Have you wondered, “How can I start a cheap worm bin?”
Well a few weeks back, I asked my e-mail list that I affectionately (and maybe indulgently?) call “Urban Worm Nation” how they’re all doing their vermicomposting. I am constantly amazed at how people used old refrigerators, discarded industrial equipment, and good old ingenuity to come up with some really effective ways to start a worm farm for next to no money at all.
Now in full disclosure, I have a new worm bin in the works (Update: It’s the Urban Worm Bag!) that I will be announcing in a few weeks and I’m REALLY excited about it. But after the initial launch where I’ll be offering it for around 30% off, it’s going to be in the $100-$110 price range. And I fully understand that this could be beyond the price point many of you are comfortable with.
But a reader named Rachel in Duluth, MN turned me on to an incredibly cheap way to combine the breathability of a Worm Inn and the stackability of a Worm Factory 360. She ordered 3 felt garden grow bags and stacked them on top of one another, placing landscape cloth (like a wire mesh) in the 2nd one from the bottom. This provides some rigidity but also allows the worms to migrate upwards.
For the top bag, she opted not to use the landscape cloth but rather just cut slits in the bottoms of the bag. And I guess as I think about it, the rigidity isn’t really a factor as the weight of the bags kind of keeps things solid and in place. Another really cool aspect is that the felt for the bags is made from recycled bottles in most cases. Using recycled stuff to help you recycle is pretty cool, eh?
What I really like about this system is that it would do a great job of wicking away excess moisture through the walls of the bag. But because vermicompost needs to be pretty moist, a system like this may not work as well in arid climates like Arizona or New Mexico. As you can see, Rachel appears to be storing her worm bin setup in her basement, so I think the humidity is probably easier to keep in the optimum range this way.
You should also keep in mind that the bags are literally going to be sitting on top of the vermicompost in the bag below it. This is probably no big deal if the bin below is mostly just castings, but if you’ve still got a thriving population of worms in the bin below, a heavy bag sitting on the surface of the vermicompost may not be the best things for the worms!
Anyways, I was excited to try it, so I ordered and just took delivery of a 3-pack of these 9-gallon grow bags from Amazon for a measly $11.99 and am going to try this myself and hopefully post a follow-up soon! I sent a similar message to this one out to my e-mail list and being the savvy shoppers they are, many of them found even better deals than this! I checked around, and these things can be had for next to nothing on Amazon.
Whereas I bought 3 9-gallon grow bags for $11.99, you can get 6 10-gallon grow bags for $16.59. I did a little public school math and found that the ones I bought cost 44 cents/gallon for the entire purchase. But the 6-pack of 10-gallon bags gets the cost down 27 cents/gallon.
Now I did actually find that some readers went for the 25-gallon grow bags and that actually gets the cost down to 22 cents. While you get more surface area with a 25-gallon bag, you also get a whole lot more weight. At capacity, a 25-gallon bag would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 140lbs. And if you’re planning to stack these, that’s a recipe for some seriously compacted castings that will be difficult to screen if you decide to do so. Not to mention, your back may have issues lifting that kind of weight.
So if you give this a shot please let me know! I am not trying to sell this as a way to replace a high-quality worm bin, but it could be a nice cheap way to get yourselves a breathable worm bin system.
19 thoughts on “A Really Cheap Way to Start a Worm Bin”
I have been doing this since 2005 with my own home made mesh bags used in my garbage can worm bins. But trying buy netting to make these for commercial use was near impossible, as they wanted me to purchase of a thousand feet of sturdy nylon netting. UGH. So I just pretty much kept my talents to my self. Good luck to you.
I also learned with the bag stacking system, that only one bag was needed, instead of 2, as once the worms discovered the food in the upper bag, they learned (sounds crazy) to eat from the top, poop underneath. I harvested a bin, but was too busy to process it (it was mostly worm cast), so I put my crochet bag in it and neglected it for months, but when I got around to finish it, the bulk of the worms were in the bag, a big giant lump of pure cast was directly underneath. There were hardly any worms in the cast underneath, as in the first place, it was unprocessed worm cast.
Well, I’m trying this. I also put the Urban Worm Bag on my Christmas wish list. But for now I got myself 3 bags. I did worm composting in a garden tower project pot. But I wasn’t very successful because I always got anaerobic conditions in there. Somehow a few worms kept surviving. My neighbor will keep feeding the garden tower with her scraps. But I got some of the castings and worms out of there and into the first bag with a bunch of betting and some food scraps. That is now in the garage. So far so good. It’s been about a week and none of the worms have tried to escape or even climb up. After those bad conditions, they must feel in heaven. But I have to watch it that it doesn’t dry out. It’s going to be a learning curve but I’m looking forward to actually having a healthy worm colony. Thank you for posting this great idea!
Please keep me updated Chris! 🙂
Update: It worked great as far as the worms producing a nice layer of vermicompost already. Within just 3 weeks or so. The bag even had mushrooms growing on the outside. But the big minus for me was that it dried out too quickly. And it wasn’t easy to keep the outsides of the compost moist. So Christmas came early for me and today my new Urban Worm Bag arrived, thank you! It’s beautiful and I think the coated inside of the bag will make it a lot easier to keep the moisture in there. I moved everything into the new bag, wow, much bigger.
