Worm Factory® Setup and Getting Started
The Worm Factory® Standard is the original Worm Factory®, and comes with three, four, or five trays, depending on your order. It also includes a bedding kit and instruction manual.
The Worm Factory® 360 is the new deluxe model and includes four trays. It comes complete with everything that is included with the Worm Factory® Standard (bedding kit, instructions) but also boasts a redesigned base and stand that comes preassembled, a larger lid which fits over the top of the tray, an instructional DVD that shows how to set up and use the composter, a worm ladder to help the worms climb back up from the collection tray, and a three piece accessory kit which includes a thermometer, rake, and scraper.
Here are the specifications for each model:
Standard Worm Factory®:
16" x 16" x 21"H (approx.)
Small base w/ 2pc collection tray
Spigot, washer, nuts & knob for lid
3 composting trays
250g Coconut coir block
Expandable to 7 trays
Worm Factory® 360:
18" x 18" x 25"H (approx.)
1pc base/collection tray w/ worm ladder, taller legs
4 composting trays
Expandable to 7 trays
Accessory Kit (includes thermometer, scraper, rake)
Instruction Manual & Instructional DVD
250g Coconut coir block
Expandable to 7 trays
When you purchase a Worm Factory®360 through the Nature’s Footprint website, there is an optional worm add-on. If you did not choose this option or if you bought a Worm Factory® Standard instead, you can purchase a pound of red wiggler worms (the recommended amount) separately here: Worms.
Alternatively, there is a national worm farm directory at www.findworms.com where you can search for local sources of worms.
For more information on composting worms, see Vermicomposting Worms.
We recommend starting your worm bin with a pound of red wiggler worms, which is approximately 800- 1000 worms depending on size. You can purchase a pound of worms here. Your worms will reproduce inside the worm bin if conditions are ideal. Their population will grow and shrink depending on how much they are fed, how much stress they are subjected to and how much room they have.
Yes, as long as it is a Worm Factory® composter, the trays are the same size and shape and will work on any Worm Factory® base with any Worm Factory® lid.
The Worm Factory® and Worm Factory® 360 require very little maintenance. Worms will be happy as long they are fed, have enough moisture, and are at a temperature between 40 and 80 degrees. We recommend checking up on your worms once a week in addition to regular feeding. Gently dig into your worm bedding and see how your worms are doing. Your worms should have a moist body and be actively moving around your food scraps. Checking once a week will help address any problems that may arise (moisture level, temperature level, fruit flies, and general worm health).
Not all worms are the same. Worms are separated into 3 classes based on their eating and living requirements and habits. It is important that you select a “composting” worm for your vermicomposter. We recommend using red wiggler worms. Small and reddish-brown, they are perfect for worm composting. Red wiggler worms are usually 1-1/2 to 4” long, live in the top 12” of the soil and only eat decomposing matter. This makes them perfect for a worm composter because their natural habitat can be duplicated in a worm composting bin. In addition, they reproduce quickly and are happy to live in high-population, high-density situations where they are able to handle fluctuating temperature and environmental conditions. They are also voracious eaters, consuming up to half of their body weight in decaying organic matter per day. Red wiggler worms are tolerant of handling by humans and have a very wide range of potential foods.
There are other kinds of composting worms such as European Nightcrawlers , Belgian Nightcrawlers, Carolina Crawlers, and Blue Worms that will work in a worm composter.
Worms are classified based on their eating and living requirements and habits. The name of a worm does not necessarily mean it is or isn’t a composting worm. Some composting worms have “nightcrawler” as part of their name. However, when people think of earthworms they usually mean the big garden nightcrawlers, which can be 8-10" long and 1/2" in diameter. These worms are not composting worms and are not suitable for use in your Worm Factory® composter. They like to live deeper in the soil and feed on subsoil and little if any decomposing matter. They will not adapt to living in the confines of a worm composter.
For more information on composting worms, see Vermicomposting Worms.
Worms are perishable and need some special handling. Worms are shipped on Monday/Tuesday by US Postal Service Priority Mail to ensure timely delivery. This way they are received on a week day making it less likely they will sit in a mail box or be left on a porch where they may be subject to sun, rain, heat and cold.
Worms are shipped in a breathable box with some bedding material and as long as they are not subject to extreme temperatures the worms will be fine in transit for a several days. Always advise the shipper if you need to delay the delivery of your worms. Their goal is to ensure a delivery of live healthy worms.
