Posts Tagged Garden

Sunken Greenhouse: The Solution To Plant Year Round

Sunken Greenhouse: The Solution To Plant Year Round

sunken greenhouse


Imagine being able to house your crops in a sunken greenhouse that self insulates and not having to worry about harsh winters or dry summers ruining your garden. Sunken greenhouses are one of the most ideal structures for farmers and gardeners dealing with fluctuating climates.

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Over the last few years, I have gotten super into vegetable gardening on my homestead, but I hate it when undesirable weather patterns harm my crops. When I heard about the magic of the year round Wallapini, I knew I had to check it out!

ryan mitchell simple living expert

What Is A Wallapini Sunken Greenhouse?

What Is A Wallapini Sunken Greenhouse

The Wallapini sunken greenhouse is one of the earliest known sheltered greenhouses in the world. They are used all across the globe by farmers and gardeners who hope to harness the sun’s thermal energy and extend their traditional growing season.

sunken greenhouse for plantsThe unique design of these structures is what sets them apart from traditional greenhouses. Similar to Mike Oehler’s original underground house design, the “sunken” aspect of the sunken greenhouse design means that the greenhouse quite literally sinks down into the earth and uses the earth’s mass to benefit the crops in the greenhouse.

Wallapini greenhouses are intentionally designed to retain both heat and cold air. They bring light and heat into the greenhouse and convert it into energy. This self-sustaining process leads to a greenhouse that can regulate its own temperature levels.

History Of The Underground Greenhouse

History Of The Underground Greenhouse

The Wallapini greenhouse was officially given its name in 2002 when a group of student volunteers from the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute went to La Paz, Bolivia, to help local farmers in the area. They departed with the goal of building low-cost pit greenhouses for local farmers to use year-round, and did not fall short of their goal as they created the Wallapini.

underground greenhouse structureThe students were able to design and build a greenhouse structure that helped farmers in La Paz keep their crops warm in the wintertime. They gave their pit greenhouse the name “Wallapini,” as it means “place of warmth” in the indigenous tongue of the people from La Paz.

However, the Wallapini was not the first time that a sheltered greenhouse was used to keep crops warm in all circumstances. One of the earliest recorded examples of an underground greenhouse was built in 1798 at the famous Lyman Estate. The Lyman Estate Greenhouses are some of the oldest surviving sunken greenhouses in the United States.

The design idea caught on all across Massachusetts in the 1800s to protect rare grape and fruit tree varieties from the harsh cold farmers were facing. The first sunken greenhouses were heated with wooden stoves, but many new heating methods have become popularized since then.

Today, many farmers and gardeners choose to embed pit greenhouses into their land to take back control of their growing season and keep the temperature of their crops regulated. There are many different design variations of sun pit greenhouses. However, all sunken greenhouses are designed to regulate temperature in a similar way.

How Does A Wallapini Greenhouse Work?

How Does A Wallapini Greenhouse Work

A traditional greenhouse is built with four glass walls and a glass roof. This basic design may allow a traditional greenhouse to warm up quickly, but it does not give the structure the ability to trap temperature for long periods of time.

On the other hand, pit greenhouses are intentionally designed with one open wall to take in sunlight and one earth bermed wall to insulate thermal energy. Berm greenhouses are ideal for farmers and gardeners who want to strategically extend their growing season longer than their climate at home might allow.

So, how do sunken greenhouses work their magic? The intricate design of the Wallapini greenhouse uses a wide, angled roof to take in sunlight and convert it into solar energy.

wallapini sunken greenhouse design

Additionally, its sides are bermed into the earth so that they trap and insulate the thermal heat under the ground. This allows farmers and gardeners to keep crops warm underground even while the above ground climate is bitter and cold.

Not only does the Wallapini keep crops warm in cold weather, but it is also designed to keep plants cool in the dry heat of the summer. The cold sink is dug into the south side of the sunken greenhouse and allows the structure to keep crops cool and moist.

We know that cold air sinks and heat rises. The Wallapini is designed with a deep welled cold sink to trap the cool air that runs through the front wall of the pit greenhouse in the wintertime and become trapped by the layers of soil at the bottom of the cold sink.

The main interior of the sunken greenhouse is layered with a thin line of gravel that is covered by a growing bed made of topsoil. Each of the crops and plants are either placed in the soil, set on top of raised growing beds, or housed in individual pots.

Wallapini sunken greenhouse design
interior of the sunken greenhouse

Sunken Greenhouse Benefits

Sunken Greenhouse Benefits

There are many reasons why building an underground greenhouse rather than a traditional greenhouse can work wonders for your crops and your garden. The Wallapini greenhouse includes several strategic elements that can aid you in getting the absolute most out of every planting season and maintain the best soil health for your vegetable garden.

how to prepare garden soil

You Can Use A Wallapini Greenhouse Year Round

You Can Use A Wallapini Greenhouse Year Round

The biggest plus that comes from building a sunken greenhouse is that the design keeps the temperature of your crops regulated year-round. With pit greenhouses, you don’t have to worry as much about changes in weather having a negative impact on your crops.

As the Wallapini stores both hot and cold air, it self regulates the temperature of its interior and keeps your crops healthy despite the climate changings outside. This also makes it easier for gardeners to plants crops that may not necessarily be ideal for the climate they live in.

