Worm composting directly in the garden bed simplifies the process of vermicomposting. The worms live, work, reproduce, and make worm castings in the garden bed, right where they are needed. 

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

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How does vermicomposting work?

Worm composting – also called vermicomposting (‘vermi’ = worm) – is the process of using worms to compost food scraps into vermicompost. Worms eat up to half their weight each day in kitchen scraps, and the byproduct of all that eating is worm castings. (Worm castings = GARDEN GOLD!)

During the digestion process, the worms secrete chemicals that break organic matter into nutrition that is readily available for plants. Worm castings, along with the chemicals secreted during digestion, make up vermicompost.

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

What are the benefits of worm composting?

  • Vermicompost improves soil texture and structure, and aerates the soil. 
  • Vermicompost increases the water-holding capacity of soil. 
  • The nutrients in vermicompost are immediately available to plants
  • Worm castings contribute to faster plant growth and higher production.
  • Worm castings are dense in microorganisms and nutrients.
  • The chemicals in worm castings help prevent “damping off” and other diseases.
Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

What is the easiest way to make a worm composting bin?

A vermicomposting bin built into your raised beds is the easiest way to make a worm composting bin. No need to harvest the worm castings or move the worms inside for extremes of hot and cold temperaturesThe worms live, work, reproduce, and make worm castings in the garden bed, right where they are needed. 

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

How do I make an in-bed worm composter?

Supplies:

  • 2 gallon bucket and lid
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Worms – redworms or red wigglers are preferred. The earthworms typically found in the garden aren’t suitable for vermicomposting.

Tools:

  • Drill (for drilling holes)
  • Dremel (to cut off bottom of bucket)
Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

Directions for making an in-bed vermicomposter:

Use a drill and a large bit to drill several holes all around a 2 gallon bucket.

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Using the Dremel, cut off the bottom of the bucket. We used this drill bit

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Dig a hole in the garden bed the size of the bucket.

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Place bucket in the hole.

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Fill the bucket with shredded cardboard, and wet it down. Allow cardboard to absorb moisture overnight.

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Add 300-600 worms to the bucket.

Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting

Put the lid on the bucket.

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

Begin feeding worms – see worm feeding details below.

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

A note about sizes:

My raised beds are 15 inches deep, 4 feet wide and 8 feet long.

I used 2 two gallon buckets in each bed. If your beds are smaller or larger, adjust size and number of beds accordingly. 

What do worms eat?

Good for feeding worms

Avoid feeding worms

coffee grounds, grains, tea bags, vegetables, fruit, eggshells, paper

dairy, oily food, spicy food, meat, citrus, salty foods, fermented foods, glossy paper

 

Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

Tips for feeding worms:

  • Add equal amounts of greens and browns each time you feed.

    Greens

    Browns

    fruit scraps, vegetable scraps, bread, pasta, coffee grounds, eggshells

    cardboard, mulch, dry leaves, shredded paper

  • Make sure worms have eaten previously-added food scraps before adding more. Plan on feeding worms about once per week.
  • Cut or blend food before adding to bins. Smaller pieces of food break down faster and speed up the composting process. 
  • After adding food scraps (greens), cover with browns to avoid attracting fruit flies
  • Remove large pieces of uneaten food. Pay attention to what the worms are eating and not eating. 
  • Interior of the bin should have the moisture consistency of a dried-out sponge. Spray lightly with a hose if necessary.
  • Replace lid on bucket after feeding
Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting

Frequently asked questions about in-bed vermicomposting:

Question: I have a ton of black soldier fly larvae in both of my bins. Will they be detrimental to my red wigglers?

Answer: Black Soldier Flies are unusual in the Phoenix metro area because it is so dry here. They won’t hurt the worms, and within two or three weeks they pupate into harmless flies (the live fly has no mouth – the only stage of the insect that eats is the larvae) that die within a day or two.  

The larvae are voracious eaters so someone that finds them in the bin should feed much more than normal. If they put buckets or bins in the ground like your set up, they may observe fewer worms in their bucket or bin as the worms will move away from the heat the larvae produce.  

The worms are fine and will return when the larvae leave. The larvae don’t bite – if someone wanted to remove them (easiest is with a kitchen strainer) and toss them, that is a fine option too.

Question: I dug into two of the buckets to see how my worms were doing, and they were missing. Not a worm to be found in either bucket. Would you expect the worms to stay in that bucket full of compost, or have they perhaps left their original home and are now crawling around through the rest of my garden, maybe just coming back to the bucket for their meals?

Answer: The worms go throughout the beds and then there are usually some in the buckets with the scraps. I’m guessing with the intense heat we are having they are burrowing down as deep as they can go.

Question: I have two guinea pigs and feed them alfalfa hay, organic alfalfa pellets, and leafy greens such as romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, and parsley. They produce a lot of waste (approximately 1 quart of waste hay and pellets daily). I read that I can add their waste and their waste hay directly to my raised bed gardens, which I have been doing and have been digging it in with a hand spade. Will red wiggler worms compost the guinea pig waste and waste hay?

