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. 

In-bed vermicomposting solves the problem of what to do with the worms during extremes of hot and cold. For example vermicomposting in hot weather places like the low desert of Arizona is difficult unless you bring the worms inside during the summer months. With in-bed vermicomposting the worms simply burrow deeper in the beds during the heat of an Arizona summer, and then emerge again in the fall. 

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 buckets accordingly. 

I split one bag of worms between two buckets. Each bag contains about 3/4 of a pound of worms (around 500-700 worms, including babies, cocoons, and habitat).

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, alcohol, 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 wrung-out sponge. (Damp but not overly wet) 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 2-3 times a week during the summer and about once a week in the winter. The buckets are in the middle of one of the watering grids in my beds 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: Do the finish castings seep into the garden through the holes in the bucket or does it need to be scooped out?

Answer: Both. It is carried out of the bed by the worms movement. When the worms have completed the food scraps you can also scoop the castings out and spread them around the bed. You then begin the process again, adding fresh cardboard and food scraps. The worms will come back into the bin. 

Question: How do the in-bed vermicomposting worms do during the summer? Is there anything special you do to keep them cool during Arizona summers so they don’t die?

Answer: They burrow down into the beds to stay cool. In-bed worm composting in Arizona is a great option for our hot summers. Beds should be at least 12 inches deep. 

Question: Do you ever have problems with ants attacking the worms in the in-bed vermicomposting bins? 

Answer: Ants don’t generally attack worms. By making the area a little moister you can discourage ants and make the habitat better for the worms. You can use these ant bait traps

Question: Will chemical fertilizers hurt the worms?  

Answer: In small amounts, probably not, but direct contact or a large amount could. The whole idea of worms is to let them convert organic materials into a natural source of nitrogen. The worms should reduce or eliminate the need for inorganic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers such as inorganic nitrate salt will reduce the pH but it also kills some of the microbes we like.

Question: Can I use earthworms or do I need to use red wrigglers for in-bed vermicomposting?  

Answer: Red Wigglers are composting worms that hang out in the top six inches of your garden. “Earthworms” is a generic term for one of hundreds of varieties of worms. If you dig them from the garden, they won’t stay in the compost level. That’s not bad, but they won’t hang out in the habitat we set up. Most bait worms need cooler temperatures than Arizona summers. If you are buying night crawlers, you will probably lose them in June or July. We want all worms. Red Wigglers will stay and live better, but no worm is bad.

Question: Can I feed my vermicomposting worms bread?  

Answer: Yes. Grain based items are fine (i.e. crackers, cooked rice, pizza crust, and bread). 

Question: What do I do about cockroaches in my bins?  

Answer: Cockroaches can be hard to eliminate completely, but the best bet is to aggressively cover the food waste with browns. Adding at least an inch of browns on top will help. 

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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61 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. The worms will carry the castings out into the bed. Once the bin finishes I often spread the castings around the bed and begin the process over, adding shredded cardboard, food scraps, etc. You don’t need to add more worms, they will come back to the bins when there are scraps for them.

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I love your website Angela. The videos are teaching me a lot and I enjoy seeing your beautiful garden.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

    • A couple of ways: The worms carry the castings through the soil, and when a bin is finished I often spread the contents around the bed. I also move the buckets to different spots in the garden from time to time.

        • Often a bin will be completely composted and all that will remain will be the castings. At that point I spread the castings around the bed and either move the bucket to a new location or start the process over again. I add shredded cardboard back into the bins and then food scraps, topped with more brown material. The worms will return to the bins and begin composting again.

  11. If my raised bed is only 6-7 inches deep,do I just cut the bucket to fit that height? And since it will be shorter than yours, do I add half the amount of worms, or the same for my 4×4 grid? This is awesome. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • You could have the bucket sticking up a little bit in the bed (or you could cut it) My bucket doesn’t go all the way down to the ground. I added 2 bags of worms and 2 bins for a 4X8 bed, so one bin with worms is probably enough for a 4×4 bed.

  12. where you write “dried-out sponge,” did you mean “wrung-out sponge”? because a dried-out sponge would be completely bone dry and one wouldn’t think of adding water to bring it to that consistency. 😉

  13. Great idea angela. I have done the same thing only didnt cut out the bottom (oops). But mine was for regular earth worms. Now Im thiking I will do this for both kinds of worms,as I already have a vermicomposting bin that is chock full of worms.

  14. I am just getting started on my in bed vermicomposter. But INITIALLY what order do you add kitchen scraps? Is it: cardboard, worms, scraps? Or cardboard, scraps, worms? I know subsequent scraps will go on top, just wondering about the initial build. Thank you!