Pit Style Greenhouses Can Be Built Into A Hillside

Pit Style Greenhouses Can Be Built Into A Hillside

When it comes to farming, you typically want to make sure your land is totally flat to best serve your crops. It can be much more difficult to grow plants when you live on a hillside or at a higher altitude. However, sunken greenhouses can be built into a hillside with no issues.

A sunken greenhouse is the perfect solution to farming and planting on a hillside because you can design the Wallapini to work with the curve of the hill. Due to the fact that pit greenhouses are embedded into the earth, you can still lay crops flat underneath the ground, even if the structure is built into a hill or elevated piece of land.

An Underground Greenhouse Means Less Weather Damage

An Underground Greenhouse Means Less Weather Damage

Leaving your crops subject to the elements can lead to devastating results. I’ve been into growing my own vegetables for a while, and there have been too many times when a huge storm would blow through Charlotte and I would have to start over with my crops.

Since the Wallapini is underground, plants are much less likely to suffer from weather damage. They are protected by the earth bermed sides of the sunken greenhouse.

gardening for beginners

A Sunken Greenhouse Is Protected From Critters And Pests

A Sunken Greenhouse Is Protected From Critters And Pests

In a similar vein, keeping your crops underground keeps your precious vegetables more protected from hungry nighttime critters and grazers. As an avid gardener, I’ve spent way too much time using wire fencing and fancy repellants to keep animals out of my stash.

With a sunken greenhouse, your vegetable garden is protected from extra hungry visitors. The bermed walls and the roof over the ground keeps your garden out of the way of creatures roaming around day and night.

The Insulation Of A Wallapini Increases Moisture

The Insulation Of A Wallapini Increases Moisture

Underground greenhouses are designed to harbor an especially moist, humid environment to aid the growth of your crops. When planting above ground, crops can easily become dried out by the sun’s heat.

When crops are regulated underneath the ground, your plants are isolated from the elements, so it’s easier to keep moisture from evaporating back into the atmosphere. This is especially conducive to aquaculture plants that thrive in moist conditions.

What To Plant In An All Year Round Greenhouse

What To Plant In An All Year Round Greenhouse

The key to making the most of a sun pit greenhouse is to know what to plant and when to plant it. You want your plants to be able to thrive!

Mastering the Wallapini greenhouse means understanding the eb and flow of the weather where you live and how to rotate your crop cycle to achieve the most gardening success. It also means looking to gardening and homesteading books, experts, and other resources to help you understand how to manage your pit greenhouse during all months of the year.

fall gardening

Using A Pit Greenhouse In The Summer

Using A Pit Greenhouse In The Summer

When growing vegetables in the summer, you should keep your greenhouse temperature between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit to grow all of your warm-season crops. To have optimal planting success, you’ll want to make sure to check in on all of the systems in your greenhouse that keep it cool.

Check your waterproofing, draining, and ventilation systems in your sunken greenhouse. Proper ventilation, cooling, and air flow is extremely vital to keep your summer crops alive in your Wallapini.

It’s also super easy to over water, under water, or forget to drain your summer crops properly, which could quickly lead to an unsuccessful harvest. Make sure to check in on all of your watering systems during the dry summer months.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that your greenhouse is effectively taking in solar energy and converting it into heat. It’s vital that this process occurs during the summer months so that you are prepared for frigid winters when they come.

Best Summer Crops To Plant In A Wallapini

  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Muskmelon Cantaloupes
grow tomatoes in a sunken greenhouse

How To Use A Wallapini In The Fall

How To Use A Wallapini In The Fall

In the autumn months, pay extra attention to the position of your plants on the topsoil grow bed of your sunken greenhouse. Use the waning fall sunlight to your advantage as a gardener by positioning your plants in spots where they receive optimum sunlight.

Another great trick for tackling autumn months is to use deeper containers for fall crops. Deeper containers can provide more water and nutrients to your autumn crops and will give you more gardening success.

Best Fall Crops To Plant In A Sunken Greenhouse

  • Baby Carrots
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Beets
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Turnips
growing beets in a sunken greenhouse

Using A Sunken Greenhouse In The Winter

Using A Sunken Greenhouse In The Winter

For gardeners and farmers, the wintertime is one of the most challenging seasons to navigate. Thankfully, it is the season that best allows a sunken greenhouse to do what it does best.

In the winter months, you’ll want to make sure that you are using the heat stored in the bermed walls of the Wallapini as well as letting cool air sink down into the cold sink to prepare for the return of hot, summer months.

If you happen to be in a climate that is especially cold, you can actually design your sunken greenhouse to work even more effectively in cold climates. Give the interior of your Wallapini an extra layer of stone, earthbags of lava rocks, or any dense material that is able to store heat more effectively than topsoil alone.

Materials like concrete, brick, and tiles require a much higher amount of heat energy to alter their density. Due to their high thermal mass, using these materials in your pit greenhouse walls can act as a thermal battery that keeps crops warm on days with no sun.

Best Winter Crops To Plant In A Wallapini

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Garlic

How To Use A Wallapini In The Spring

How To Use A Wallapini In The Spring

Similar to the fall, you’re going to want to take advantage of the way the sunlight falls during springtime by positioning your plants to face the light. This will help your spring crop take in enough light to grow successfully.