Answer: Red Wigglers will eat guinea pig manure as it decomposes – and, they will not eat anything that they don’t like until it decomposes enough for them to eat. A pound of worms will eat about a pound of waste a week. You are likely to be producing a lot more than that, but that’s not harmful either.  The worms will eat what they want, and the rest will feed your beds as it has.  Your current process is probably producing good results – the worms will make it better.

Question: How often do you have to add water to the compost buckets in Arizona heat?

Answer: The beds get watered every morning during the summer, and the buckets are in the middle of one of the watering grids and get watered as well.

Question: Can you add chicken poop to the buckets?

Answer: You can, in small amounts. Too much will overwhelm the worms. Just mix the poop with bedding (anything that was a tree…leaves or shredded cardboard or mulch) and they will do great.

Question: Does the vermicompost seep into the garden through the holes in the bucket or does it need to be scooped out?

Answer: It seeps into the beds. I may move the bins around next season to “spread the wealth”.

Question: How do the composting worms do during the summer? Is there anything special you do to keep them cool so they don’t die?

Answer: They burrow down into the beds to stay cool. 

Want more information about composting? This article shares 10 simple steps to get you started. 

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Vermicomposting Made Easy_ In-Bed Worm Composting
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26 comments on “Vermicomposting Made Easy: In-Bed Worm Composting”

  1. Do you do anything with what’s inside or do you just keep repeating the process? Like do you take the compost out to use? What about the worms? Thanks

    • I keep repeating the process and adding green/brown material. I don’t take the compost out it use it. The worms will carry the castings out into the bed.

    • Red wigglers can live up to 4 or 5 years. The worms should survive and keep reproducing themselves indefinitely if conditions are right.

  2. I don’t even use the buckets anymore. I pick an area of garden and dig some of soil out, throw in a little cardboard and food and have a small piece of plywood to cover area. Lift the board to feed, stays cooler than plastic. They just go to town and then I can easily move feeding area to different parts of garden months later. No more messy buckets to deal with. Worms go where ever they want in garden as well….everywhere I dig I have tons.

  3. Super! I’m excited. I use the square foot garden method Angela uses. Been composting in bins during the winter, but I’m going to try Joyce’s method now that its gardening time. Think I’ll try using 5 gallon bucket lids to cover the holes. Thanks to both of you!

    • Perfect! Good luck. I’m really enjoying having a simple way to compost directly in the beds. I think you will like it as well.

    • A friend gave me mine, but shredded paper or dried leaves would also work if you can’t find the cardboard.

  4. I was wondering about the heat in AZ. I put in a Garden tower test area and have watched the temp. The results are 90* plus. I would be worried that is too hot. I have a worm tower and have to put in an ice bottle daily. during the hottest days

    • I’ve noticed the worms burrow to the bottom and middle of the beds during the hottest days. I dig down deep to put the food for the worms in and then bury it with more dirt.

    • I added fertilizer to the beds after having the soil tested about a month after I planted them. Since that time I haven’t added additional fertilizer. I will probably add some organic fertilizer to some beds before fall planting depending on what I am planting. I don’t think this takes the place of all fertilizer, but it definitely improves the soil and adds nutrients. I may shift the buckets around to different places in the beds when I replant for fall as well.

  5. Where did you get a big bag of worms? AZ worm farm is closed til mid-August so other than buying bait worms from a sporting goods store, I’m unsure where else to get them. Ideas?

    • I got my worms at Arizona Worm Farm. My vote would be to wait until they are available there if you live here in the valley. It’s pretty hot to get them started right now and mid-August would be a great time to add them to your beds.

  6. Hi Angela! I know that you have bins that you compost in outside of the vermicomposting. Do you think your vermicomposting will take the place of your compost bins in general? I feel like the in bed set up will be so much more straightforward for me than piles/bins of compost. I wonder though if there are benefits of both?
    Thank you so much!

    • Great question. It depends on how much you have to compost. The worm bins are my favorite way to compost kitchen scraps. It’s perfect because there is usually a (relatively) small amount that’s easy to add to a bucket or two. For garden/yard waste (which we have a lot of) the larger composting bins are a much better option. If you are just looking to compost kitchen scraps and a little yard waste you the worm bins would be enough. If you have a lot of yard waste it’s good to have both.

  7. Do the worms eat root vegetables within the garden bed? Just curious about this whole process. I would like to build garden beds to start this fall.

  8. I love the simplicity of having the worms right in the bed! I’m new to composting. What’s your process for incorporating the castings into the soil? Would it make sense to perhaps dig a new location for the worms periodically and move them so that once the bucket is removed and worms are out of the way, you can spread out the castings and work them into the soil?
    Love the video! Glad not all the worms escaped! Haha!

    • The castings are in place in the beds and the worms carry them through the soil. I don’t manually work the castings into the soil, they are already there. But I move the buckets to different spots in the garden from time to time.

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