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How to make a Worm Tower

October 12, 2010 | Gardening, Permaculture, Permaculture Techniques | 86 comments | Author:

alexe-makes-a-wormtower1

A worm tower is a simple and effective way to take any garden bed from average yield to gloriously abundant. Simple to build, with materials you probably already have, a worm tower is the perfect addition to any garden bed, in any climate.

It will bring increased fertility to your plants, improve your soil, make every living thing very happy and process organic waste to boot.

We’ve been adding worm towers to garden projects for a couple of years. We love them because they are so simple to make, are energy efficient and they are so beneficial. Who came up with the idea originally we do not know, but it’s a darn good one.

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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. It consists of a vertical pipe, placed half-submerged in a garden bed, with holes drilled in it.

The pipe contains a bunch of compost worms, and you periodically feed the worms with handfuls of organic matter (kitchen scraps, leaf litter, weeds, etc).

The worms do their wonderful wormy thing and convert that organic matter into rich worm poo and worm juice. The worm juice leaches out the holes and into the surrounding garden, bringing increased soil moisture, microbiology, fertility and in turn yummy vegies, for very little effort on your part.

no-dig-vegetable-bed-workshop

The worms can venture out into the soil of the garden bed if they choose, and come back to feed (compost worms will tend to stay put, though, which is fine). Every 6 months or so you can clean out the worm tower and harvest the rich, fertile worm poo, using it as you choose on your garden.

You will also have created a bunch more worms (they double in number every month, usually), which you can then distribute to other worm towers, or give to friends.

adam-makes-a-worm-tower

It always amazes me how much little nudges of fertility can benefit an entire system. It’s that whole 1% rule, yet again. And though you do need to keep feeding them, a worm tower is an incredibly effective and low energy-input way of increasing the goodness in your garden, and they’re very easy to get going and to maintain.

planting-the-no-dig-beds

To make your own worm tower, you will need:

  1. A piece of wide plastic pipe (150mm wide or thereabouts) about 50cm long.
  2. A drill, to make holes in the pipe
  3. A saw, to cut the pipe to your desired length
  4. Compost worms! 50 would be plenty
  5. Newspaper and water
  6. A terracotta pot (or similar) to fit over the end of the pipe

wet-newspaper-for-the-worm-tower

And here’s how to do it:

  1. Give the pipe a wash, and drill it with holes which are at least 5mm in diameter
  2. Choose a spot in your garden bed for the worm tower. Allow for easy access (for adding organic material) and for maximum benefit to the plants around it.
  3. Decide how deep you want the worm tower in your garden bed. This will depend on your soil and how you’ve made the bed. Let’s say 30cm deep.
  4. Cut your pipe so its entire length allows for your desired depth plus 20cm above the surface of the bed.
  5. Dig a 30cm deep hole, a bit bigger than the diameter of your pipe, in your chosen spot.
  6. Place your pipe in the hole, and fill in around it so the pipe stands steadily. You should have roughly 20cm of pipe above the surface.
  7. Add a thick layer of dry carbon material (straw, dry grass etc) in the bottom of the pipe, to a depth of 10cm
  8. Tear your newspaper into strips and soak in a bucket of water (or use some other carbon-rich material for this step – straw, dead grass, etc).
  9. Place a thick bedding of wet newspaper strips in the bottom of the pipe, maybe 15cm deep.
  10. Add your worms!
  11. Add another layer (5cm) of wet newspaper to bed the worms down, and help them get over the excitement of becoming worm tower residents.
  12. Place terracotta pot on top of the pipe, as a lid to exclude rain and keep critters out of the worm tower.
  13. In a couple of days, start adding handfuls of organic matter, and off you go!
  14. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, make another 5 worm towers and scatter them throughout your garden beds.

installing-the-worm-tower

You will soon get a feel for how often to add more organic material to the worm tower – the worms will process the material at different rates depending on the season and temperatue. So sneak a peek every couple of days, and add accordingly.

One of the other great things about this system is that, because the worm tower is half submerged in the soil, its ambient temperature is relatively stable – something the worms appreciate greatly. They will soon be munching away, breeding up and creating highly nutritious soil food for your garden.

and-finito-by-day

Another great thing about worm towers is depending on what sort of lid you use, they can be a very discreet and aesthetically intergrated addition to any garden, unlike a worm farm, which usually looks like a big black box.

screen-shot-2010-10-10-at-1-24-31-pm

Speaking of black boxes, here’s another version of an in-garden wormfarm we’ve tried out, which apparently worked very well. The above in-garden worm box is basically the same idea as a worm tower (with holes in the bottom only), and was installed in a wicking bed we made in Alice Springs.

