Composting with a PVC worm tube #Plants & Gardening#composting July 25 2012 | Catherine Clark bijouxandbits Photo courtesy of Erin Medvecz I was sitting out on the deck one day and noticed my neighbor, Erin, bringing food scraps to a long pipe in her backyard. I knew it had to be composting, but I hadn't seen it done in a tube before. Erin is a college student majoring in Environmental Studies, so I knew she'd have awesome insight into composting. I picked her brain for the infos. The process is called "Worm Tube Composting," a kind of vermicomposting. Here is what Erin had to say: I wanted to start a compost, but the traditional techniques seemed very involved. I wanted something simple, easy, and effective. I then heard about worm tube composting. It's so simple: no turning or spreading is needed, and the worms do all the work for you! Here's how it works: A three-foot section of PVC pipe is installed in the garden. Food scraps are put into the tube, and then worm castings (feces) act as the composting agent. The worms crawl into the tube via drilled holes, eat the food, and then spread the compost in a four-foot diameter as they go. Related Post Get started with apartment composting When I was in Seattle for the Offbeat-empire-weekend-of-awesome, I commented to Ariel about how impressed I was at the public compost bins. I'm a big... Read more But if you're familiar with composting, you know that not every food item can go into it. No onions, avocados, citrus, or cooked food. Here are Erin's tips: I basically just put in vegetable and fruit scraps. Every time I go out to put in more scraps (every day to every few days), I can see the level of food going down. Also, because worms still function in the winter, this compost works all year round. Although in the winter, the worms will take longer to break down the food. Here's the nitty-gritty on actually making this bad boy. You'll need: A PVC tube of either four or six inches in diameter Earthworms Food scraps Cut the pipe with a hack saw so that it is between three and three and a half feet long. Drill a bunch of one and ¼ inch diameter holes in the bottom 18 inches of the tube. Sand the edges and feel free to decorate the tube with acrylic paints. Erin chose an abandoned garden lot in her backyard that she is planning to use as a garden next year. Before you dig, call your local 811 so you don't accidentally break a line. Then dig a hole for the worm tube. Dig the hole deep enough so that the bottom 30 inches of the tube are in the ground, and another 12 inches above the holes, which will prevent any mild compost smell from attracting local critters. Once the tube is in the ground, place a flower pot over the top to keep out the above-ground critters. To get the compost started, Erin bought some red worms at a gas station, and put them in the tube with shredded newspaper and some food scraps. That's all it takes! Thanks to my awesome neighbor Erin for lending me her composting expertise. Has anyone else found luck with this method of worm fun? Reporter Name * Reporter Email * Original text Enter the original text here. Edited text* Enter your suggested copyedit here. Notes You can add a note for the editor here. * Required information. Fix Typo Catherine Clark Catherine Clark is Offbeat Bride's Executive Editor. In her spare time she loiters at her local library, makes art, watches movies en masse, plays video and tabletop games, poorly cooks healthy things, cuddles with her feline fur baby, and blogs at BijouxandBits.com. @enidjcoleslaw @bijouxandbits @bijouxandbits PREVIOUS 8 tips for straight-haired mamas with curly haired kids NEXT How to make a cherry pie without an oven… in Japan Show/Hide comments [ 59 ] Fantastic! This is JUST what I needed! Reply Ok appearantly I not well versed on useing web site and comments That being said since PCC pipes this are not cheap and very heavy duty why not use them as fence posts or anchors for trellis for tomahoes etc I would also price out PVC fence posts instead of large diameter PVC pipes Reply i like this one Reply Hi Annie here going to make worm tube next year but going to start now Reply Whereever did you find the cute pot on the top? Reply Seems cool and simple. Just so I'm clear, you just throw scraps in it and the worms spread the compost love around? You don't need to dig it up or pull out the tubes or anything? If so this sounds *amazing* and perfect for my uber wormy backyard! Reply The compost/castings get distributed in a four-foot diameter to fertilize the soil around the tube. Reply Can you put coffee grounds or egg shells in tube Reply I know you can coffee grounds, not sure about eggshells. I never feed my worms anything from animals. But you can also put in your shredded mail paper, basically biodegradable products. I avoid sulfur products animal products and citrus products Reply Worms love egg shells. But, since they have tiny mouths it’s best to crush or grind them up. Can lawn clippings go into the tube? Reply My understanding is that you can use lawn clippings, but there are special considerations such as the amount you use and what chemicals are put on the grass. Here's a little more info. Reply I've read on worm farm tutorials not to put lawn clippings in worm feeding areas as they tend to heat up too much and cook the poor wormies Reply Can this be done next to a tree? Seems like great fertilizer but I don't know if I should have my compost/deteriorating