It's important to have your worms new home set up and ready when they arrive in the mail to minimize the shock of being in the box. Refer to the “Getting Started” section of your Worm Factory manual on how to prepare the worm composter in advance of their arrival. It may take the worms about a week to fully adjust to their new environment after transport.
Worms do best in a bedding temperature range of 55°-75° Fahrenheit (12° to 24° Celsius). The air temperature can be higher or lower than this – bedding temperature is generally an average of the air temperature on a given day. So, if it is 40° F at night and 80° F during the day, the average temperature is 60° F and your worms will be fine. They can be kept indoors or outdoors as long as they are protected from bedding temperatures over 85°, freezing cold and direct rain. You can check the bedding temperature with a soil thermometer. More information on maintaining a good temperature for your Worm Factory® can be found here: Worm Bin Temperature.
A properly maintained worm composter will not have any offensive odor so keeping it inside should not be a problem. Because of its small footprint, the Worm Factory® can be kept almost anywhere – a closet, in the kitchen, bathroom, living room, garage, or basement. Outside, just make sure that your worm bin is not in direct sunlight or overly exposed to rain and wind. If you do not have an overhang, placing it underneath a leafy tree or a porch can work. If you do keep it outside, you should move it indoors in extreme weather (prolonged excessive heat or cold).
I think I’m missing a part for my Worm Factory® Standard or Worm Factory® 360. What comes in the box?
Your Worm Factory® Standard or Worm Factory® 360 comes with everything you need to get started and manage a successful worm composting operation, minus the worms.
Check your receipt to verify which model Worm Factory® you purchased. Then check the instruction manual and locate the parts list for the model you purchased. Each model has different parts.
Because we package everything efficiently to save on shipping and space, it is important to unpack and turn over every part to make sure you have everything the unit comes with, as described in the instruction booklet.
This video shows how to unpack your Worm Factory® 360:
The sprinkler tray fits nicely under the drainage spout to collect the liquid that leaches out of the composter. You can also use it as a watering tray or for anything else that works for you.
Pumice is a lightweight, porous, volcanic rock which has some mineral content. It provides excellent aeration and drainage for the composter. We recommend you add a cup to each new tray you start.
You can purchase a replacement Worm Factory® instruction manual for $4 and a DVD for $5, including shipping. Please call 360-592-4285 to order.
You can watch an introduction to the DVD video here:
There is no exact point in time when the bottom processing tray is ready to be emptied, but it generally takes 3-4 months to complete the first tray. Because you have multiple processing trays working at one time and your worm population has increased, you should be able to harvest compost about once a month, although this varies. When the material is nearly black and the chunks of matter are small and crumbly, your compost is ready to be harvested.
- Worm Factory® 360 - Remove the lid and turn it upside down next to your composter. Remove all trays except for the finished tray on the bottom and place them on the lid. Worm Factory® Standard – Remove the lid and set it aside. Remove all trays except for the finished tray on the bottom and set them to the side as well.
- Remove the bottom (finished) tray and place it on top of the stack of trays on your lid. The finished tray should be directly on top of the current feeding tray.
- Check the collection tray to see if it needs attention. Worms sometimes land in the collection tray. Remove any buildup of compost or worms and put them in the feeding tray. Drain your leachate if you have any and flush the spigot with water to ensure that it is not clogged.
- Replace the stack of trays on the base – the tray that was previously second from the bottom should now be on the bottom, and the finished tray should be on top, stacked on the feeding tray.
- Leave the lid off, allowing light to enter the tray. Worms do not like light and will begin to migrate downward into the lower feeding tray. Use your hands or the rake and spatula that came with your system to gently loosen the compost, pulling it away from the sides of the tray to the center, forming a hill or a pyramid. This exposes more surface to the light and will encourage the worms to migrate down into the lower tray. It also starts to dry out the finished compost, which worms will want to avoid. Wait a few hours and then begin to scoop off the compost until you encounter worms. Repeat this process several times, always allowing time for the worms to move down into the lower tray. After you’ve done this a few times most of your worms should have migrated down and the tray should be emptied. It is now ready to reuse or set aside for later use.
