigglers seem to be the preferred type as they reproduce quickly and are very hardy.  They're also expensive, with a pound of worms going for up to $50!  So I was very lucky to find someone who was willing to share their worms with me.

If you want to get your own for free, go overturn some pots and other things in your garden and you're bound to find some.  You can also "catch" worms by placing wet cardboard on your lawn overnight.  Worms love cardboard and will actually congregate underneath it at night.  The difficulty with catching your own is that you might just catch the common earthworm and they don't do well in composting bins.  You really need to catch red wiggler worms if you can.

Which size bin should I use?

The most common storage bin size is 18 gallon, which is what I used.  However, that's not going to fit easily under the kitchen sink if that's where you want to store your worms.  And, of course, that would be a convenient place for them because you can toss your table scraps in there as you clean the plates.  I'm putting mine on the stairs to the basement, so the bigger size didn't bother me.  The other thing to consider is weight when the bin is full.  Make sure you pick one that isn't going to be too heavy for you to move around!

I love the bright green, don't you?  These 18 ga. containers were just $5 at Home Depot.

Step 1.  Dril holes in the bottom of both bins.

You need to drill about 20 evenly spaced 1/4" holes in the bottom of each bin.  I simply stacked one within the other, turned them over so that bottom was facing up and then drilled them both at the same.  These holes will allow for drainage and wil also allow the worms to crawl into the second bin when their castings are ready to be harvested. 

Oops!  Missed one.

Step 2.  Drill holes in one of the lids.

Switch to the 1/16" drill bit and drill 30 evenly spaced holes in one of the lids - NOT BOTH!  The other lid will be used as a tray on the bottom of the bin to catch any drainage.

Here's J. showing off his mad tool skillz again. 

Step 3.   Drill ventilation holes.

Still using the 1/16" drill bit, drill holes about 1 to 1.5" apart on each side of the bin near the top edge.

Step 4.  Cover the bottom of the bin with soaked newspaper.

Tear newspaper into strips no more than 1" in width and soak them in the bucket. I left mine for about 45 seconds to a minute so the water would permeate the paper completely.  Worms breathe through their skin, so their environment needs to be wet.  But they don't like soggy bedding.  The consistency you're going for here is similar to a moist sponge.  When you remove the newspaper from the water, squeeze it until only one or two drops come out.  Then lay the strips in the bottom of the bin and repeat until the entire bottom is covered as shown below.

Step 5.  Fill the bin with moist bedding.

We now need to add about 5 or 6 inches bedding and the smaller the pieces better.  I opted for paper right out of my shredder, because the thought of my worms turning those bills into worm poop made me giggle.  You can also throw in leaves, dryer lint, torn cardboard or newspaper, torn egg cartons, paper towels, etc.  Just make sure you soak everything, then squeeze out the excess water and fluff it up before placing it in the bin.  It's also recommended that you throw in a couple of handfuls of dirt, as the worms use it as "grit" to help them digest their food. 

Everything that goes in the bin should be moist, but not soaking wet.

Step 6.  Put the worms to their new home.

Just dump them right out onto the surface of the soil\bedding and place them under a light.  Sunlight isn't recommended, as they are very sensitive and could dry out too fast.  Worms don't like light and will very quicly disappear into the dark depths of the bin.  When

Step 7.  Top the bedding with wet cardboard.

Cut your cardboard so that it fits on top of the bedding.  Soak it and then place it on top.  Then put the lid on top of the bin (the one with the ventilation holes!)

Step 8.  Assemble the worm bin and put it in a safe place.

To assemble the worm bin, place the lid without holes on the bottom, followed by the filled bin on top of the lid.  I recommend setting the filled bin on small blocks so that ventilation can flow under the bin and it will also allow drainage to drain onto the lid rather than having the bin sit in it and cause fungal or mold issues.

When the food scraps are no longer recognizable and bin starts to get full, remove the lid and place the bottom of the second bin on top of the bedding.  Then add bedding to that second bin as well as food.  In 4 to 6 weeks, the majority of the worms will have migrated up into that second bin and you'll be able to easily harvest the castings from the first bin.

Worms like cool, damp environments with good ventilation.  The basement, laundry room, garage or under the kitchen sink are ideal (just make sure you bring them in if your garage gets cold in the winter!)  Ideally, your location should stay between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 8.  Feed your worms (repeatedly).

You should start out feeding your worms slowly at first.  Then, as they reproduce and multiply, you can add more food.  The rule of thumb is that a pound of worms can eat 1/2 pound of food waste per day.  You should always bury the food to prevent odors or problems with insects such as the fruit fly.  Bury the food in different sections of the bin each week under the cardboard and the worms will follow the food around the bin.  It's worm exercise!

Worms are strict vegetarians and, in general, like old produce and fruit.  But just like my cranky puppy, they have some treats that they like also.  For the most part, you'll want to follow this diet:

So see...it's really easy to let worms do the hard work for you.  What are you afraid of?  A little worm?

This blog post is linked to the following blog hops:


  1. You all did a great job! Not just making it but with explanation. Keep up the good work and God Bless!

  2. Thanks, Clint! Hopefully, other folks will find our pics and instructions useful. It really is easy to setup a worm bin. The hardest part is finding the worms!

  3. Great post! I love how clear your instructions are and the exciting thing is people leave those rubbermaid bins up at our recycling bin all the time. I have had a meal worm farm for the chickens for sometime now its time for me to set up a bin for the garden! Thanks for linking up to "The Ole' Saturday Homesteading Trading Post"!

  4. I have been wanting to start vermicomposting and this post makes it look do-able. It makes me want to get started asap. Thanks for the great info!

  5. I have been considering this for some time now, but one thing I have not been able to find info about is, how much temperature control is needed? I mean, where to keep this thing? Does it have to be indoors? Will they freeze at a certain temp? Will they fry at the other extreme? Should they be kept only during certain seasons?
    Anonymous Homesteader

  6. Anon: LOL. Yes, the worms are temp-sensitive and can freeze or fry. Ideally, your worm location would stay between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Your basement probably fits that description but you could keep them in the garage or outside if the temps are cool. Hope that helps!

  7. These are great tips - I should give it a shot sometime!

  8. This is an awesome tutorial... hoping you will follow up as to what to do after a couple of months? I'm clueless. ;)

  9. Haha, worms hate feces? The common name for the red wrigglers used in worm bins is "Manure Worm", because they break down poop.


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