Maintaining the Compost Bin

Hello! This post is about my compost bin as I try to recycle food into natural fertilizer and learn about vermicomposting, which uses worms to break down compost quicker. I hope you stay, but if you would prefer to read about something else, you might like to skip ahead to something prettier.

A worm compost bin does not have any smell, and that’s true…most of the time. When I noticed a slight odor after the first month, it was time to do a little maintenance.

I examined the bin after only one month, and I was impressed with how much compost had already formed.  The worms had done a lot. (You won’t be able to see them in this photo; they don’t like light.)

  1. I stirred the contents of the bin with a stick to unpack the material and distribute air. It was better already. 
  2. Even though I had been adding more bedding every now and then, I added a new thick layer of moistened, shredded corrugated cardboard. 
  3. I added one more solid piece of moist cardboard over the top of the bedding, underneath the lid to discourage fruit flies,.

The worms like the bin and stay in there.  I only spend a little time every few days adding food scraps. The worms aren’t eating as much as I thought they would. It might be due to a change in food from what they were used to before, or maybe there is not a full pound of worms. It’s hard to know. At least as they multiply, they will gradually eat more.  

I learned that adding excess water to the bin was not a good idea.  I had heard from several sources that if you add water to the bin, it would drip out of the bottom as “worm tea” and would be a good fertilizer. Since then I’ve read other opinions about what worm tea really is and how it differs from leachate, which is the name for the excess liquid from the bottom of the compost bin.

When I added extra water to the bin, I created a problem. The water compacted the material so the air couldn’t flow and it caused anaerobic conditions inside the bin.  This is what made the bad odor — it’s a warning sign that conditions in the bin are unfavorable. Additionally, there is a risk with using leachate on plants since it is made from unfinished compost: it can contain pathogens harmful to humans and plants. The excess water also reduces the nutrients in the finished compost by washing them out of the bin.

Worm tea on the other hand, is made by soaking finished vermicompost in aerated water to create a liquid with helpful aerobic microorganisms. This worm tea, as well as the compost itself, provides nutrients, helps the plant resist disease, and helps the soil retain water for drought-resistance. In a few more weeks I’ll be able to harvest the finished compost for my plants.

Related post: How to Make a Worm Compost Bin

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Great to see your progress report, Rachel! (just finished reading your article about setting up a worm bin).

    You are definitely right about ‘worm tea’ – it will be much higher quality if made from finished vermicompost.
    While I don’t recommend adding lots of water to most worm bins, I think the ultimate system would in fact be one that has a constant (but slow) flow of water through it – enough to keep things very wet, but moving through quickly enough to provide enough oxygen for the worms. I’m actually going to test out a gravel grow bed as a home for worms this summer (setting up an outdoor aquaponics system). I think the worms will actually really like the conditions in this system, and they’ll certainly help the plants!! :-)


  2. GOOD job! I’m impressed! & INSPIRED! ;-)

  3. smallnotebook says:

    Thanks Bentley, that means a lot coming from an expert like you! I really like the experiment you did showing how castings contributed to drought-resistance in your house plants.

    I am so interested in aquaponics! I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  4. Hi! Thanks so much for your step-by-step in the world of worms Rachel. It has helped my roommate and I immensely. We have a good start with 1000 red worms but have found after about a month that very small reddish aphid-like bugs are roaming around our compost container as well. Any ideas as to what they might be? Are we doing something incorrectly? I put fresh bedding on with each feeding. Is this too much? This has been a very fun and interesting apartment experiment and I look forward to any comments or suggestions any of you might have:)