Super Simple Vermicompost Screener

Some time ago I received this e-mail from Shelley:

I am new to vermicoposting. I am looking to find out how to separate
the finished product from “things” that are in it ie: pepples, bits of
paper etc. I dont need any larged tumbler. what are your suggestions?

One or two more recent reader-emails (with similar questions) made me realize that I should dedicate a post to the topic!

If you have been following my shenanigans here at RWC for the past few years (or more) you MAY recall my kooky “Super Simple Ultra Basic Worm Harvesting Tube” (S.S.U.B.W.H.T.) – one of my “hair-brained ideas” that never really went anywhere.

Here are the original posts if you want to relive the magic (lol):

The Super Simple Ultra Basic Worm Harvesting Tube
SSUBWHT – Update #1

What’s funny, though, is that this weird contraption actually ended up becoming a very useful tool. As you can probably guess, I started using it to screen my vermicompost! I even created a second one using 1/8″ mesh (the first one was 1/4″).

Here are some instructions for creating one of these simple screeners:

NOTE: If you happen to be someone with ANY DIY skills in the slightest, what follows may leave you feeling shocked and appalled!

Consider yourself warned!

There are only three things you’ll need to make a “Super Simple Ultra Basic Vermicompost Screener” (my revised name): 1) A small roll of hardware cloth (aka wire mesh) – 1/4″ or 1/8″ are good choices, 2) A reinforced cardboard cylinder at least 10″ in diameter (this is the size I used, but I can see how a larger diameter tube might work even better), and 3) Duct tape (not shown in picture).

Well OK – you’ll also need some basic “tools” as well. In order to cut the cylinder you will at least need a box cutter or – preferably – some sort of saw. You will also need tin snips or a pair of heavy duty scissors for cutting the wire mesh.

Actually making the S.S.U.B.V.S. is “super simple“, as the name implies.

First, you cut the two “halves” of your screener. There is no set-in-stone required length, or specific size ratio of the top piece vs the bottom piece, but a good rule of thumb (in my humble opinion) would be to make the upper piece at least 1 ft in length, since we want to avoid having material bouncing out during the screening process. The lower piece doesn’t need to be as long, but making it at least 6″ should help to avoid any unnecessary loss of material from the bottom as well (since the sides will help to channel the screened material down into whatever container you are using to catch it).

To make the screen, cut out a circle of mesh with a diameter of at least 6″ greater than the diameter of your tube. This way you will be able to create 3″ (or longer) tabs that will help you secure the screen in place. To make sure you don’t end up cutting in too far you may want to trace the outline of the tube onto the screen with a heavy duty marker.

Once you’ve cut a bunch of tabs (again, no real rocket science here), you simply place the screen in between the two pieces of cylinder and then fold every other one in an upward direction. All the remaining tabs get folded…wait for it…DOWN!

Now, here is where the REAL craftsmanship comes into play…

Next, you tape this puppy up like duct tape’s goin out of style!!

The finished product may not be all that easy on the eyes, but you’ll now have yourself a handy dandy tool for easily screening your vermicompost!

As far as the actual screening goes, the process basically just involves scooping some of your vermicompost into the upper compartment then shaking (side to side) over top of a container (ideally, the screener should easily fit inside the container so as to avoid losing any finished material).

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

1) Make sure the material you are screening is crumbly and fairly dry. You won’t have any luck trying to screen muddy vermicompost, that’s for sure!

2) Start with very small amounts being added (and screened), then gradually increase until you find your “sweet spot”. If you add too much material all at once, the screener won’t work properly and you’ll end up tossing lots of good vermicompost into your “waste” heap (of course, this stuff is not really “waste”, as we’ll discuss in a minute). The advantage of making one of these screeners using a larger diameter (than 10″) tube is that you’ll be able to effectively screen more material at once.

3) This is probably pretty obvious, but if you have two or more of these (with different mesh sizes) start with larger-mesh sizes so as to separate bulky stuff that may impede your fine screening process.

Getting back to your separated “waste” vermicompost (etc) – needless to say, while it may not look as nice, this stuff can certainly be put to good use in your garden! If there is a fair amount of debris in it, you might try it out as a sort of “vermi-mulch” to spread around the base of your plants. If it’s basically just bulky vermicompost, it can be used in the exact same manner as the “good stuff”.