Springtime is also the perfect time to get everything in order for a new season of planting. Take time in the early spring to set up new planters and garden beds, clear out weeds, mulch, and debris, and begin pruning your plants.

Best Spring Crops To Plant In A Sunken Greenhouse

  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Chard
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Corn
grow onions in a sunken greenhouse

How To Build A Sunken Greenhouse In 10 Steps

How To Build A Sunken Greenhouse

When you’re ready to build your own sunken greenhouse, there are several design elements and aspects of the building process to take into account. You want to design and build a sunken greenhouse that works best for your specific type of land, climate, and planting goals.

build or buy a tiny houseAs a guy who built his own tiny house from scratch, I know that building anything is a huge undertaking. It can be easy to get ahead of yourself with a project like this and end up biting off a lot more than you can chew, leaving you with a half-finished greenhouse and a lot less money than you started with.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try if you feel ready, or that you need a certain level of experience to build something like this. When I started building my tiny house, I had never built anything before in my life! I’m a firm believer that anyone with the time, funds, and dedication is ready to become a DIYer.

All I’m saying is, from someone who knows the money, time, and effort that building things yourself takes, make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before diving head first into a huge project like this.

Pit Greenhouse Materials List

Pit Greenhouse Materials List

This tools and materials list is meant for sunken greenhouse with dimensions of 20’x74’. If you’re building a larger or smaller greenhouse, you’ll need to alter the sizes on this materials list to fit your desired pit greenhouse size.

Sunken Greenhouse Building Materials

  • (20) 4” x 16’ poles or PVC pipes to span the roof
  • (3) 3’ x 6’ hinged doors (one is for the 3’ x 5’ vent cover)
  • (3) 3’ x 5’ door frames (two if rear wall vent is not used)
  • (2) 3’ x 6’ door lintels
  • 1700 sq. ft. of 200 micron agrofilm (poly UV plastic)
  • 640 ft. of 1” wood stripping to secure sheeting to poles
  • 30 cubic yds. of gravel for the floor drainage system
  • 100 ft. of drain pipe
  • 1 cubic yd. of gravel or stone to fill the 2 drain sumps
  • 233 cubic yds. of soil will come from the excavation
  • 22 cubic yds. of top soil for planting (8” x 66’ x 12’)
  • 94 cubic yds. for the rammed earth walls
  • 2700 sq. ft. of plastic sheeting to bury for drainage
  • 74 ft. of drain gutter for the lower end of roof
  • Galvanized Nails or weatherproof deck screws
  • 8” x 4” x 12” adobe bricks

Sunken Greenhouse Building Tools

  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Picks
  • Saw
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Crowbar
  • Measuring Tape
  • Level
  • Clear Hose
  • Cutting Knife
  • Hose
  • Nozzle
  • Hand Compactor
  • Adobe Form
  • Drill
  • Drill Bits
  • Grade Stakes
  • Nylon String
  • Plow
  • Tractor

tiny house tools

1Evaluate The Land For Sunken Greenhouse

Before building anything for your Wallapini greenhouse, you’re going to want to evaluate the land that you are building it on. Doing this isn’t as much about making sure your land works for your Wallapini, it’s more about learning how to build your Wallapini to work for your land.

evaluate land for a sunken greenhouseThere are several things to consider and check for when it comes to evaluating your sunken greenhouse land. You’ll want to examine the slope of your land, the type of soil that makes up your land, and the climate you live in.

If you are trying to embed your sunken greenhouse into a hill, you’ll want to ensure that the soil in the hill is stable and isn’t under downward pressure. Since the sunken greenhouse is built directly into the earth as opposed to on top of a foundation or solid footing, a wall built in unstable soil or soil under pressure will inevitably collapse.

The last thing you want is to put in all this work building a beautiful greenhouse just for the finished product to fall apart and destroy your land in the process. Check the pressure of your soil beforehand. If the soil is being pressed downward towards the earth, find a different spot to build.

Another thing to check for is the type of soil that you have in your land. If the bottom layer of your soil is made of a wet clay as opposed to dry dirt or sand, your soil is not going to drain water as well.

type of soil for a sunken greenhouseThe ability to drain water when building a Wallapini is so crucial to the longevity of your sunken greenhouse. If water continues to seep into the walls and floors of your Wallapini without being fully drained, your whole greenhouse will fall apart.

If your soil beds are made of clay, don’t fret! It’s an easy fix. It will be in your best interest to add drains around the perimeter of your greenhouse to allow water to escape from your Wallapini.

I would recommend building French drains to get the best results. French drains are trenches with perforated pipes that are wrapped in landscaping fabric and work wonders to drain water from the interior of an underground greenhouse.

Another extremely vital thing to consider is anything on your land that could get in the way of your greenhouse roof getting sunlight. Make sure that the Wallapini is located so that the sunlight is not being blocked by trees, other buildings, or any other structure. Be sure to observe the sun throughout a full year to understand how the light falls during different seasons.

2Mark The Outline Of Your Underground Greenhouse

Once you’ve evaluated your soil type and taken necessary precautions to protect your Wallapini, go ahead and mark off the land area you plan to use. Measure out a 12.5’ by 66’ growing area, marking it with four corner stakes and your nylon string.

