Simple Vermicompost Harvesting Method

This weekend I decided to fire up the ol’ digital camera to create a video about separating worms from vermicompost. It is quite possibly the worst piece of cinematography in the history of mankind, but hopefully the commentary at least proves semi-interesting.

It certainly didn’t help that the camera battery died on me before I was even finished!

Those of you who are on my email list will know that I am in the process of putting together a worm bin journal, which basically involves me starting a new worm bin and documenting everything along the way. As I’ve said multiple times before, when it comes to working with worm bins these days I just kinda do it without thinking about it. Obviously, some of those subtle details that I’m not paying attention to could be important tidbits of info for someone just starting out. I am hopeful that by forcing myself to document the process I will be able to add a little more depth to my instructions for setting up a worm bin. I also wanted to provide more info re: the maintenance of a worm bin. In my worm bin set-up videos, while I think I do provide some good info for getting started, I kinda leave everyone hanging a little when it comes to actually taking care of the bin I helped them set up!

Anyway, the video above shows how I am transferring worms from an older system into the new system (which has been aging for a little over a week). A lot of people seem to wonder about separating worms from compost, so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone while I was at it. I’ve written about my garbage bag separation method before (see ‘Setting Up a New Worm Bin‘), but I figured an actual demonstration – as poor quality as it is – would prove more beneficial!

One thing to keep in mind – the material I am separating the worms from in the video is not really good quality vermicompost. I noticed quite a bit of undigested materials and it just didn’t have the rich, dark appearance of good worm castings (vermicompost should be as close to pure worm castings as possible). If I dug it into the garden I’m sure it would be a great slow release fertilizer, but I don’t think I’ll be using it for potted plants any time soon. I actually tried using a similar material last summer during my ‘Terracycle Challenge’ and it performed very poorly. I just want to point that out so that people don’t assume that’s what high quality vermicompost looks like!

By the way, the ‘worm bin journal’ I mentioned above is a special project for all those who are on my email list, so if you think that might be helpful (or are just curious to see how quickly I’ll kill my worms – haha) then feel free to sign up. I am still in documentation stage, but I’m hoping to start sharing my ‘journal’ with members fairly soon.

[tags]worm castings, vermicompost, worm bin, worm bins, worm composter, worm composting, vermicomposting, red worms, red wigglers, compost[/tags]

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  1. A: I’ve tried this worm harvesting method but evidently did it way too fast. I did it outside, using sunlight & ended up having to ‘herd’ the worms to the holes. It never occurred to me to just let them do it on their own.

    B: I’ve NEVER had that many worms in my ‘finished’ bin. Don’t know what that means.

    C: You use a trowel. I ALWAYS use my hands. hmmmm

    D: What did you do with what wasn’t quite done?

    Keep on keeping on… Love your site.


    • Bentley
    • April 8, 2008

    Hey Gary

    A: Yeah, it takes a little patience but they were already starting to head through the holes within minutes of adding the material. I couldn’t find any adults left up above when I looked today.

    B: I was actually pretty amazed by how many there were. I knew there were lots of worms near the surface – they’ve been congregating up there and consuming wastes very quickly – but I had no idea there were so many all the way through the material. I even found a LOT of worms right down at the bottom where conditions were getting fairly anaerobic.

    C: Yeah, I try to be as careful as possible when using a trowel – I usually try to slide it down along the wall then leverage material up. I don’t use my hands too much – easier to clean a trowel than try and dig vermicompost out from under my fingernails!

    D: Great question. The material that was placed over top of the garbage bag is actually still there – I wanted to make sure all the worms moved down into the new bin. Not 100% sure what I’m going to do with that material – I may add it to another worm bin to see if the worms will process it further.
    The material/worms that was still left in the old bin has simply become starter stock for a new system (I’ve started adding new bedding and waste materials to that bin again).

    Thanks Gary!

    • Metqa
    • September 1, 2008

    Um, the video no longer works. Where can I go to watch it. I’m very interested in starting a apartment size bin, and I’m getting all my info together. I love your blog. it is so informative and I like the getting started video. I’m trying to figure how to make the stacked system but really small, my kitchen is only like 7×7 and a little space under the since. And I regularly get dumpster flies invading and the occasional neighborly cockroach, so I need to know everything about keeping it non smelly and tight, and how to do everything. I have a small container garden in front, so worm casting would be great, plus I feel bad throwing away veggie scraps cause I can’t compost. (besides I suck at regular composting, i hope this is easier) I’m reading all the comments and your great personalize answers. WOW. I feel more confident from reading your pages than from all the other websites I’ve browsed. I just signed up for the journal. I look forward to reading up. If I actually get off my duff and do this I will write back about it. Um, sorry for rambling. I want to watch your video. Thanks.