One other quick thing to mention about my flawless design (yuk yuk)…

Adding actual handles (maybe old cupboard door handles or something like that) to the sides would really help to reduce the hand/wrist fatigue inevitably resulting from screening a lot of vermicompost in one sitting. I’ve never bothered to do so myself, but I can definitely see how this, alone, would represent a major improvement over the original design!

So that’s basically it! Again, I realize this is not the fanciest homemade screener in the world, but it IS a nice easy-to-make option for those of you who – like myself – are not super-talented DIYers. And…as you can see below, it also happens to work very well!

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  1. My sieves are frames rectangles (Each frame has a smaller mesh size.), which I connect with eye hooks. Prior to sifting, I lay out a tarp & a few 5 gallon buckets, a small container or two & a hand trowel. I shake them as if I’m panning for gold. I place the graded materials in separate buckets & the containers are for earthworms & cocoons I may find while sorting.

    • John
    • August 8, 2012

    lol…the real question to me is…
    Where in the world do you find a 10″tube? Thats not a wal mart item.

    • John
    • August 8, 2012

    Ends up Lowe’s has it. Its a concrete forming tube.
    Looks a lot like the one in your pics. This is a great help!

    • thuan
    • August 8, 2012

    Thanks for posting B,
    The vermicompost has to be pretty dry (can’t stress that enough) or else it will get stuck in the mesh. I couldn’t wait for your homemade sieve so I use a tray from the WF as a sieve. I had to let the vermicompost sit and age in the tub for a week. Each day, I crumble the top layer into finer pieces and fluff up the stuff so the bottom layer gets a chance to dry. After a couple of days, I can scoop the top half layers into the WF tray, tap tap tap, the good stuff falls through onto a small tarp while rough vermi mulch stay in the tray. A couple of days later I do the lower half as it dries up. I did this before but I did not let the vermicompost dry and it did not fall through. So if anyone has a extra WF tray laying around, it can be used as a screener also

    • Sandy
    • August 8, 2012

    Great idea. I am new to vermicomposting and have read so many conflicting ideas about how to harvest castings. I know about the piles of cones and light method, the 1/2 bin with new bedding method where worms crawl to new bedding, the upward migration to a new bin method, and using a kitty litter scooper to scrape off muddy vermicompost. Help! I have also read about “curing” the vermicompost.Do you cure yours? I also really need to know how long the muddy vermicompost needs to dry out and what kind of container it should be “dried” in. Then I guess I am ready for Bentley’s uniquep tube screener. Do I pick out worms and cocoons from the wet and then drier compost? Any videos on these processes? Too much info has caused me to become befuddled. I realize there is no right way, but I am really looking to do this in an efficient way. Thanks!!

  2. Minor addition? If you take (whatever) covering off your bin so the worms scurry down into
    the dark, the top dries out a bit…. Scrape that layer off (2 inches?) and sieve it using this
    wonderful device, then repeat… This reduces the number of worms that get sieved
    and put onto the garden?

    HTH Dave

    • John
    • August 9, 2012

    High Sandy. This is a post Bentley did a while ago.

    I use this method…a little altered. I just have a regular lamp without a lamp shade over my bucket. It works great.

    I somewhat gave up on trying to collect cocoons. If i seem them i grab them, but last time i sorted a bin there were probably a thousand plus cocoons.

    • Bentley
    • August 9, 2012

    CARMEN – I knew it wouldn’t take long for someone to put me to shame with their own (vastly superior) design! LOL
    Joking aside, I was actually really interested to get a discussion going on this topic, since I have little doubt that plenty of people (like yourself) have their own cool strategies for screening! Thanks for sharing.
    JOHN – Sorry about that! Had actually intended to mention that these are those tubes used to create concrete supports (for decks, fences etc). Should be available a pretty well any decent sized hardware store or building center. Glad you were able to track them down.
    Not sure what diameters they actually come in but, again, if you can find ones with a bigger diameter than 10″ you’ll likely end up with a better screener than mine. If I made another one of these I’d definitely make it wider and would put some handles on it.
    THUAN – You are absolutely right about the vermicompost needing to be dry. If this is stuff coming from a regular enclosed plastic worm bin, you will definitely need to let it sit for awhile before trying to screen it (just don’t forget to keep breaking it up – otherwise you’ll end up with a block of vermicrete! lol). Interesting idea re: using WF trays. I would have thought the plastic “mesh” walls would have been too thick for effective screening (compared to wire)
    SANDY – Glad you brought up the topic of “harvesting”. Something I didn’t point out in the article is the fact that “harvesting” and “screening” aren’t necessarily one and the same. When the pros use their big trammel harvesters they are effectively harvesting worms while screening beautiful vermicompost – but that’s not the idea with my own screener. You will almost certainly need to do a separation of some sort (speaking of Worm Factory trays – they are great for helping you to separate the worms from the vermicompost) and then let the separated material dry out even more. I can certainly end up screening out some worms from the remaining material, but the goal is definitely not to harvest worms with this thing (would not be very effective, and would likely just harm the worms).