A worm tower takes no more than half an hour to construct and install once you have all the bits, and will bring significant and lasting fertility to any system. We plan to use them extensively in the Milkwood Farm kitchen garden, and every garden we’ve seen one installed in has always been blooming marvellously.

Yet another example of slow, small solutions adding up to provide complexity, stability and abundance.

Learn more DIY techniques at one of our Permaculture courses in Sydney and beyond…


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  • http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com Dani

    Love the idea – well done :-)

    One question though – don’t the worms escape through the drilled holes – or do you drill the holes smaller than the worms? Also what stops the holes blocking up?

    Finally, do you remove the wet newspaper when you “feed” the worms – or leave it in place and just add the food on top, with a new layer of wet newspaper?

    Great idea though – may I borrow it? :-)

    Dani

  • http://www.permaculturevisions.com April Sampson-Kelly

    check out our potted-worm-farm, a variant on this and possibly suitable for indoors.
    http://www.permaculturevisions.com/Worm_Farm_Pot.html

  • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

    Nice one, April!

  • http://www.green-change.com Darren (Green Change)

    They look great!

    I’m thinking I could use the three compartments of my (neglected) conventional rectangular worm farm as three in-ground worm towers. Well, more sprawling bungalow than tower :-).

    They already have holes in the bottom, and I’d just need to knock up some sturdy lids for them like you did in the wicking bed photos.

    Any tips on how to find lots of food for the worms? All our kitchen scraps already go to the chooks, and all our garden scraps go to the pigs, so we don’t really have anything left over for our compost bins and worm farm (that’s why it’s been neglected!).

    I’m finding that’s my biggest general issue while trying to get my vegie patch established – I need lots of compost, but can’t easily get hold of enough inputs for compost-making. Green manures work well in-place, but I don’t have as much general compostable material as I’d like.

  • Michael

    On the weekend I’ll finally get around to filling out some raised beds I’ve been building. I’ll definitely be incorporating some worm towers.

    And I like how you channeled your inner Peter Cundall right at the end there.

  • http://v-fork-to-fork.blogspot.com/ Vanessa

    Love the idea, fantastic! thanks for sharing, interests me alot for my urban backyard

  • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

    Hey all,

    @Dan – the worms will stay put as long as you keep feeding them – they are compost worms and will prefer the tower to the surrounding soil – as far as using the idea, go for it!
    @Darren – am i right in thinking you live near Jamberoo? I’d be at the farmers around and about for spoiled hay, roadside weeds (hot compost only), reeds or growing fast-growing stuff specifically for compost making… not to mention all that lovely cow poo about… or get friendly with a local cafe, bring them big buckets and start shlepping their kitchen waste into your system, via compost or worms?

  • http://www.green-change.com Darren (Green Change)

    Yep, we’re at Jamberoo. I’ve put the feelers out for spoiled hay, but no bites so far. Most farmers I talk to seem to want to keep the cow pats in place to return nutrients to their own soil (a good thing!).

    I’ll keep looking…

  • Andrew

    Hi all,Im very new to Permaculture and quite excited about the whole thing.The worm tower looks great and just had a quick question..Would there be benefit/downside in putting one in the middle of a herb spire?

  • http://infocloud.net.au Greg

    hmm thats a really good idea, i might go and make one tomorrow, seems so easy and much cheaper than buying one of those expensive pre made worm bins.

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  • http://www.anniebolitho.com.au Annie

    I’m a worm nut and count my extravagant worm farm activities as some of my highest achievements! Can’t wait to get a few worm towers in – it’s a brilliant idea, perfect for when there’s a bit of a population overload. Thanks Annie

  • http://ecofootprintsa.blogspot.com Dani
  • Clare

    Great idea ,I am looking forward to making one to feed my vegies ,Thanks guys I really enjoy reading your newsletter.

  • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

    Thanks for your comments, everyone! Let us know how your worm towers go? We think they should take over the world… kindof like very productive, stationary daleks…

  • Phillip Diprose

    Excellent idea. I’ve been asking around my local area to find out where to source these type of worms … but no luck yet. What type of businesses sell them?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Phillip we’ve met these Mudgee-based worm folks, and they seem very switched on: http://www.activearth.com.au – best of luck! And you can always get them at a hardware store, worst case scenario…

    • Amanda

      We got our worms at Bunnings – in lots of 500 or 1,000

  • Phillip Diprose

    Thanks heaps, Kirsten
    I managed to find a worm farm at Forbes. FYI they charge $34 for 250 grams … which they regard as the minimum sustainable quantity. They also had a recent ‘disaster’ losing pretty much all of stock their stock. They fed the worms fairly fresh sheep manure … which made the worms overheat and die.
    Phillip

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  • http://abundense.blogspot.com The Joneses

    We just bought a used insinkerator on eBay for $9. What we were finding was that the vegie patch was to the north to get the sun, our fully mature can-o-worms was in the south side to stay cool (others have cooked theirs) and if we didn’t take the scraps out they’d get stinky and the missus would get grumpy.

    So borrowing on the worm tower idea and the integrate-don’t-segregate principle, the idea is to put the vegie scraps straight down the insinkerator into a worm pit in our vegie garden. Easier for the worms to eat, no need to store scraps or take them outside, fully integrated regular small doses. Well that’s the theory anyway, but we’ve got to work out S bends, and how to feed, but not clog pipes etc.

    Anyway, thought we’d post in case anyone had any good ideas, or wanted to experiment with this as well.

  • http://bit.ly/fQG6UB The Joneses

    We’ve finally given ours a go. Click on “The Joneses” to see our ‘buckets’ and thinking.

  • fred

    how do we get rid of the ants that just came into the worm tower?
    when will we get to see the black gold?

  • Kim Simpson

    Sounds really good, thanks for the idea.
    I will definantly get one up and going.
    cheers,
    Kim

  • Jenny

    Can any person tell me please how they are going about ‘harvesting’ the results of their worm tower without damage to the worms? In other systems you just start feeding the worms in a different part of the worm farm but this would not be possible in a worm tower. If you remove the entire worm tower from its position does the compost and worms not fall from the bottom of the tower into the hole as it is lifted from the garden? How then do you separate the worms from the compost to be able to use not only the compost but to place the worms in a new tower if both are at the bottom of a hole in the garden?
    If you try and dig the compost out of the tower with a trowel or the likes could you not do a bit of damage to the worms?
    How are others emptying their worm towers please?
    Jenny

  • http://ochrearchives.blogspot.com/ Phillip Diprose

    We’ve finally managed to construct our first worm tower today and look forward to seeing how it progresses. Jan sourced worms from Forbes … a small punnet cost $6. Bargain!

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  • TJ

    I have one question. Does the spot need to be in shaded area? Would direct sun cause the worms to get fried (dead) in the worm tower?
    Thanks,
    T

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Hey TJ, no the worm tower doesn’t need to be shaded – when it’s hot, the worms just go down to the bottom… that said, i wouldn’t put it in the hottest part of your garden if you could help it… best, k

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  • http://thegreenlever.blogspot.com/ Andy

    You’ve explained beautifully the techniques for making these and how they function. Thanks – I’m off to the workshop!

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  • Linda

    Thank you for this! How big would you recommend making a worm tower in a raised bed planter that is 36″X36″? Where can I get compost worms?

  • http://homespunblissblog.blogspot.com Jodie Healy

    wow I’ve never heard this idea before, I have a traditional worm farm, compost bin vegie beds etc (which I blog about too) but have never seen this technique. Very interesting, thanks!

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  • Liz

    I have made two in-ground worm farms from old plastic kitchen tidies – they already have a hinged lid and just need large holes drilled in the base and sides. Early days so I don’t know how long they’ll last, as I guess the thin plastic will eventually get brittle and break up.

  • 11091952

    We have fireants and any soft soil is instantly claimed by them. How well will the worms do with the nasty ants?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      er, no idea?

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  • http://slowdownfarm.com Ryan

    I’m glad to see the different designs on here, I had only seen the PVC pipe method deployed a few places. Some friends had a great idea to use a 5-gallon bucket with a port on the top for dropping the scraps in. I used some small 2-gallon barrels, both designs can be found on my site: http://slowdownfarm.com/post/38004404242/worm-tower
    -Ryan

  • http://pintrest Kyleene

    I like the idea of the worm towers put in a garden. I was thinking of worm farming with bins but this is much better and easier. Thanks so much for the info. I live in north central Florida would there be anything extra that I would need to do in the summer to keep the woms cool or will the potting lids keep it cool enough inside?