    • Bentley
    • September 1, 2008

    Very strange – it works perfect fine for me. Perhaps you need to update your version of Flash?
    Try visiting the actual YouTube link:

    Feel free to email me directly if you want to discuss this (or any other vermi-stuff) further.


    • Marisa
    • July 12, 2009

    Very helpful, thanks.

    Do you need to start another bin to “harvest” the compost material. I’ve heard you can sort of push the old material to one side of the bin and add new food and bedding to the other side of the bin and the worms will migrate over. Then the old material can be used and the new stuff spread out. Ever try this?

    • Caren
    • September 11, 2009

    Great method! I only have one worm bin, but I can dump it out on plastic and still use this method. That would be much easier than picking all of the worms out of the finished compost by hand! I think this method could easily be done indoors when the weather is too cold to go outdoors with the bin. Other methods are just too messy.

    Do you go through your castings for any cocoons that might be left in it? I will still go through and pick them out by hand because I love to hunt for cocoons. I try to get every one of them. It’s an obsession! LOL

    Thanks for sharing your fantastic method!

    • Bentley
    • September 11, 2009

    Hi Caren,
    I honestly don’t harvest vermicompost all that much, and if I do I generally don’t worry about baby worms and cocoons since I have a pretty extensive outdoor network of Red Worm habitat associated with my gardens. Baby worms and hatchlings should have a pretty easy time find a good place to live once the vermicompost is put to use.

    Be sure to check out the harvesting section on the “Hot Topics” page to see some other ideas as well. You may find David’s tub method helpful.

    • Metqa
    • September 11, 2009

    Thanks for the reply. I actually went through a whole session of worms, binning, fruit flies, fly eradication, harvesting starting over, then gnats that let to wormageddon, Worm grieving, and finally opening the coffee can with my first harvest in it and finding more than 10 healthy worms and several worm babies hanging out. So I think I’m excited to try again.

    My stuff, when I first harvest, was black. It didn’t look like yours in the video , but like dirt, but with no smell I moved the bigger bits to the new bin, and put the black stuff in a container, and it seems eggs hatched inthe container and they kept working it till I found them several months later.

    • Bentley
    • September 13, 2009

    Hi Metqa,
    What you feed to the worms will have a major affect on the color of the vermicompost. I used a lot of cardboard materials which tend to make the compost a light color. Same with manure (in my experience anyway). When you use mostly food waste, the castings tend to be black.
    Anyway, good luck with your continuing efforts

    • mark
    • February 3, 2010

    I’m about to start my bin. Worms are in transit and should arrive in 2 days. I have 6 day old spinach and sprouts in the feed bag that are extremely rotted with a lot of liquid being produced. My concern is that it is too ripe and will be somehow toxic to the new worms. Is that possible? Anything to worry about here?

    • Rich
    • July 22, 2011

    I’m new, and wanting to start a worm bin by end of the month this month. I am curious about a couple of things, so forgive me for my newbie questions, and especially if I am in the wrong area to be asking this.

    1. Can I simply use the Red Worms or Night Crawlers from the bait shop down the road to get started? I don’t have a lot of $$$, but enough to get to a pound of worms probably over a month, and

    2. How long does it take for an indoor composting process to complete before it is ready for use in a home garden (say for tomatoes and peppers)?

    Many thanks, and love your site!

    • Micki
    • April 9, 2013

    Hey Bentley, just wanted to share something with you…

    After debating between using John’s passive method you posted, and this method, I opted for the simple Dump and Sort. I wanted to let you know that being in my first year of vermicomposting, I found the Dump and Sort really valuable as it allowed me to analyse the bin contents really well. I saw things that were buried but not broken down, giving me insight on what the worms do NOT like. I really recommend the dump and sort for new vermicomposters!

    Thanks for all of your resources…I would really struggle without your website.

    • Mike
    • August 11, 2013

    Hello Bentley,
    For worm self-harvest have you ever tried to take advantage of the natural tendency of the worms to migrate upward away from anaerobic conditions into fresh substrate? That is, by placing the perforated plastic over the mature compost and piling starter material on top of the plastic.

    I haven’t tried it myself. Just asking.

    • Michael Burgess
    • April 7, 2018

    What always concerns me is how many eggs are left behind in the “castings”. Should u perhaps leave it for a period after the worms have been removed to allow these to hatch? If so, how long? Thank u

    • Bentley
    • April 17, 2018

    (Apologies to those of you who ended up “ignored” in this thread, if you are still out there!)
    Michael B – Yes, if this is a concern it’s not a bad idea to wait for the hatchlings to emerge and then maybe try to lure them up to the top with some food (eg watermelon). Hard to say for sure how long it might take – this will depend on various factors – but castings benefit from a curing period anyway so you can probably hit two birds with one stone.
    (The reason I tend not to be as concerned about losing cocoons and hatchlings is because I have lots of integrated systems in my yard so I know the worms will find a safe home no problem)

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