    “Curing” of the material will happen as it sits and dries out. How long this process will take will totally depend on the environment it is sitting in, and how dry you need it before it can be screened effectively. In a warm, dry environment with good air flow (and someone regularly raking through the material), it would likely take “days” – but in a less-than-perfect environment it might be more like “weeks”. In the book “Worms Eat My Garbage”, Mary Apelhoff suggests putting the wet vermicompost in a thick carboard box to help it dry out. I think this is a great idea, and if the material is really wet you could simply add additional layers of cardboard and/or newsprint in the bottom.
    DAVE – Absolutely! As mentioned above (but unfortunately left out of my blog post), I definitely think most of the worms should be separated
    from the vermicompost before the screener is used. Any stragglers can then simply be picked out from the screenings and put into another active vermicomposting system!

    • John
    • August 9, 2012

    I looked at
    they sell the same tube, but in a 12″ diameter. Its $10 where as the 10″ tube is $7 and some change.

    • Bentley
    • August 9, 2012

    Thanks John!
    The biggest I could find on the Home Depot site was 12″ as well ($15 and change CDN – yikes!). I think even a couple of inches would make a difference though.

    • Chris
    • August 9, 2012

    Thanks for this post, I had been wondering what to use for this. I just harvested my first tray for the first time last weekend (similar system to WF with 3 trays).

    • JCRomero
    • August 13, 2012

    Very interesting concept. Simple is best when it comes to home made compost screeners.

    Cutting the tabs in the wire cloth can be tricky depending on the quality of the metal mesh that you are using. If it is high quality screen, something that might be sold here for instance: or another industrial manufacturer, the best way to cut this material is going to probably be the yellowe handles Wiss Aviation snips.

    Be very careful when making these cuts as this material becomes EXTREMELY SHARP when it is cut. I have the scars to prove it!

  3. You’ve put up some good information! Been contemplating some in-ground worm towers (6-8″ PVC pipe buried 2-3′ in the garden) and thought of something like the first steps, i.e., inserting a wire screen tube with a bottom that could be used to harvest some of the castings. Yes, I know worm towers are primarily to feed worms and dispose of kitchen cuttings; but don’t think me totally selfish – because there ought to be enough castings to harvest some at the end of the growing season for new seed starts during the winter.

    • Cory
    • January 6, 2013

    Going to use a 55 gallon drum… should make for a bigger diameter.

    • Ryan
    • April 6, 2014

    Hey Bentley – thanks for the inspiration! I used an empty 12 pack beer case for my screener. Having absolutely no construction skills, the duct tape was perfect.
    The only thing I had to add was a few pieces of wood to make sure the box didn’t collapse. And yes I used duct tape to hold the wood to the box =)

    • Steve
    • October 9, 2014

    Ryan, if you use Gorilla duct tape you will find that screener will hold up even longer. Even though it costs a bit more I find it is well worth the extra cost. I Gorilla duct taped some communication cabling to a floor at a work site. Normally duct tape would disintegrate from the clean-up crews maintenance, but this material has lasted for…..years. Good stuff. Here’s an upcoming seasonal link to show what else it can do:

    • Linda Beatson
    • March 13, 2015

    I reckon you could also use plastic paint buckets – 10 or 20 litre, and just cut the bottom out to make a tube. I have been using these buckets for curing worm compost and for keeping some breeding stock – they work great. Have made some as worm towers to put straight in the garden as well. They are cheap, readily available, and stack nicely if you want to make them taller.

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