I Keep Worms in My Living Room and Here’s Why

Vermicompost — also known as worm compost — can be a gardener’s best friend, but it is a little pricy. Creating your own worm compost is easy and can save money, and best of all, you can do it anywhere, even in your living room.

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August 25, 2020
By: Margeaux Emery

See that cute green table at the end of the sofa? It’s full of worms and compost! Yes, I keep a worm composter in my living room. Before you get grossed out and say ewwwww, let me tell you why.

Worm castings or vermicast — basically, worm poo — is a super fertilizer for houseplants and outdoor plants. But it’s expensive (about $25 for 15 pounds), so in the long run, producing my own will save money on compost and fertilizers. A worm composter doesn’t take up a lot of space like a traditional compost bin. If you don’t have space in the yard for a large compost bin or don’t have a yard at all, a worm composter may be right for you too. Composting is a great way to reduce kitchen waste bound for the landfill while creating organic matter to enrich garden soil. Also, keeping worms can be a learning opportunity for children. Worm composters are becoming a staple in many science classrooms.

In the seven months that I’ve owned my composter, I’ve harvested four gallons (over 20 pounds) of worm castings. That volume was sufficient for my spring and summer vegetable garden transplants, plus garnishing houseplants. Cost-wise, I haven't recouped my total investment on the composter yet, but I had a bountiful and beautiful garden this summer.

Instead of hiding the worm composter in my garage, basement or in the backyard, I decided to put it close to the kitchen where I knew I would use it every day. This composter’s cute design and fun color made putting in my living space an easy decision.

Here's some more info on worm composting:

Why Worms? It’s the Black Gold of Soil Amendments

When the worms eat regular compost materials — kitchen scraps, dead leaves, etc. — their waste (worm castings) becomes an optimized organic fertilizer. Gardeners can’t get enough of the stuff. Adding worm castings to houseplants leads them to flourish. In the yard, castings entice plants to bloom, they perk up recently transplanted young trees and they can trigger rapid growth in blueberry bushes.

Worms in Compost

Worms in Compost

What Kind of Worms are Compost Worms?

Composting worms are different from the worms we find in most soil. Redworms (Eisenia fetida), known by many names, including red wigglers, are the most common. You can purchase these worms online or buy them at bait shops. They’re also found in animal manure, but you probably don’t want to harvest the worms from there.

How Many Worms Do You Need?

The amount of worms you buy depends on the size of your bin and how fast you want to develop compost. You also need to consider how frequently you want to feed the worms and how many scraps you’ll have on hand to feed your population — more worms, more food. I was going to buy 500 worms (roughly half a pound) for my bin, but Uncle Jim's Worm Farm said the ideal number for my composter would be 1,000 if I wanted to get compost in a hurry. A friend started slowly with only ten worm cocoons and after one year, he estimates he has about 1,000 worms. He said it was fun to watch his worm population grow, and to see additional cocoons develop (they look like gold lentils) and turn into baby worms.

Photo by: Gardeners Supply Company

Gardeners Supply Company

Are Worms Hard to Maintain?

Worm composting is easy. It is like other forms of composting where both “green” and “brown” wastes are needed. Kitchen scraps, specifically fruit and vegetable waste, are the green nitrogen sources, and the brown comes from carbon-rich amendments like shredded newspaper, dried leaves and torn cardboard. The carbon-rich amendments are considered the worms’ bedding material, but the worms will consume it as well as the green food.

How to Make Worm Bedding

The bedding should be mostly paper, a little garden soil and small quantities of gritty materials like sand, pulverized eggshells, powdered lime or rock dust. You can also add dried leaves, peat or coir fibers. The paper materials should be cut into small strips less than an inch wide. Avoid using colored print because it may be toxic to the worms. Place the paper strips into the composter and add water until it feels like a damp sponge — moist but not dripping. Add more strips if it gets too wet. You want the bedding to be fluffy, not solid and packed down. Their bedding also benefits from a handful or two of soil with a little sand mixed in, which will enrich the microbial environment of the bin.

What Do Worms Eat?

When you’ve got the carbon-rich bedding all set, you’ll need to add green food for the worms. They’ll eat all types of fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves and finely crushed eggshells. As mentioned earlier, worms also eat newspaper, paper waste and cardboard. The worms feed upon both the waste and the microbes that help break down the waste. The key is to tear all the scraps or chop them into small pieces to increase the speed with which they break down.

The list of foods to avoid is also quite simple: keep oils, meat and heavily seasoned food out of the composter. Also, avoid citrus fruit and peels because their acid irritates the worm’s sensitive skin. For composting inside the house, I’ve learned that some of the scraps that appear on lists of preferred worm food are better for outside composters due to the odor. Onions, garlic scraps, broccoli and banana peels are among them. Worms will eat them, but they can create a foul smell. A well-run compost bin has an earthy, clean smell. Bury worm food an inch or more under the bedding material, as this minimizes the risk of gnats and fruit flies.

Know the right ratio to feed and how often. The 1,000 worms in my bin consume between a cup-and-a half to two cups of food twice a week. Remember, the worms’ bedding material is food for them too, so you don’t have to worry if you miss a feeding or two. As long as they have plenty of bedding, they’ll be okay. Don't overfeed the worms; food scraps that sit for too long will trigger the growth of mites.

More Tips on Managing a Worm Composter

  • Worms like quiet. They prefer to be out of main traffic areas because vibrations disturb them.
  • Keep an eye on the bottom drain area of the composter and promptly remove any liquid that pools there. This liquid waste is full of bacteria, and left in place, could create a foul odor.
  • Worm enthusiasts fight over what constitutes worm tea. Some contend that the excess liquid that drains from a worm bin is worm tea. It’s actually leachate and is best discarded because of its toxicity. Some gardeners dilute the leachate with water and feed it to their plants anyway. Worm tea is made by diluting worm castings in water, typically in a contractor bucket or larger size container. Some people aerate the mixture using an aquarium or larger pump. This oxygenized worm compost tea is full of microbial action, but even basic compost tea has plenty of benefits. After brewing, apply the worm tea quickly to indoor or outdoor plants while the tea is at its bioactive peak.

HGTV Gardening Club Vermicomposting at Home Step 8

DIY Composter Options

A worm composter can be made from a large plastic tote; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a step-by-step guide. A 5-gallon bucket is another DIY alternative. Be aware that plastic composters, which are often used indoors, can retain too much moisture and that will cause problems. To test the ideal level of moisture in a worm bin, lightly squeeze the bedding material, which should feel like a damp sponge.

How’s My Composter Doing?

Seven months into using my worm composter, I’ve been able to harvest compost and see firsthand how it benefits my plants. My young vegetable transplants thrived when treated with the worm castings. I also have found that living with worms has some surprising perks. Friends contribute their food scraps to my worm colony. Over time, we’ve found ourselves judging the nutritional value of the food we eat based on the scraps we accumulate for the worms. Thanks to those assessments, we’ve made changes for the better in our own diets. Keeping worms in my living room has become a hobby I can share with my friends. Even my office mates ask, during pauses in staff meetings, how my worms are doing!

Transform food scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer with the help of a worm composter.

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