Breathable Bucket System #2

Back at the end of October, I posted an update for my breathable bucket vermicomposting system (see “Breathable Bucket Bin – 10-31-19“) – making it very clear just how impressed I was with it.

We shall see how things look in a couple of months, but my inner optimist has me thinking this may very well end up being my new go-to DIY indoor system approach (sorry, Roughneck Totes).

In the meantime, my plan is to set up a mini fleet of these things so I can really put them to the test!

This morning I decided to set up breathable bucket #2 using a 20 L pail (~ 5.3 gal – somewhat larger than my first one).

This time around (and more than likely from here on out), I added 4 vents. Initially the plan was to use 4 pop bottle tops I had ready to go, but I wasn’t happy with how loose they were, and opted to try some other caps instead.

Thanks very much to Frederick F. for giving me the idea (via a comment under my original Breathable Bucket YouTube video) to try caps from juice/milk (etc) cartons! Not only do we have these sorts of containers in the house far more often than pop bottles, but they are actually much easier to cut out and prep for use as vents.

No need for a PVC cutter at all – just pop them out and then cut an opening in the top of the lid (plastic is quite soft so easy to do with pretty well any sharp knife)

NOTE: one of my vents this time came from a lemon juice bottle – it was similar to the pop bottle caps but ended up tightening really nicely against the bucket.

As for hole cutting…

Once again I used my trusty 1″ hole cutting bit. For my first hole I decided to try pushing the drill very slowly – but realized this was NOT the right approach! lol

Quicker hole cutting seemed to work better (see second image below), and 3 of the 4 vent holes ended up looking pretty good.

All in all, I was very happy with the vents – they were all flat against the inner wall of the bucket, and I was able to tighten them up nicely on the other side. I won’t claim they were perfectly lined up, but the key is that I have 4 of them – so even better air flow than in my first bucket system!

Once the bucket was ready to go, it was time to create my false bottom. Like last time, I loaded up the bottom with (dry) bulky pieces of hand-ripped corrugated cardboard. I brought the level of this material up well past the vents.

Next, I added a thick layer of dry, shredded newsprint.

Last week, I managed to get one last lawn cutting in with a thick layer of fall leaves on the ground – leaving me with a large quantity of beautifully mulched leaves mixed with clippings. This material is definitely going to come in handy for setting up new systems during the winter. It offers both food and habitat value – and no doubt is fairly well-inoculated with microbes as well, thus offering some of the same benefits as “living materials“.

I added layer of this mix over top of the shredded newsprint.

I then added some more typical living material I happened to have on hand…

…before adding a very small culture of worms. These worms came from a “Tiny Tub” system that was set up not quite 3 weeks ago. The little system had been started with 20 “breeder” Red worms – and a very quick assessment seemed to indicate that there were at least 50 cocoons (more likely 70 or 80), and a small number of hatchlings as well.

This probably doesn’t sound like “enough” Red Worms to start up a vermicomposting system, but you might be surprised by just how fast a population like this can grow!

It will be fun to see how things progress from here.

Over top of the worm zone I added another layer of the mulched leaves with clippings, and a thin layer of shredded newsprint.

These layers were intended as a bit of a separator between the worms and the actual food deposit.

Speaking of which, once again (same as when I set up first bucket) I didn’t happen to have any of my usual frozen-then-thawed kitchen scraps on hand so I had to raid the scrap collection bin I keep under my sink.

I added maybe 1 or 2 pounds of these scraps to the bucket.

Some of these materials – eg. fresh carrot and broccoli cuttings – are not going to break down very quickly at all. They may even start to grow initially (one of the advantages of freezing is that you kill the plant tissues, making it much easier for microbes to invade).

This doesn’t concern me at all – it may actually end up being helpful since it should give the worm population a bit more time to grow – and there is still plenty of available nutrition in there.

I added another layer of living material over the food scraps, followed by another layer of the mulched leaves + clippings, and lastly topped everything with a cover layer of shredded newsprint.

Once again, I used some fabric from an old work shirt as my lid – secured with an elastic band.

One important thing to mention about the leaves/clippings mix – I did the cutting with the mower raised higher than it would normally be. The idea was to harvest/mulch a lot more leaves than grass (but to get some in there for increased food value). Although the comfrey (another green waste) seems to be working very well in my other bucket bin, I always recommend being very cautious with these sorts of materials. The small proportion of clippings in my mix, and the addition of living material should help to ensure that there won’t be any issues with ammonia release (harming/killing worms).