Partially decomposed organic materials in a vermicomposter continue to break down during storage. For this reason decomposing organic materials should not be placed in an airtight container. Doing so would encourage anaerobic (without oxygen) organisms to take over decomposition with their range of foul-smelling, plant-toxic by-products. Drying vermicompost halts decomposition and can cause polymerization, meaning the material becomes impossible to re-wet. It is best to first dry it down so that it is damp, not wet, thus ensuring sufficient air penetration through the material to prevent anaerobia. Keep it in a non-airtight container. Stored this way the vermicompost slowly stabilizes in an aerobic environment and has a shelf life of more than three years.
Worm castings on average contain five times the available nitrogen, seven times the available potash, and one and a half times more calcium than found in average topsoil. The nutrients are water-soluble and are immediately available to plants. In addition, worm castings are 50% higher in organic matter than soil that has not moved through worms.
Leachate is the seepage of liquid that gathers in the Worm Factory® base and can be drained through the spigot.
Worm tea is worm compost that is brewed in water to make a liquid fertilizer.
For tips on how to use leachate and worm tea, as well as more information on their differences, see Leachate vs. Worm Compost Tea.
There are several reasons that worms try to escape from worm bins, especially when they’re just getting started.
One reason is moisture: if your bin is too wet your worms will try to leave. This is because they breathe through their skins and will drown if conditions are too wet. Think of when you see worms on a sidewalk after a heavy rain – they drown in saturated earth and so come to the surface to escape. For more information on controlling moisture, see Worm Bin Moisture.
Another reason is temperature: if it is too hot, your worms might try to escape. Maintaining a comfortable temperature in your bin is important. For more information, see Worm Bin Temperature
A third reason for escape is food. You may have added something the worms dislike in your last feeding. Did you add anything spicy, salty, or that might have had chemicals on it (like plant clippings that you used pesticide on)? In addition, if worms aren’t getting enough food in the worm bin, they may try to leave to look for more food. For more information on feeding your worms, see What to Put in Your Worm Bin
In order to discourage escaping, you can leave the lid off your Worm Factory for a few days, and leave the unit in a light room. Worms are very sensitive to light and will burrow down when confronted with it. This will keep them in their bedding instead of on the sides and top of your bin, and help them learn that they really do love their new home. Just make sure that when you have the lid off you are maintaining a moist environment. Moisture evaporates more quickly while the lid is off.
Most “insects” found in worm bins can actually help with the composting process, or lend clues as to what the environment in the bin is like. Some bugs prefer wetter or drier conditions and can help you manage moisture in your bin. Others are attracted to certain foods. Rarely is a worm bin critter actually harmful to your worms or the composting process, but they can be unsightly or annoying all the same. For an extensive list of worm bin critters and what to do about them, see Bugs! Creepy Crawlies! What’s in my Worm Bin?.
Here is an extensive guide on preventing and eradicating fruit flies: Fruit Flies: Prevention and Control in a Worm Bin.
Moisture control is a big part of managing your Worm Factory®. To determine if your bin is too wet or too dry, we recommend taking a handful of bedding and compost in your hand and squeezing it tightly in your fist. Ideally, your bedding should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If you find that more than a couple drops of water come out, you have too much moisture. If no moisture comes out, your bedding is probably too dry. If it is too dry, you can add high-moisture foods or a few drops of water. If you find your bedding is too moist, stir in some dry shredded paper or cardboard. If it is too dry, you can add high-moisture foods or a few drops of water. For more information on Worm Factory® moisture, see Worm Bin Moisture.
Watch the following video to learn how to properly manage the moisture level of your Worm Factory®:
Basically anything that causes the worms "stress" can result in them balling up. They huddle to protect themselves. Things that can cause this are:
- Temperature extremes: below 40° or above 80° Fahrenheit
- Moisture extremes: too wet or too dry
- Sudden changes in food supply or adding food they don’t like
To manage these conditions, see the “How do I keep my worms happy?” FAQ. As long as your worms aren’t “jumping ship” in large numbers, it’s probably ok. Try to pinpoint the problem and alter conditions so your worms relax and move freely throughout the bin again.
Ants shouldn’t be attracted to your bin unless you already have an ant problem. If you have an ant problem where you live, you will want to prevent them from entering your worm bin. Keeping bedding moist helps discourage ants because they prefer drier conditions than your worms do. You can also place each of the four legs of the Worm Factory® in a shallow plastic container with water in it. Ants cannot cross the water and will stay out of the bin. For more information on worm bin pests, see Bugs! Creepy Crawlies! What’s in my Worm Bin?.