Next, “square off” the area with measuring tape or pre marked rope so you can clearly see the outline of your sunken greenhouse exterior. The string line serves as your visual for the area that will need to be dug out.

3Choose Your Sunken Greenhouse Design

Everything you do from here on out is really going to depend on the type of underground greenhouse you choose to build. The Benson Institute’s traditional Wallapini is built entirely into the earth, with the interior sinking deeply into the subsoil and an angled roof built at ground level.

sunken greenhouse layout
pit style greenhouse
sunken earth greenhouse
earth sheltered greenhouse

However, you can also choose to build an earth sheltered greenhouse, which originates from Mike Oehler’s book, The Earth Sheltered Greenhouse. An earth sheltered greenhouse has one entirely earth bermed wall with its remaining walls supported by wooden beams that extend aboveground.

earth sheltered wallapini greenhouse
sunken berm greenhouse

Whether you build your sunken greenhouse entirely underground or berm one side while raising the rest of the structure, the most important element to consider is if your roof is built where the sun’s rays will hit at a 90-degree angle. I’ll explain more on this in the coming steps.

4Excavate The Hole For Your Underground Greenhouse

Now it’s time to start digging out the interior of your Wallapini. Obviously, the depth of your dig is going to depend on your design type.

If you’re building a traditional Wallapini, the main hole of your sunken greenhouse should be dug one to two feet deeper than your growing surface. This is super important because it allows room for rocks and gravel to fill in underneath the topsoil.

mini backhoe for digging sunken greenhouseIf you are excavating your Wallapini by hand or by shovel, a major tip is to wet your dirt beforehand. This will make your dig easier because the water will make your dirt much more malleable as you dig.

The excavation will go much faster with a tractor or backhoe. However, those tools can be expensive if you don’t own them already, so the method you choose is up to you. If you’re friends with any local farmers, now’s the time to lean on them!

As you dig up endless layers of soil, go ahead and pile that soil onto the side of the hole that you plan to berm into the earth. This will make it way easier on you in the long run because you won’t have to lug huge piles of soil around.

5Create Your Sunken Greenhouse Walls

Again, this comes down to your choice of design. If you’re building a traditional Wallapini, make sure that all four vertical walls of the dig are sloped from the bottom of the hole to the outside at the top.

digging channels for earthen greenhouseA minimum of a 6” slope from bottom to top is what experts suggest for a 6’ high wall. Doing this is going to reduce soil caving in or crumbling off from the walls over time.

Make sure not forget to dig out two channels needed for the door entrances at opposite ends of your Wallapini. If you forget to dig out door holes in your walls, you’ll create a totally insulated greenhouse that you won’t ever be able to enter!

You’ll also need to dig holes for your wall posts. Make the holes for your wall posts about three feet deep. If your holes start to fill with water, add PVC socks to the 6” x 6” pine posts to prevent your wood from taking in moisture and rotting from the inside out.

Use your clear hose to make sure each grade stake is set at the same level. If one or more walls are going to be rammed as the soil is removed, also lay out and mark those spots. After setting the posts, fill in the areas around the holes with cement.

After adding beams to your earth sheltered greenhouse, you’ll build out three wooden walls to surround the sides of the greenhouse that aren’t bermed into the ground. My friends who have built their own underground greenhouses suggest rough red and white oak boards for your exterior walls. Pine or hemlock wood can also work really well for a sunken greenhouse.

6Add A Roof To Your Underground Greenhouse

The roof is arguably the most important elements of a successful underground greenhouse. The positioning of your roof is so vital in ensuring that your plants stay happy and healthy.

Make sure that the angle of the roof is approximately 39º to 40º so it will be perpendicular to the sun’s rays on the winter solstice. The slope and the longer side of your roof should face toward the winter sun to gain the best light exposure underground. This means you should angle your roof southward if you’re in the northern hemisphere and northward if you’re in the southern hemisphere.

sunken greenhouse roof angle

When actually building your rooftop, it is important to use material that will effectively trap light and effectively store it within the Wallapini. There are lots of different material types you can use to give your sunken greenhouse optimal sun exposure from the roof.

Sunken Greenhouse Roofing Options

  • Polycarbonate Panels
  • Traditional Glass
  • Double-Layered Acrylic
  • Suntuf Panels
  • Fiberglass Panels
  • Plastic Sheeting
Sunken Greenhouse Roofing Options

7Dig Out Your Cold Sink

Digging a cold sink is an integral part of making your sunken greenhouse a success. Because the greenhouse is built under the ground, the cold air will naturally collect at the very bottom of your structure. As the cold air migrates down your Wallapini, it will create an unwanted frost pocket around your vegetables.

This is where your cold sink comes in handy. Raise your garden beds up and dig below the pathways to create a long tube for your cold sink. Wherever your pathways are, dig them deeper and then build a board walk over them.

Doing this will allow the cold air to sink to the lowest point of your structure instead of layering frost on your crop. It will also help you store cold air to assist your crops in the summer heat.

8Add Doors And Floors To Your Sunken Greenhouse

When installing your doors in a traditional Wallapini greenhouse design, build out the door frame to be about 2” of thick board stock with holes drilled at the top, middle and bottom of each side.