I will likely just leave this bin to sit (taking up very little room in the corner of my basement bathroom!) for 2 to 3 weeks before even bothering to check on it.

Let’s get some more of these systems going in the meantime!

P.S. In case you are wondering, from start to finish this newest bucket took less than 30 minutes to get up and running (including vent installation)!

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    • Al Fyfe
    • November 12, 2019

    I use a 3/4″ hole saw for the cap and a 1″ for the hole. If you use a razor knife – heat the cap a little and it will be easier to cut. I drill the caps before I cut into the box – just a little better grip on the box.

    • Lindy
    • November 12, 2019

    I think even I could do this. Couple questions:
    Could I just put screening around the bottom edge of the bucket in place of trying to fit in the bottle caps?
    What do you mean by living material?
    Now that my leaves are covered in snow – could I dig some up from the garden to use? and would I want to dry them out a bit before layering them in?
    Where could I buy the worms now that temps are cold for shipping living creatures? I am in Toronto.
    Thanks for continuing to suggest ways to make it simpler for those of us who can’t manage the complexities of ‘systems’.

    • Bentley
    • November 12, 2019

    Hey Al – I appreciate your input (pretty sure you provided the tip about the carton lids – they are great!)

    • Bentley
    • November 12, 2019

    Hi Lindy!
    If you have a good way to secure the screening in place (and the mesh is fine enough) I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. I had reservations about the work involved in installing these vents, but it is actually very easy – and seems to work very well.
    As for “living material” be sure to check out the video I made:

    and the original living material report:

    Don’t get too caught up in trying to get some if you don’t have any – over time you will end up with LM you can screen out of your vermicomposting systems.
    If you WERE going to try and track it down now, I would recommend a forest more so than a garden. Rotting leaf litter is excellent – soil is not really ideal unless it is very rich in organic matter.

    As for Canadian composting worms, here is a link to my Canadian site:

    I am waiting for more indoor batches to be ready, but should have more by early December or so. Won’t likely be shipping after the holidays but pickups may still be an option (I’m about and hour and a half from you).


  1. I’m going to try this. I’ve been experimenting with small hot bin composting (no worms) in my basement. However, this looks like a way more fun. ( The challenge for small hot bit composting is keeping the heat inside. Small containers have more surface area, top & sides, per volume of the core compost mix. Insulation works but I’m lazy. For nerds – the maximum volume with the minimum surface area of a cylinder (pail) occurs when the height=diameter. )

    I recently found an old aquarium with an air pump in my garage rafters. Since air exchange is critical to the worms, has anybody tried pumping air into the bottom of the bin periodically? It’s such a non-green technique but my little mind gets to wandering sometimes.

    I enjoy your blog.

    • Natalie
    • November 26, 2019

    So I guess I don’t get the point of the caps that are then cut open. I get the need for air, but I don’t get the value of the bottle tops and caps. Why? And why both, but then cut away the cap? For structure?

    • Natalie
    • November 26, 2019

    And how are you securing the cap coupling vents in place?

    • Bentley
    • December 16, 2019

    George – sounds great! Would be interested to find out how it works out for you.

    Natalie – The value of the vents is that they can provide excellent air flow without allowing organisms (eg fruit flies) in and out, unlike typical drilled holes. The collar + cap is what allows you to tighten – push collar through from one side and then tighten cap on other side. This plus the breathable fabric getting tightened in again the bucket/bin helps to plug up any imperfections in cut hole. The reason I am now leaning more towards cutting the openings (versus just using PVC cutter to take off end of cap) is that it provides more structural integrity for cap and more thread to tighten down. Plus I think it might be more feasible for those who don’t have their own PVC cutters. NOTE: There are certainly alternatives to the vents. I will be testing bigger drill holes simply covered with breathable fabric. We shall see how they compare.

  2. Hi Bentley, I use those carton caps for pour spouts on mason jars, very handy. But, (isn’t there always a but?) they really only work for dry materials. The cut edges aren’t waxed and quickly start soaking up any moisture. That softens, discolors and generally wrecks the spout. I expect you will find a similar effect in the bottom of a bucket. It may depend on how big is the plastic disc that attached the spout to the original carton. I look forward to your updates.

    • Bentley
    • February 10, 2020

    Thanks for the feedback Tom!
    Haven’t done much with them – and actually stopped collecting them in favor of the more rigid plastic bottle tops. The ones I DID install seem to be doing ok so far but we shall see.

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