    • Hi Ester, I also add garden waste (cut it up so it composts quicker) coffee grounds (you can get them at Starbucks) and any kitchen scraps I don’t put in the vermicomposting bins. Hope that helps.

  15. I would love to do this in my new raised beds! I’m just getting started with worm composting and I love the idea of having them right in the garden. I’m concerned about winter. I know you’re in Arizona but I am in western Colorado. It does get cold in the winter. Will the worms survive? If not, how would I bring them in for the cold?

    • From what I’m hearing from people in cold climates, it’s helpful to mulch the beds with several inches of leaves during the winter. The worms burrow down and then emerge the following spring. Another option would be to collect what worms you can from the buckets before temperatures cool in the fall and bring them indoors in regular vermicomposting bins.

  16. Hi Angela
    I am new gardener and i learn so much from your videos. I have followed step by step instructions of your video to put the worm bins and worms in the garden bed. Got the growing in the garden soil from AZ worm farm (keeping my fingers crossed for this summer). My question is…it’s been over a month, do i keep adding the kitchen waste in the bins? Do i need to separate the compost from worms and spread in the bed? If yes can you please make a video on how to do that? I keep seeing small bugs whenever i open the bin…is that normal? What should be done then? Should I keep adding kitchen scraps and not worry about the bugs and/or separating the compost from the bins? Do i need to add water separately in those bins or does watering the bed is sufficient? Sorry for too many questions!! Just so new at this…i do not have a microclimate as yours.. everything is new and rcvs full sun ALL day. Last year wasn’t was my first time gardening and was not very successful, hoping this year to be better. If possible can you please make a follow-up video on what to do next?

    • I did a follow up video and here is the link: https://youtu.be/991qDFd-uaI Hopefully that helps with some of your questions. I don’t add extra water to the bins, they get watered when I water the beds. During the summer your worms will be less active and burrow down in the bins. Best of luck to you.

      • Thank you for sharing! I do see that my first batch of vermicompost is ready, but am not able to separate worms from the compost…any tips on that or just wait for higher temps and once they burrow down, i should then scoop out the compost?

        • You can spread the castings around (worms and all) the worms will burrow back down into the soil. Start the bin over with shredded cardboard and food scraps and the worms will find their way back to the bin.

  17. Thank you for all the information. Like the plan for raised bed gardening.
    What keeps the worms from eating the plants that you are trying to grow?

  18. We are building beds that are 12 inches deep in St George, Utah, and we get temperatures as hot as 115*. I’m wondering if we should use weed barrier as well as cardboard under the soil in the garden boxes? Does weed barrier prevent the worms from going deeper? Is 12 inches deep enough for worms to escape the heat? Many thanks.

    • It depends on what is on the soil now – if it is dirt or soil, I wouldn’t use any weed barrier (cardboard is fine). If you are trying to smother Bermuda grass I would use weed barrier as well. The worms will find the cool spots in the beds to over summer.

  19. I live in central indiana, and am wondering what adjustments I need to make for the cooler, moister climate.

  20. Quick question –

    When you say not to give the worms fermented food, do you mean things like sauerkraut – or produce that has started to go bad?

    Thank you so much for your gardening site! I am learning so much!

    • Worms love produce that is going bad. Avoid things like alcohol that ferments. However, worms are smart if they don’t like something will stay away until it is good.

  21. Hi Angela,
    I love this method and am anxious to try it. However, I garden in several of the 2 x 8 elevated beds from Gardener’s Supply, so my beds are up on legs, not sitting on the ground. At only 15 inches deep and with a wooden bottom, I wonder if there is enough depth for the worms to burrow down and keep cool enough to survive our summer heat?
    I considered using smaller 1 gallon buckets instead, but would like your opinion first. Any insight you could give me would be most appreciated.
    I have been watching your videos (I love, LOVE learning from and expert in our particular, unique gardening climate!) and am excited to start a fresh, fall garden using what you’ve taught me. Thanks so much!

    • I double checked with Zach at Arizona Worm Farm and he and I both agree it would be better not to use the worms in the elevated raised beds – it would get too hot unless they are in the shade most of the time.

  22. Hi!

    Have you ever had problems with rodents or insects trying to get into the buckets?

    Do you think this could work if you do not cut the bottom of the buckets and drill holes instead?

    Thank you!

    • Yes, I’ve had insect problems (you can see common ones in the other comments or FAQ) Rats haven’t bothered the buckets. The buckets are buried in the beds and have a lid. I have heard of people not removing the bottom, It works, but I don’t think it would be as effective.

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