things too close to a tree (I'm thinking my pomegranate.) Reply Well that is pretty amazing right there. Gonna make that happen in several spots in the old backyard, I think. Reply This is awesome! I want to compost, but with looking after the house and our small menagerie, I know I'll get lazy about actually turning it and spreading it. Hooray for easy composting! Reply In the fall I made a huge version of this with a 60gallon barrel. I surrounded it with fire pit bricks and have a steel lid. I'm hoping it will attract worms in the spring time but if not I can add them. Reply A couple of caveats: 1) Make sure that you aren't introducing an invasive species. There were no earthworms across much of northern North America prior to the arrival of European settlers. They were wiped out in the last Ice Age in areas that were covered by glaciation. This means that the Maple-Beech forest ecosystem of North Eastern North America evolved without earthworms. Sugar Maples for example, need a rich layer of duff (partially decomposed leaves) in order for their seeds to sprout and do well. In areas where earthworms have been introduced, they eat the duff, and it helps invasive species like Norway Maples outcompete the native trees. Our spring ephemeral wild flowers are having similar problems. 2) Red Wigglers don't tolerate the cold well, so if your live in a northern climate they may not survive the winter. All in all, two good reasons for me to keep the worms in my vermicomposting bin. Reply *Blinks* You can't use onions, avocados, citrus, cooked food? Hm. I guess I grew up with less formal composting, because my parents just tossed everything on a pile out in the woods. Maybe they didn't care because our compost pile was more of a way to dispose of biodegradable materials rather than a way to create nutritious garden soil. Does anyone know why onions, etc, are not OK? Reply My parents' compost pile was exactly that, too: a pile of food and yard waste in the woods. I would like to know the answer to this, too! Reply I have never heard of not composting onions or citrus, I HAVE read not to compost dairy, meat, or bones. I have always put onions, citrus, and the peels of all in my compost – I may be wrong but mine have always broken down fine. Reply It isn't that these foods won't break down, it is that the worms don't care for them for a variety of reasons. You can add those items to a regular compost pile but the worms, don't like onions, garlic, citrus, tomato and avocado. I have been vermicomposting for over 20 years, I also put in my shredded confidential mail, minus the plastic window in the envelope. As with anything if you want to attract a species and have it thrive, you feed it by its preference! 🙂 Reply Thank you for the information on what worms can't compost, it told me that vermicomposting will not be useful for my household. I will continue hot composting to accommodate the large amount of onion, garlic, tomato, avocado, and citrus waste include in our kitchen scraps. One assumes that most vermicomposting families are not plant-based eaters! Worms seem to be pets to feed rather than a composting solution! huh, maybe that's one reason why my traditional compost bin isn't doing too well. Aside from the fact that I can't seem to get the green:brown matter ratio right. I think I will scrap the compost bin (AH! hahahaha pun intended!) and try this in my flower bed! Reply It's the worms. They are pickier and have more requirements than regular composting. But the trade off is that they do the rest of the work for you. 😉 Reply Is it just because they're in a small space? Our anything-goes compost pile never seemed to have a shortage of worms. Reply regular house flies LOVE cooked food bits- my roommate and I had a trashcan and composted everything in it. In mid July the can was very hot, and when my roommate took of the lid- MAGGOTS EVERYWHERE in the trashcan. Revolting heaving mass of moving rice. Bleck! BUT!! When the maggots had escaped or died, all that was left the next spring was *really* rich and black soil- the only things that hadn't been devoured were at the bottom of the can- a watermelon rind and I think an orange. Reply Onions because they are either acidic or alkaline (I can't remember which) and cooked food so it doesn't attract pests. I was thinking about tiger worms as I hear they compost dog waste but you are not supposed to use the compost for veg but it works great on flowers apparently. 🙂 Reply Citrus is a BIG no-no due to acidifying the mixture too much. I have no idea why not avocado or onion, never heard that one before. Check out Mother Earth News for specific info. Dairy and meat draw in rodents, this is why compost piles in close confines (close neighborhoods) are a BAD idea. Wet your piles and turn/mix them regularly to help them along. Reply Cooked foods are also bad because oil from the food can kill the worms. The oil gets on their skin and they suffocate. Reply I wonder if you put the holes only on two sides… if you could alter your diameter to more of a rectangle/oval… I have a flower bed that needs health and maybe this would make it possible to grow something mice in it… It doesn't get much sun Reply So do you put this in the garden or dig up ground around the tube and put it in the garden? Also, how long does it take to have fertile soil in that 4 ft diamater? One more thing, how much of tube is sticking our of the ground? THANK YOU for sharing this aweaome idea! Reply OMG – what a surprise to Google and topic and find a useful article by someone you know. Nice work Catherine. Reply HA! What a coincidence. Thanks, Dawn! I'm glad it could be helpful. 