How it Works / Feeding / Worms
Worms require certain temperature, moisture, oxygen, and food conditions to be happy and healthy and create compost.
Worms thrive when their bedding temperature is between 55° and 75° Fahrenheit, so it is important to make sure they aren’t exposed to conditions much below or above that range. Here are some tips on managing Worm Bin Temperature.
The bedding in a Worm Factory® should be moist but not wet, about the same as a wrung-out sponge. Here are tips on keeping your worm bin at the optimal moisture level: Worm Bin Moisture.
Worms breathe oxygen through their skins, and beneficial microbes also thrive in oxygen-rich environments. Therefore, making sure the compost and bedding are aerated is very important. Here’s how: Worm Bin Oxygen.
Worms enjoy a wide variety of foods, including kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, coffee filters and grounds, shredded paper, newspaper and scraps of cardboard or paper egg cartons. Make sure you’re feeding your worms regularly but not too much. Here’s how: What to Put in Your Worm Bin.
The frequency and volume of feeding will depend on you and your family. Some people feed their worms every day; others feed them once a week. Worms can eat up to half their weight in food per day in a fully established, well managed vermicomposter. Because worms increase their population over time in favorable conditions, you will be able to add more food over time. Make sure that worms are actively engaged in eating the food you added most recently in the top feeding tray before adding more food. If they are not, this is a sign of overfeeding. On average, most people can fill a tray in about one month. It may take more or less time than that depending on how much kitchen waste you generate.
If you go on vacation, your worms will be fine for up to a month. Just add extra food, both kitchen scraps and paper scraps, before you depart and make sure the Worm Factory® is in a safe location with moderate temperatures.
Will the top layer of moist newspaper be eaten by worms or should I move it up when adding a new tray?
Since newspaper is food for worms, your worms will begin to break down the newspaper layer on top. If they do, just moisten another layer of newspaper and put it on top of the first. When you’re ready to add a new tray, just move the newspaper up to the new tray and continue feeding as before underneath the paper layer.
The Worm Factory® does three things for you: it helps you recycle household waste, produce high-quality fertilizer for your garden, and save money.
Recycling is a valuable method for keeping unwanted materials out of landfills. Landfills produce gases during the decomposition process which are harmful to our environment and ozone layer. By recycling, you can help to save the environment and reduce your household’s carbon footprint.
Composting is the most basic form of recycling – taking organic matter, breaking it down into its elemental forms, and returning it to the earth. However, many people do not have space for a backyard compost pile or they want to compost year-round, more efficiently than with a backyard heap. That’s where worm composting with the Worm Factory® comes in.
The Worm Factory® allows you to recycle household waste such as kitchen scraps, shredded paper, coffee grounds, and unwanted junk mail with the help of worms. It is small enough to fit in a closet, on a balcony, or under a kitchen sink, yet efficient and odorless so you can recycle year-round, indoors or out. Plus, the Worm Factory® involves much less work than a traditional backyard heap where you have to turn the material to aerate it.
The compost that your Worm Factory® produces is of a higher quality than that produced in backyard compost heaps. Worm compost is 15% higher in nutrients than soil that has not moved through a worm. It also acts as a soil amendment, increasing water holding capacity and discouraging pathogens and plant disease. Worm compost bought in garden centers is very expensive. Why pay for it when you can make your own all year?
In addition to compost, the Worm Factory® allows you to collect liquid fertilizer and drain it through the spigot at the bottom. This liquid fertilizer is called leachate, and it is the moisture that drains through the system, collecting valuable nutrients as it goes. Dilute it and use it on your houseplants or garden.
A third fertilizer option is to make worm compost tea with the compost from your Worm Factory®. You can “brew” the compost to increase microbes in the solution and then use it as a liquid fertilizer and plant spray.
Around 33% of the average household’s waste can be composted. Using the Worm Factory® to compost food and paper scraps reduces your curbside waste and recycling volumes, which in turn can reduce your garbage bill.
By using worm compost to fertilize and amend your garden, container garden, raised beds, or houseplants, you can save on buying fertilizer and compost at the store. Adding worm compost to your soil also increases its water holding capacity, so it saves you water over time. The Worm Factory® is an investment which will pay for itself many times over.