Then, drive wooden stakes, dowels, or rebar through these six holes into the bermed wall to make sure the doors are level. Make sure that your doors fit as airtight as possible. Fill in any air cracks found around the door frames with adobe mud, clay, sand, or straw.

When it comes to flooring, there are lots of different options you can choose to use to lay underneath your topsoil and trap heat.

Materials To Use For A Sunken Greenhouse Floor

  • Gravel
  • Sandstone
  • Lava Rocks
  • Limestone
  • Fieldstone
  • Sand
gravel floor for sunken greenhouse

9Make Sure You Have Proper Ventilation In Your Wallapini

Proper ventilation in a sunken greenhouse is a beast of its own. Since the majority of your structure lives underground, you’ll need to take extra precautions to make sure that you are achieving the best air flow possible to keep your veggies alive and thriving.

Best Ventilation Options For An Underground Greenhouse

  • Add open doors on the east and west sides
  • Install a vent in the top back wall
  • Build a hatch door in the upper north corner
  • Add a chimney above the apex of the roof
venting a sunken greenhouse

Each option has pros and cons when it comes to the amount of work it takes to build, the cost of materials, and optimal airflow. Achieving the best ventilation in your sunken greenhouse will likely come down to knowing your needs and understanding the best option for your design and land setup.

10Seal Off Holes And Start Planting!

Once the main structure of your greenhouse is finished, you’ll want to reevaluate for any air leaks and seal up spaces with holes and gaps. It will be easy to tell which areas of your greenhouse need patching because you should see steam escaping from the outer holes of your Wallapini.

A great way to seal up walls and trusses is by using tung oil or natural citrus solvent. Neither of these products fume harmful chemicals as your greenhouse begins to heat up.

You can also wrap basic pond liner around the entire greenhouse structure for an extra layer of sealant. If you do this, cover your pond liner with plywood to keep from ripping any holes in the rubber. Once all your holes are sealed up, it’s time to start planting crops in your beautiful sunken greenhouse!

finished greenhouse structure
sunken greenhouse design

Buy A Sunken Greenhouse Kit

Buy A Sunken Greenhouse Kit

If those 10 steps seemed like an ungodly amount of labor that you aren’t up to, don’t worry! One of the easiest ways to be a proud owner of a sunken greenhouse without having to put in so much work is to invest in a sunken greenhouse kit.

Sunken Greenhouse Kits To Buy:

How Much Does A Sunken Greenhouse Cost To Build?

How Much Does A Sunken Greenhouse Cost To Build

The overall cost of your sunken greenhouse will depend heavily on the design you choose, the materials you use, and whether or not you choose to hire out for labor costs.

For example, if you only use unlined, inclined, interior earthen walls, your overall cost is going to be much cheaper than if you purchase wooden walls to line your greenhouse. According to experts, the cheapest roofing material for a Wallapini is eucalyptus poles. If you want to use polycarbonate panels, on the other hand, that’s going to raise your price.

As a general estimate, you could probably build an extremely basic, entirely dirt rimmed Wallapini for as low as $200 or $300. On the expensive side, you could create a wood lined, fully glazed, sturdy earth sheltered greenhouse with a polycarbonate roof for around $15,000 or $20,000 dollars.

Additional Resources For An Earth Sheltered Greenhouse

Additional Resources For An Earth Sheltered Greenhouse

I may know a fair amount about building and gardening, but I’ve yet to build a sunken greenhouse on my own. I thought I’d include some additional resources from experts who have built and managed their own Wallapini greenhouses.

Your Turn!

  • How would building a sunken greenhouse benefit your garden?
  • How will you choose to design and lay out your Wallapini?

Homesteading Book Review: The Best Books To Help You Become Self Sufficient

Homesteading Book Review: The Best Books To Help You Become Self Sufficient

homesteading book review

The practice of homesteading can find its way into one’s life in many different ways. For some, being a homesteader looks like producing your own food, making your own clothes, managing a small hobby farm, or generating your own power. For others, the journey towards self-sufficiency might be as simple as adding a vertical garden of climbing peas to your apartment balcony.

I started out by adding chickens next to my small raised bed, then integrated other versions of homesteading into my life gradually. The process was a slow one, but that made it fun and manageable.

Start small. Take baby steps to start your homestead. Pick a skill you’re wanting to learn and engage with a book from that list, then see what happens. Happy reading!

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Homesteading can be life changing if you give it the chance, but, like anything, the first step is to learn. I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are the most helpful books for those looking to get into homesteading, and sorted them by category.

ryan mitchell simple living expert

Homesteading Books For Beginners

Homesteading Books For Beginners

Homesteading entails many different areas of work and varieties of DIYing, which can all seem a little overwhelming to a beginner. This booklist includes guides that are broken down simply, ideal for someone who wants to start a self-sufficient life but is looking for some guidance on how to get started.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

by Carla Emery

If I had a friend who was getting into homesteading and asked for my advice, this is likely the first read I’d recommend. Carla’s encyclopedia includes detailed instructions for a plethora of important homesteader skillsets, including canning and preserving food, gardening, growing your own food, beekeeping, cooking on a wood stove, raising livestock, milling flour, tapping maple trees, and much more.

New Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency

New Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency

by John Seymour

With the newest version published in 2019, John’s Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency is full of comprehensive information about life as a homesteader. The guide also includes detailed instructions for various elements of the lifestyle, like how to create an urban organic garden or how to harness natural energy.

The Homesteading Handbook

The Homesteading Handbook

by Abigail Gehring

I know firsthand that life can quickly become noisy, chaotic, and overwhelming. This read delves deeper than the mere process of minimization — it’s about what that process can do for you.

Dana elaborates on the reasons why decluttering can often feel difficult. She writes about the ways our emotions get in the way of creating a clutter-free life for ourselves, and ways to combat these mental roadblocks.

Mini Farming On Quarter An Acre

Mini Farming On ¼ An Acre

by Brett Markham

If the self-sufficient lifestyle of homesteading is appealing to you, but you don’t have a ton of land to work off of, this book is for you. Brett walks you through ways that having less land doesn’t have to limit you when it comes to homesteading.

Even if you have never been a farmer or a gardener, this book covers what’s essential for beginners to know, like buying and saving seeds, crop rotation, farm planning, seasonal gardening, crop rotation, and many other basic farming need to knows.

The Backyard Homestead

The Backyard Homestead

by Carleen Madigan

With several different editions including an all-inclusive guide to raising livestock, growing your own food, kitchen know-how, building projects, and a seasonal planner, Carleen’s The Backyard Homestead series is one of the best guides for beginner homesteaders. Each guide includes step-by-step instructions for the topic it covers, along with pictures and diagrams for you to follow.

Homesteading Books On Buying And Managing Land

Homesteading Books On Buying And Managing Land

Owning, managing, tending to, and working off of your land is the first step to becoming a successful homesteader. Without your own land, it’s hard to maintain a self-sufficient life. These homesteading books will help you locate quality farmland and gain tips for keeping it up on your own.

Finding Good Farmland

Finding Good Farmland

Larkin Hansen

Finding Good Farmland covers every aspect you should consider before buying your own farmland, including government regulations, residential concerns from the surrounding area where you’re searching, soil conditions, and ways to budget. This read is a great self-checker if you’re looking for quality farmland and want to ensure you’ve thought through the basics and the details.

Five Acres and Independence

Five Acres and Independence

by Maurice Grenville Kains

Maurice provides an easy-to-understand view of what small-scale farming entails practically. This read helps you evaluate land economically and agriculturally, guiding you in making an informed purchase. You’ll learn suggestions for land management like draining the land or improving soil quality, suggestions for when to grow seasonal crops, tips for raising goats, chickens, and bees on a small-scale farm, as well as marketing tips for farmers.

Land Buying Tips From the Pros

Land Buying Tips From the Pros

by Pat Porter

Pat’s book will give you specific information about different types of land and what to watch for when thinking about investing. No two types of land are the same, and purchasing a plot comes with a lot of need-to-knows about that specific land type.

The bulk of this book is a compilation of tips from experts on budgeting for rural land based on phone calls Pat had with these eight different experts.

Gardening Books For The Homesteader

Gardening Books For The Homesteader

Growing your own produce from a garden is a huge aspect of homesteading. For me, working in my yard and garden is super cathartic, but it’s also a huge undertaking. Wisdom from expert authors about the best times to plant each crop, tilling and fertilizing methods, tips for crop rotation, and much more will be extremely helpful when creating your first garden.

Organic Gardening For Beginners

Organic Gardening For Beginners

by Lisa Lombardo

Organic Gardening For Beginners opens with an overview of the most popular types of organic gardening, as well as the benefits and setbacks to each. This section is helpful for beginner gardeners to decide which method works in their space.

Lisa also provides explanations to several natural growth methods like controlling pests without chemicals, and a crop-by-crop inventory that tells beginners what they need to know about each plant and vegetable to start growing.

Growing Vegetables The First Time Gardeners Guide

Growing Vegetables:

The First Time Gardeners Guide

by Jessica Sowards

Jessica’s YouTube Channel, Roots and Refuge Farm, is filled with wisdom for the first-time gardener, and so is her book. I would recommend this quick read to anyone who is looking for the most basic information when it comes to growing your own food in a garden. Conversational in style, Jessica delves into common questions like where to put your garden, how to prep your soil, and how to keep pests and critters out of your home garden.

The Flower Gardeners Bible

The Flower Gardener’s Bible

by The Flower Gardener’s Bible

The ultimate flower gardener’s handbook, Lewis walks readers through everything from what to think about when choosing your growing site to increasing the lifespan of your flowers. The books includes many helpful tips on how to improve soil, fight off pests, make informed decisions about seasonal planting, and specific information about each type of flower.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening

by Derek Fell

Don’t let space limit you from becoming a homesteader. Derek’s book on vertical gardening is made for those who want to start a garden but don’t have a ton of space. The growing up and not out method is not dependent on having land to plant on, anyone can do it! With over 100 colorful pictures and diagrams to help with the process, Vertical Gardening showcases ways to grow perennials, shrubs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits no matter where you live.

A Seasonal Gardeners Handbook

A Seasonal Gardener’s Handbook

by Donna L. Long

The biggest key to knowing when to plant each crop without wasting seeds is to pay attention to seasonal crop patterns. Take it from Donna, knowing when to plant what is an intricate process. Her guide will have you creating your own seasonal gardening calendar and planting by the natural signs of the Earth in no time.