🙂 Reply Hi Here is info on the onions etc. Basically worms eat only things starting to decompose. The onions etc take a long time to decompose. And they can smell because of the long decompose time. But once they do decompose the worms will eat them. http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/soil/msg0211571913831.html Reply New to this…do I have to "add" worms or do they just find it? Where does a gal get the worms? Reply Yeah, you'll need a few to get you started. You can find them at bait shops or online at places like Vermicomposters and Jim's Worm Farm. Reply Jims worms farm has a bad rep on a couple vermicomposting web sites I follow buy beware Reply How do you get the compost out of the tube once it is full and ready? Reply just pull up the tube and move it to another location………. Reply I have put a lot of these in our school garden but buried them in to the last 5 or 5 inches sticking out the top. I have also small air holes around the top, just below the lid. They need to be put in a spot with good drainage or they will fill up with water according to the natural water table. Otherwise a great idea and seems to work well. You need a few if you have a fair bit of compost. Reply My father's been composting for years and he's been talking just two days ago how even after a full year avocado peel and corn cobs came out intact. Reply Has anyone tried this in SW Florida? I had a worm bin, which did very well on our lanai. However, I was advised not to put red wigglers directly into the garden, because they would not survive 🙁 Reply I'm in Central Florida and have had worms in the ground for three years with no problems. As long as they are in the ground they stay the perfect temperature as this is their normal home. I had an above ground farm and it's just way too hot outside. Reply Can you clarify how deep to bury the pipe? It says to cut it to 3-3.5 feet, but to then "Dig the hole deep enough so that the bottom 30 inches of the tube are in the ground, and another 12 inches above the holes," but 3 feet is 36 inches. Reply Yes, but 3.5 feet is 42" which is what 30" and 12" add up to. So it probably doesn't matter about being exact, just have about 75% in the ground. Reply http://www.permaculture.co.uk/readers-solutions/how-make-diy-worm-tower Seems 22" below ground 14 – 18 " above ground. Good idea to drill holds using the reverse setting. This will prevent sharp edges on out side of tube. Reply Here's a picky question. Is it four feet in *diamter* or a four foot *radius*? That is, does it only spread out two feet in any direction from the post (diameter), or does it spread out four feet from the post (radius)? Reply Hi, I'm wondering if I can place this in my vegetable garden bed? Will the worms eat my growing vegetables? Reply No perfect for the vegetable patch The worms wont eat your veggies only compost matter, dont add onions, citrus, dairy, meat are a no go make layers in the tube so veggie scraps and then brown matter like torn up carboard, paper, break up small twigs, egg shells, old sawdust Then add more veggie scraps, like a compost lasagna U will end up with beautiful rich compost soil. The veggies will love Need compost worms Reply What about ants? Do you have trouble keeping them out of the tube? Reply I have been trying to figure out how to compost donkey poop. Do you supose this would work and could you use bigger pipes. I am wondering if it would fertalize my trees. What do you think Reply I have been doing this exact method in my 14 raised beds for about 10 years, now. It is the most effective way to deal with scrap vegetables that come from what I grow, and the absolute best method of fertilizing a garden – with absolutely no ground turning! Reply Great idea! I'd like to have a row of these along each side of my garden path and fix a solar powered light on top of each one; it would light my path in the evenings and the soil in the flower beds each side would be enriched at the same time. Reply If you use pvc fence posts there are fence posts lights that are solar powered that will fit on top. I know this is several years later but I was just rereading this. Reply Well I guess I have to bury the pipe, but how deep it would be? Reply About 12-18 inches should be good. Reply We have a very expensive and huge planter that holds almost 100 plants that uses this same system. It has a hollow tube about 6" wide down the middle to fill with scraps to feed the worms that live in the soil of the planter. Now thanks to the photos I know I can cover it with a pretty pot! I've always wanted to use this planter in the house during the winter but never thought of a way to cover the tube, thank you! We live in an area where we have to do Container Gardening for about 75% of our gardening. Will the compost tube work for containers also? For smaller containers (like 2ft. Dia) should I use a smaller PVC pipe? I will definitely use this for our garden next summer, or sooner so I can have good soil ready! Thank you! Reply Where did you find the cute flower pot for the top? Reply Join the conversation Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Subscribe me to your mailing list No-drama comment policy Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.