Make a Worm Composter for Less than Five Bucks

Apartment dwellers and urbanites often lament the lack of options for composting in homes with limited yard space. If you’re not the kind to get all squirmy over worms in your house, I highly recommend vermicomposting as a method for composting your kitchen waste. You can buy ready-made worm bins, but if you’re even a little bit handy and have access to a drill you can make one yourself for under $5.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 2 nesting buckets (or three; see note at end of post)
  • 1 bucket lid
  • a drill fit with an 1/8″ (or so) bit
  • newspaper
  • worms (You’ll need red wigglers for this; if you have a friend with worms see if you can have a handful. Otherwise, you may need to buy some, which will put your expenses up over $20 – still less than a ready-made bin.)

My buckets came from the local bakery and cost me $2 a piece. These used to hold eggs – doubtful that those were local.

Drill holes in the bottom of one of the buckets.

Shred newspaper and place it in the perforated bucket. Aim for a 6″ depth.


Thoroughly wet the newspaper and allow to drain for a moment.

Add about 2-3 cups of kitchen waste. What you see here is the unfortunate result of a refrigerator spill that I didn’t notice in time to prevent rotting: several small sweet potatoes, an apple, and a bunch of green onions.

Find a chicken helper.

Get your worms. These came out of my already established worm bin.

Put the worms on the kitchen waste.

Close up. Don’t they look happy?


Pull the damp newspaper over the top of the scraps and worms. Tuck them in, if you will.

Put the bucket with the worms inside the second bucket and put on the lid. The bottom bucket serves the purpose of catching any liquid.

Project complete in half an hour!

A worm bin of this size is best suited to a single person or couple. Larger households will generate more waste than this size bin can handle. Simply use the same method with larger containers, such as these totes.

While your bin is getting established, don’t overdo it on adding waste. Add 2-3 cups or so every couple of weeks. Once a brown base develops under the paper (this is the worm castings, or worm poop), you should be able to add more. The worms will multiply based on how much food is made available to them.

This bin takes up about a square foot of space and could fit under the sink. And I promise. It does not stink.

Note: When the bucket begins to get full, you can add a second perforated bucket. Just add moist newspaper and scraps like you did during set up, and add it to the stack. Make sure the top bucket is resting on the waste in the bucket below. The worms will slowly migrate up and after a few weeks you can simply pull out the middle bucket and use the rich worm castings on your potted plants.

To harvest the castings without adding a second bucket, dump the contents into a large piece of cardboard. The worms will move down into the castings and away from the light. Skim off the top layer, wait a few minutes for the worms to move deeper, and skim some more. Continue until you have harvested most of the castings, then put the worms back in the bin with fresh scraps and top it off with damp newspaper.

UPDATE: As Carolyn noted in the comments below, if you don’t plan to make this for under the sink or in a closet (where it’s dark), either use an opaque container or throw an old blanket or tarp over your container to keep the worms’ in the dark.

This article has 26 comments

  1. This sounds great for city living. Thanks for the tip.

  2. What an easy and neat way to have a vermiculture system! Mahalo, Kris!

  3. Hmmm – now where to get the worms w/o spending $20.

  4. My daughter went off to college in Portland and came home committed to organic gardening, and she started worm composting in her dorm. I’ll show her this post and see if she wants to implement this here at our house, thanks for the plan!

  5. Hi Kris,
    That’s a great idea, but with the buckets being translucent, I hope you’re keeping them in a dark closet. As you know, worms hate light more than onions. That’s why opaque bins or totes are recommended. If they are under any kind of stress caused by light, they will hunker down in the middle while leaving the lighted areas alone (as far as feeding goes).

  6. Thanks for the worms and great post! It’s a little weird how excited I am. Over worms.

  7. So interesting. Forwarding this to a friend, a former rural-dweller, now an urban-dweller. She will be so happy to find a solution to missing her composting!

  8. Sheryl, this can definitely fulfill that need to compost in small space situations. I hope she tries it!

  9. [...] kitchen scraps from the landfill, make garden gold. You can compost if you’re lazy. You can compost with worms. You can compost with your blender. Figure out what works and do [...]

  10. I’ve got three of these (Rubbermaid totes) in my back yard and I swear they do a much better job than a traditional composter. I had my sixth grade class do this as a project two years ago and we even made the news – It’s really a great project.

  11. [...] be transformed into a great garden addition by composting. You can compost in a simple pile, with worms (great for small spaces), or in blender [...]

  12. does it need to be a certain kind of plastic? or can you use any type of tub?

  13. [...] be transformed into a great garden addition by composting. You can compost in a simple pile, with worms (great for small spaces), or in blender [...]

  14. […] uses stacked Rubbermaid containers with holes drilled, because we go through so much produce. This DIY method from Attainable Sustainable comes in at $5 or less and is a perfect starter worm form for under the […]

  15. I would love to try this! But on a slightly larger scale as there are 4 of us …. my question is, What should I not put in there ? (New to composting )

  16. I would love to do this.   I live in Phoenix and am wondering if I should keep this inside uear round or if cooler months if it could go into an outdoor shed?

    • Mine are outside, year round in a temperate climate. You just want to keep them from the extremes – super hot weather and freezing cold.

  17. I started one of these about five days ago. Opened the lid to put stuff in today and there was a butterfly on the inside lid! Anybody have any ideas where it came from???

  18. Or paint the buckets to create the dark space.

    ** Ask your local bakery for a couple of buckets, they will usually give them to you for free!

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