The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Worm towers

Worm towerDarren pointed me toward worm towers, which are a way of integrating small-scale worm bins into your garden.  As Milkwood explains, "Essentially a worm tower is an in-garden worm farm that allows the worms and their nutrients to interact directly with the surrounding garden bed."

Simply take a two foot long, 6" diameter PVC pipe, drill a bunch of holes around it for aeration, bury it a foot deep in the soil of your garden, and fill it with worms and bedding.  Top the worm tower with a cap (like an upturned flower pot) to protect the worms from the sun and then toss in your food scraps and extra bedding just as you could in a normal worm bin.

The innovative part is that the plant roots and microorganisms in the surrounding soil can also interact with the worm bin, sucking up worm tea and eating castings as they appear.  The worms can migrate down into the below-ground portion of the worm tower when cold weather strikes, which makes Making a worm towerthis small-scale worm bin much more able to deal with outdoor winter temperatures than the typical household-size worm bin.

I'm enthralled by the idea and am suddenly envisioning a worm tower in each of our garden beds, fed each week with cafeteria scraps and paper waste from the local school.  I guess the sticking point would be Lucy --- would she dig up the worm tower to get to those rotting hamburgers?

Looking for other homestead innovations?  Our homemade chicken waterer stays clean and full all day long.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Jerry over at has spent a lot of time designing a container that anyone can build and use black soldier flies to compost food. I built a basic model this last summer but it turns out that the flies don't do well in my area.

I would bet that you could take some ideas from Jerry's container and bury it in the ground so that you don't have to build a drain like he has. Using a five gallon bucket with a lid might help with dogs that like to dig.

Comment by David Wed Dec 1 12:57:26 2010

I have five bins of red wrigglers going around my house and have been doing alot of experimentation with using household containers to make vermicomposting work indoors. I'm intrigued by these worm towers -- are they meant to house the eisenia worms or regular (outdoor) earthworms?

Given how expensive they are, I don't know if I want to put my eisenia worms outdoors -- I'm in zone 4b in Ontario, Canada -- I don't think they'd last the winter in there.

Also, just wondering, have you heard of Hot Spots (is that the right word) -- it's where you put kitchen waste into holes in the garden and then cover it and let it go? Earthworms naturally come to this spot once the microbial mix is right, and would do the work of passing nutrients into the soil, without needing the tower?

I'm loving all this stuff on worms -- thanks Anna and guest contributer. I really would love to hear back re: my questions. Thank you:-)

Comment by J Wed Dec 1 13:58:59 2010

David --- We've been very interested in black soldier flies for a while, and I think we're far enough south that we might have good luck with them. So far, we'd been held back by lack of copious food scraps, but if we can get cafeteria waste, we'll definitely start experimenting with them and post all about it! I'm curious to hear where you're located?

J --- The worm towers are meant to house red wrigglers, although I wouldn't be too surprised if common earthworms came up and visited now and then. I suspect you're right, though, that it's too cold in zone 4b to use worm towers through the winter, but you might have luck with one of the large-scale worm bins that I've been posting about this week (if you can find enough food for them.) The heat of decomposition will keep your worms active all winter if you fill your bin with enough mass. Alternatively, you could probably build worm towers for the summer, then harvest the worms to bring in for the winter.

I hadn't heard the term Hot Spots, but I had heard of pit composting, especially in areas where you plan to plant potatoes, squash, or other hearty crops.

Comment by anna Wed Dec 1 18:57:57 2010

Thanks! Maybe I should experiment and see if I can keep an insulated bin going outdoors this winter. I have access to lots of food waste -- not many people around here compost -- so I could probably get enough going to keep them plugging through the winter.

I wonder if a plastic bin, with old towels and wool blankets, inside a cardboard box would work? Because of the crazy, ambidextrous, man-eating raccoons in this city, worms have to stay in a protected area. I think I'm getting inspired to try outdoors...THANKS!!!

Comment by J Wed Dec 1 19:59:45 2010

I think worm towers is a great idea. You won't need to harvest vermicompost anymore since the worms will spread them for you.

I am trying this to a limited degree. I'm using a clay flower pot half b buried in the garden. Strangely though, although I put in the basic bedding, food and moisture, the worms keep disappearing. Makes me think they're not so fond of that spot.

I wonder if the same thing would happen with worm towers.

Comment by Chris Thu Dec 2 04:49:56 2010

J --- I don't think that just insulating the boxes will be enough to protect your bins over the winter unless you upgrade to a much larger size. I think that Binet Payne's 8X4 boxes are a good size to strive for if you want to overwinter them, but of course, that means finding loads of scraps!

Chris --- I've noticed that if worms don't like their bin, they leave, but if you get all of the factors right, they stick around. That's what the worm tower authors say about their bins too --- if you get it right, the worms will prefer the high food environment inside the tower. Without seeing your bins, I couldn't say what might be going wrong, but you should check out my post about setting up a new worm bin ( and see if anything jumps out at you. Good luck!

Comment by anna Thu Dec 2 10:28:14 2010
Hi Anna. Thanks for the response. I don't really have a picture of that one, but it's basically a clay flower pot buried halfway down the ground. I accidentally cracked it before. That's why I just buried it. Then I put layers and layers of leaves and some shredded paper and consistently moistened it. That's about it. It's not in a sunny area so I don't think the worms got cooked. Weird that they disappeared though. Other critters seem to enjoy the bin.
Comment by Chris Mon Dec 6 11:25:08 2010
From what I've read (and from my experience), leaves tend to mat down and aren't optimal worm bedding. Perhaps if you try again with a lot of fluffy, shredded paper?
Comment by anna Mon Dec 6 17:08:38 2010
Hi Anna! Maybe I'll try that. I'll let you know if it turns out better. ;-)
Comment by Chris Wed Dec 15 05:49:42 2010

I think the clay pot could be the problem. How many holes do you have in the pot? Different worms like different depths. Just one hole at the bottom could be a problem. Try a PVC pipe, or even a plant pot, but put some holes in the side. And if you're using red wrigglers, they prefer a more moist environment. Vege scraps are perfect. The clay pot may be absorbing the moisture out of the scraps and making the environment dryer than the worms like. Also keep it covered or the worms will move out.

Comment by Eileen Thu Mar 16 09:13:24 2017

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