Yes, this was my main complaint too. That mesh of the root bag really , really breathes. I’m thinking about getting some of these made with the same polyurethane lining I have inside the UWB in order to slow the evaporation. We’ll see!
I have used for Cloth Bags for Plants for many years and they are very “airy” thus making it near impossible to overwater, flood pot out with water and plant won’t die ….. Issues for Worms, that I see, is material towards outside of bag will get dry and it will be tough to remoisten to proper level without very precise watering.
I just started trying to compost with worms…. I set up a bin out of an 18 gal tote, from directions I found online. I let it be for a week, then bought worms for it. A local worm grower sold me one pound of a mix of 3 worms. The foetida, African night crawlers and jumpers. I’d rather have just the foetidas but the guy suffered some damage from our hurricane season and was only selling the mixture. I think I started in May of this year and it’s now Aug 1st. I’m not sure how well things are going. I don’t have a place inside our home, for the worm bin, so I had to find a shady/sheltered spot in our yard. I try not to disturb them, except when I feed once a week, although I do try to “fluff” the bedding if it seems to be packed down. Everything is a medium/dark brown and I’m getting a duplicate bin ready to transfer any surviving worms into, when I harvest. There are a lot of other critters in the bin with the worms and I don’t see a lot of worms. I have to dig around to find them. But the food is being eaten. I plan on harvesting next week, so I guess I’ll find out how it went, at that time….. I had read that diatomaceous earth would not hurt the worms but would kill insects. Is this true? I’ve ordered some food grade stuff to use in the home for insect control. I’ve also read that fine saw dust is ok to use in the bedding. Is that true. There is a lot of conflicting information out there on the web. I’m glad I found this forum.
I would say if the food is being eaten, that is a good sign although I would certainly expect the worms to be found easily at or just underneath the surface, especially the red wigglers (eisenia fetida).
Yes, food grade diatomaceous earth is effective on hard-shelled pests, but please know that in general, bugs are a normal part of a decomposition process and aren’t naturally bad. If you have a large infestation, then I would definitely try to the DE.
Going through this blog a little at a time…..I am totally new to worm composting. I started about a month ago. I read enough and listened to enough youtube videos beforehand to decide to skip making a bin out of a tote and go for the CFT system, which makes so much more sense to me, but I found this particular post intriguing. Not a bad idea! I wanted something that didn’t require so much cost up front, while at the same time remaining relatively simple to deal with. My long-term goal is a small side business selling worms and castings locally. I am a full-time stay-at-home mom in my early 40s and have an avid interest in gardening and my youtube addiction brought me to the topic of vermicomposting. I bought my first bag roughly a month ago. My worms (which I bought from Uncle Jim’s worm farm), seem happy right now and so far I have not ended up with a smelly bin and have been careful to not overfeed. I use mostly cardboard for bedding and feed with produce scraps and a grain mixture (with oyster shells for grit). Am waiting for my business bundle now. My one main mistake has been disturbing my worms almost daily trying to see how they are “coming along.” Just read your post about leaving them alone and wish I had read it sooner. Oh well, glad I read it before my other worms come!
Anyway, despite the fact that I love this particular idea, I do not regret my purchases and I like that I don’t have to rig something up or put a lot of thought into it. Also, we keep a dehumidifier in our basement and the grow bags might dry out faster. Thanks for all your info! I will keep reading as I have the time.
I know this is originally from a few years ago, but thank you _so_ much for this post and the comments! New to vermicomposting and cannot yet afford the Urban Worm bag (soon). We are also recording our process and making it a neighborhood science project. Anyway, after lots of studying and prep, decided to try and build our own bin system. Was going great for about 1.5 weeks and then I made all the classic beginner mistakes – overfed, anaerobic, too wet, too acidic. I was mortified for being responsible for killing a number of worms. Thankfully, we figured out what we needed to do. The worms have been happier. Except, I was still finding their bins to be too wet. Enter the question about using grow bags. We have a damp basement. I have five set ups trying to determine which will be the best. Grow bag hanging inside a 5 gallon bucket w holes drilled in it? Grow bag on its own? 5 gallon bucket w no grow bag and way more bedding? Anyway, I so appreciate all of your blogs and the tips on here about using a grow bag. We have a Ph / humidity meter and will be seeing which environment is best for our basement setup. Thanks!
Oh absolutely! The grow bag inside a bucket is something I haven’t thought of. I assume that’s to allow for leaching of excess moisture?
Do you think that this could be a potential addition to your “Composting in an Apartment” post, as a compost bucket instead of a vermicompost system? I was thinking that maybe the breathability of the fabric would help it avoid going anaerobic (and also keep leachate levels to a minimum), and the flexible nature of the walls would make it easier to “fluff” and move the compost around
It’s probably good to consider this as a vermicomposting system. It is too small for a composter.
What happens to the worm tea in this system?
What you are describing isn’t worm tea, but “leachate” which is the excess moisture released by the decomposing food waste that “leaches’ down to the bottom. A properly managed system should be producing very little or no leachate. You can manage this with lots of bedding which absorbs the moisture from the food waste.
I’ve got a plant growing under Intense led lighting that I wanted to try some live worms in. Felt pot handfull of worms in rehydrated horse manure as top dressing cover with wet cardboard disc,some folded wet newspaper and a wet towel on top.
The towel dries out in a day but the surface and cardboard are staying wet enough to keep the worms happy.
Great! Glad to see it’s working for you!