  • Janice

    I Love this ideas, but i’m curious, will it work in the ground as well as a raised bed? Also, how far of a radius do the nutrients reach.

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Yep it works in a non-raised bed, as to how far the nutrient spreads, that’s variable dependent on the soil condition… we’ve noticed a difference in growth for about 50-100 cm radius?

  • The tomato man

    the tomato man: have large aquarium and need lots of worms. Can I take worms from the worm tower in moderation for fish food?do

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      yep, compost worms make great fish food :)

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  • http://sunnyromy.wordpress.com sunnyromy

    Reblogged this on SunnyRomy.

  • Texaninohio

    Can the worm tower be used in climates where winters are very cold? We have a lot of snow and temps are often in single digits ( F).

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  • Teretta

    How do you clean out and harvest the poo without taking the worms too?

    • Jenny

      Teretta I asked this same question in April 2011 and did not have a reply. I went to an rural irrigation outlet that had leftover ends of poly pipe about 30cms in diameter and 70-80cms long – in their waste bin! I have had three worm towers in my garden for nearly three years now. My gardens are only raised about 25cms so the majority of each tower is dug into the ground leavng about 20 cms above ground. I have placed either terracotta or plastic pot plant trays upside down over the top of the towers. The terracotta trays I painted bright colours just for a bit of colour in the garden. When the towers are almost full of worm waste and broken down food I leave the tower for about three weeks without adding any more food. Then I leave the tray off the top of the tower on a sunny day. This causes the worms to go deep into the tower. Using a set of long BBQ type tongs I remove the top of the contents until I come across worms. Then leave the tower for another day with the tray lid off and repeat the process. It can take up to a week of removing the top 8 to 10 cms of ‘black gold’ each day without damaging the worms. The ‘black gold’ is very fine with the food having broken down completly. I then use it as a liquid manure rather than a compost. The liquid manure has a remarkable effect on veggies. There has got to be a better and quicker way of doing the above and I would love to hear how others empty their worm towers. However the idea is really great and works very efficently.

  • http://Green-Change.com Darren (Green Change)

    Teretta/Jenny: I’ve not seen people harvest the castings from these types of towers. Once it’s full, they just pull the pipe out and move it to a different location in the garden.

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  • Catherine Chen

    If the pipe is lifted out, what happens to the worms if they fall into the surrounding soil? Aren’t they unsuitable for normal soil? I’m just wondering if it would help to attach very fine mesh to the bottom of the pipe before putting it into the ground to stop the worms from falling out. Then the pipe could be lifted out with the worms still inside. The worms and castings would be separated and then the worms returned to the pipe and start the process all over again. Just a thought.
    Catherine

  • GardenLover

    To harvest, I dig an access hole next to the tower while it’s still in place, then pull up the tower, reposition relatively close to it’s original position, then use the access hole to get my arm down & scoop up handfuls of worm casings & worms & place some of the worms back into the tower in it’s new position.

    It depends on what I’m growing as to whether I remove most of the casings or just leave there & plant into. Mostly I remove some but leave most there.

    As for the remaining worms, I generally also leave an underground wet newspaper or other composting materials trail from the old tower location to the edge of the new tower position & figure they can find their own way to the tower through that.

    & btw thanks so much to this site for the info on worm towers! I’ve been using them for a couple of years now & love them!

  • Wriggler

    Has anyone else tried using african night crawler worms instead of normal compost worms? I find them tougher for australian conditions (hot and cold extremes), faster at eating and with the added benefit of being excellent gifts for friends who fish. The worms have irredescent blue stripes that attract fish. It’s also my sneaky way of spreading the word on worms, my friends now have to start their own worm towers to have bait ready to hand! I get them online from a qld worm wrangler- I think called eco-worms? But there are other suppliers in Aus if you look around. And may I also add my thanks for this fab blog, and the many useful tips I’ve found in the comments section, especially about wicking beds and how to harvest from a worm tower. Cheers!

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  • cate

    what kind of plastic pipe is it and where did you get it? I’ve tried Home Depot and other building supply places but the largest size looks a lot smaller than what you have – and also only comes in long lengths and is expensive. Thanks.

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