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Want to Compost in Your Garden Bed? Let the Worms Do It!

Posted by Jorge Penso, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Conservation
Apr 13, 2023
Volunteers in the People’s Garden

If you really want your garden to bloom, consider adding high-nutrient compost to your soil. In the People’s Garden at USDA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., we set up a vermicompost system, or a system that uses worms to help with the composting process!

Vermicomposting is a great way to create high-quality compost to feed your plants and improve your soil. It is also an environmentally friendly way to recycle kitchen scraps. Worm castings are high in plant-available nutrients and help improve soil structure and water holding capacity.

Vermicomposting bucket in the People’s Garden

How to vermicompost

Many at-home composters use “worm bins” made with plastic totes. To make temperatures easier to control, you may want to create an in-bed vermicomposting system by burying the plastic-lidded containers into garden beds, insulated with shredded paper. The worms can move up and down in the bed in response to temperatures, spreading nutrients throughout the compost.

Making an In-Bed Vermicomposting System

This system is easy to construct.

  1. Take a lidded bucket and drill holes along the bottom and lower third of the bucket.
  2. Bury the bucket to the rim in your garden bed and keep the lid on the bin.
  3. Add bedding such as shredded paper (avoid glossy paper), cardboard, or coconut coir.
  4. Add 200-300 worms per bin. Worms can be bought online.
  5. Feed your worms with lawn clippings and table scraps. Avoid certain foods like citrus, meat and dairy.
  6. Each layer of scraps should be topped with dry materials such as shredded leaves or paper.
  7. Monitor the buckets and remove food items that are not being eaten as the worms will not eat decomposing food.
  8. After the scraps are consumed and the compost is dark and rich, it’s time to harvest!
  9. Remove the lid and wait a few minutes after the compost is exposed to sunlight.
  10. Gently remove the top layer of compost until you find worms. Exposing the worms to sunlight will cause the worms burrow deeper into the container so you can harvest another layer.
  11. After harvesting the compost, you can restart the process with fresh bedding and food.

Happy composting and happy growing!

Learn about how USDA can support organizations with cooperative agreements to support Composting and Food Waste Reduction.

Learn more at

Composting garden scraps in the People’s Garden
Category/Topic: Conservation