She teaches you everything you could ever want to know about seasonal gardening, including when and when not to prune, creating a simple compost pile, hardening off, tips for plant’s chilling hours, planting by the phases of the Moon, and when to plant each type of annual.

Preserving Food On Your Homestead, Best Books

Preserving Food On Your Homestead, Best Books

Preserving, canning, cooking for yourself, managing your food storage – these are all key aspects of the homesteader’s life. These books will take you through what you need to know to bake, save, and store all your own food stuffs.

The Ultimate Guide To Preserving Vegetables

The Ultimate Guide To Preserving Vegetables

by Angie Schneider

Angie’s ultimate guide gives readers access to charts, colorful pictures, and step-by-step instructions for all kinds of preservation methods like canning & pickling, fermenting, freezing, and dehydrating food. It’s a very helpful book for beginners because the instructions are highly detailed.

Her book also includes many of Angie’s family recipes to try on your homestead, like canned dilly asparagus, fermented corn salsa, dried scalloped potatoes, and dried pumpkin pie.

The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving

The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving

by Ball Test Kitchen

The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving is a classic for homesteading and food preservation. It shows up frequently on best of lists when it comes to food prep. Why? It includes over 350 recipes for the beginner to the experienced homesteader, ranging from jams, fruits, butter, jellies, jerkies, pickles, and salsas.

The instructional section of the guide covers water bath and pressure canning, pickling, fermenting, freezing, dehydrating, and smoking with detailed instructions and step-by-step photos to make the process simple and efficient.

The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning

The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning

by Diane Devereaux

Pressure canning is one of the most popular methods for preserving cooked meals. Diane’s The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning is a step by step resource to teach you the art of pressure canning, so you can preserve your favorite low acid foods for you and your family.

Covering everything from soups and stews, jar meals, broths and beans, and game and other meats, this guide will introduce you to everything you need to know about canning through colorful pictures and diagrams.

A Year Without the Grocery Store

A Year Without the Grocery Store

by Karen Morris

This book is geared towards food preservation to prepare for times when grocery stores may not be accessible. Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency, and these tips from Karen will teach you what you need to know to have enough food for you and your family at the ready, no matter what.

Complete with tips for economically storing food your family wants to eat, simple recipes for baking basic comfort foods from scratch, how to safely store and use water, and common mistakes homesteaders make when storing food with ways to do better.

Books on Off-Grid Living and Alternative Energy

Books on Off-Grid Living and Alternative Energy

Becoming self-sufficient with your energy sources is freeing because it cuts out the middle man. Plus, using alternative energy is great for the environment. Many homesteaders go off grid entirely, so let’s take a look at some books that can educate you on how to make off grid living a reality for you.

Off Grid Living 2022-2023

Off Grid Living:

Back to Basics Guide To Become Self Sufficient

by Small Footprint Press

This updated, 30-day guide to go from energy dependance to an entirely off grid life is extremely worthwhile for the new off gridder who wants to adopt the lifestyle as quickly as possible. This guide includes information on living off the grid without giving up any of your luxuries, how to use solar, wind, and geothermal sources, how to install different types of water systems in your home, the best US states for living off grid, and more.

Off Grid Solar Power Simplified

Off Grid Solar Power Simplified

by Nick Seghers

The most popular method of alternative energy on the homestead is solar power. Many people have asked me about putting solar panels on my own tiny house because I’m one of the few out there that is totally off the grid. Let me be the first to say the process isn’t easy and there is a lot to learn!

Nick is an electrical engineer who specializes in solar power design, so his tips are definitely backed by experiences. This manual delves into things like a comprehensive tool list for installing your own panels, tilting, cleaning, optimizing solar input, types of photovoltaics, and much more.

Wind Energy for the Rest of Us

Wind Energy for the Rest of Us

by Paul Gipe

Not as popular as the solar power method but still accessible for the average homesteader, wind turbines are another way to access alternative energy off the grid. Paul’s Wind Energy for the Rest of Us moves through many different methods for harnessing wind energy on your own homestead, including small and large turbines, water-pumping windmills, and multimegawatt wind turbines.

The Complete Guide to Water Storage

The Complete Guide to Water Storage

by Julie Fryer

Learning to store water is a vital for the life of a homesteader. But properly storing your water so its genuinely useable is a learned process, and this read is a great guide for getting started. Using tanks, ponds, and other means of water storage to maintain a safe and viable source of drinking water has become popularized in prepper and homesteader circles. Other water-saving techniques such as rainwater harvesting and gray water collection are also valuable and are explained throughout this guide.

Wood Stoves How to Make and Use Them

Wood Stoves:

How to Make and Use Them

by Ole Wik

Ever considered cooking with a wood stove? This quick read goes over everything you need to know about using and tending to a wood stove, including information about types of wood and stovepipes, how to actually use the wood stove once its going, how to cook with a wood stove, and general safety tips to consider when using an open flame in your own home.

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Homesteading For A Living: Books On The Business Side

Homesteading For A Living

Homesteading goes beyond self-sufficiency – it can also be a business, that, when maintained well, can bring you abundant rewards and financial freedom. Agricultural financing isn’t easy, but with a little guidance you can create the space to sell your tomato harvest, goat cheese, or homemade bar soap and make a substantial profit.