The goal is to recycle what you would usually throw away. You don't have to buy food for your worms. For much more information on what to feed your worms, see What to Feed Worms.
The general rule of thumb is worms can eat half their weight in food per day! This means that if you start with one pound (or about 800-1000 worms), they can eat a half pound of food per day. As your worm population grows, they will be able to process more food at a faster rate. Use the rule that when you see the worms are actively engaged in eating the food you most recently added in the top feeding tray you should add more food. For more information on feeding, see What to Feed Worms.
Most paper is fine to put in the worm bin. Shredded/ripped up printer paper, newspaper, junk mail, envelopes (no plastic windows), cardboard, paper egg cartons, and tissues/paper towels are fine, as long as they don’t contain plastic or chemicals. Make sure to remove paper clips and staples before adding paper to your worm bin. You want to avoid paper or cardboard that is coated in plastic, wax, metallic covering or foil. Most printers use soy-based inks for color, so colored paper is generally ok for your worms.
When your first tray is filled to the top, it is time to add a second tray. The material in the first tray does not need to be fully composted before adding a new tray, but the first tray should be full of partially composted material, bedding, and food. This ensures that when you add the next tray, the worms can climb from the first tray into the second through the grid on the bottom of the second tray. All you have to do to set up the second tray is add shredded paper and/or leaves to use as bedding for the worms. Then, add a handful of food to a corner of the tray to entice the worms to migrate to the next level. It may take a full week for most of the population to make it to the next level. The worms will move in between both trays to finish working on the food scraps in the first level.
Sometimes the worms are not too excited about leaving their home tray and traveling upwards. First, give them some time to migrate up. If you have just set up your second tray, give them at least two weeks to migrate and acclimate to their new "home tray". If after two weeks your worms haven't made the move, you need to take a look at the second tray. There could be a food product that you have added that they don't like. Dairy products, meats or citrus products are items you should avoid. The bedding could also be too wet or too dry. If the bedding is too dry, add some water or green food scraps (fruit, vegetables etc). If the bedding is too wet, add some shredded paper or other carbon-based food scraps (corn cobs, coffee grounds etc.) to soak up excess moisture. A careful balance of food, moisture and temperature is important to keep your worms happy and healthy.
Your vermicomposter is an upward migration worm bin. Red wiggler worms always migrate upward to newer food. By always adding food to the top-most feeding tray, you encourage the worms to make their way up from the trays below, searching for the new food. This also allows the food in the lower trays to “finish”. You may want to consider starting with more worms to process the amount of food waste you are generating.
All trays below the top “feeding” tray are “processing” trays. Never add food to any tray but the current feeding (top) tray. Your worms will eat the food in your processing trays until they have exhausted that resource, and then they will move upward to the new food in the feeding tray, leaving nutrient-rich compost behind.
No. Worms live in the ground in nature. They are trod upon all the time without being harmed. They also live under rocks and logs without getting squished. They can do this because the soil is porous enough to let them burrow and provides them with oxygen. It is important to mimic this porosity and aeration in the Worm Factory® composting system. The worms facilitate aeration of the bin as they burrow through and form little tunnels.
If the composter becomes too wet it hinders airflow. For information on how to improve oxygen circulation in your Worm Factory®, see Worm Bin Oxygen.
If maintained properly, your worm bin will not smell bad. With the lid removed the compost should smell like earth. There should be no lingering odor around the composter. The key to maintaining an odorless composter is moisture control and oxygen. Anaerobic bacteria (the kind that thrive without oxygen) are the main cause of odor. If you don't allow proper air circulation or if your system is too wet, this kind of anaerobic bacteria will grow inside your composter causing it to smell. Making sure your Worm Factory® contents are moist but not too wet, and that it has sufficient bedding material to keep it well-aerated, will ensure that no bad odors occur. See Worm Bin Moisture and Worm Bin Oxygen for more information on proper Worm Factory® maintenance.
Yes, worms will reproduce inside the unit according to their space limitations and the amount of food they are fed. The worms will regulate their population so you don't have to worry about overpopulation in your bin. Your worm population will double every three months if they have healthy conditions, allowing them to consume more food. If they are too hot, too cold, or don’t have enough food, they will slow down on reproduction until ideal conditions return. Their reproduction is an indicator of the environment they are living in. For more information on worm biology, see Earthworms: An Introduction.