How to Make Money Homesteading

How to Make Money Homesteading

by Tim Young

This simple guide examines an array of skills that are crucial for turning your homestead into a business. Follow along with Tim and learn how to insulate yourself from financial collapse by monitoring which risks you take, manage your finances as you sell your crop, plan for retirement on the farm, and generate livable income from your own homestead. This book features interviews with 18 homesteaders and farmers who share intimate stories of their own journeys toward a fulfilling and financially freeing life on their homestead.

Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

Starting Your Own Small Farm Business

by Sarah Beth Aubrey

Another great source for those who want to start homesteading but don’t have a ton of space to work with. Sarah Beth’s Starting And Running Your Own Small Farm Business is chalk full of savvy skills to help you get started, like planning your budget, web design to self-promote, and food service wholesalers.

The Organic Farmers Business Handbook

The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

by Richard Wiswall

After working for twenty-seven years at Cate Farm in Vermont, Richard knows the ins and outs of running a farm like a business. In his book, Richard shares advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient, manage your employees, create a budget, and turn a livable profit on your homestead.

The Future Is Rural

The Future Is Rural

by Jason Bradford

You might want to give yourself a minute to take this one in. Written by Jason the biologist and farmer, this book gives a very meta-assessment of what we know about our modern world and why that analysis can benefit the rural community.

Jason explains why, sociologically as well as economically, the decline of rural areas and dependence on fossil fuels will reverse entirely in the coming decade. This will greatly elevate the importance of self-reliance. If you’re looking for a high brow evaluation of why turning your homestead into a business and independently oiled machine is worth it, this is the book for you.

Farm Record Keeping Book

Farm Record Keeping Book

by Exocet Journals

Staying organized is crucial for running a successful farming business. Writing everything down in an all-inclusive journal can help with that. This record keeping journal is one smart way to log your daily farm routine, livestock care, seasonal crop rotations, repair operations, budget, and more – all kept in one place.

Books On Homesteading Skills, Tools and Supplies

Books On Homesteading Skills Tools and Supplies

Repairs, updates, and maintenance work is required for maintaining a successful homestead. Knowing which tools get the job done and understanding how to perform basic repairs can help you keep your farm in tip top shape and keep you from having to call for backup.

The Tool Book

The Tool Book:

A Tool Lover’s Guide to Over 200 Hand Tool

by Phil Davey

Phil’s tool book is basically an encyclopedia for common household tools. Leaf through this guide to find pictures of common tools from every imaginable angle, detailed patent drawings, zoomed in diagrams, and step-by-step illustrations of each tool being used with expert advice on how to use each tool best. The book covers different types of hammers, spades, chisels, and more.

Woodworking The Complete Step-by-Step Manual

Woodworking: The Complete Manual

by DK

This step-by-step carpenter’s manual includes guidance for a wide range of skillsets. New carpenters will learn the ins and outs of basic design techniques, how to use essential tools, and basic carpentry techniques like woodturning, furniture restoration, and wood joints.

More experienced carpenters can use their skills and follow the steps in the 28 different DIY woodworking projects the book provides. There’s something here for everybody wanting to learn more about woodworking.

Do-It-Yourself Plumbing

Do-It-Yourself Plumbing

by Max Alth

Another essential skill to get good at is plumbing, especially if you aren’t wanting to hire out on your homestead. This DIY guide includes over 500 photos, diagrams, and drawings to teach how to fix leaky faucets, balky toilets, clogged drains and traps, and even how to install hot-water and steam-heating system on your own.

Farm and Workshop Welding

Farm and Workshop Welding

by John Seymour

With over 400 step by step photos and tons of tips and suggestions for beginner to experienced welders, this comprehensive welding guide has it all. Learning to cut and shape metal will help you keep your homestead up to par and give you the freedom to create endless projects on your own.

Flip through Andrew’s comprehensive guide for detailed descriptions of specific types of welds like arc, MIG, gas, TIG, and plasma cutting. It also includes advice that extends into the wider workshop with advice on drill use, cutting threads, and blacksmithing.

Tools A Tool-by-Tool Guide to Choosing and Using 150 Home Essentials


Guide to Choosing and Using 150 Home Essentials

by Steve Dodds

Knowing which tools to use and how to use them is the first step in keeping up with repairs around your homestead. This quick read chronicles 150 power and hand tools with explanations on how to use them.

Steve informs readers in three clear cut sections. The first covers where you can go to find quality tools and what specifically to look for to ensure years of dependable use. The second section explains how to use eight basic tool kits, and the third section is a tool-by-tool inventory of virtually every power and hand tool you could need.

Homesteading Books On Raising Livestock

Homesteading Books On Raising Livestock

A homestead isn’t complete without livestock. If the goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible, producing your own food with as few outside sources as possible, raising animals is the best way to make that happen. This booklist will provide you with all the know-hows you need to reduce your dependance on big agriculture and learn to produce your own dairy and poultry.

Raising Chickens and Goats

Raising Chickens and Goats

by Jason Howard

Chickens and goats are the most popular choices for raising animals on a homestead, especially if you’re getting into agriculture for the first time. Jason goes over how to know if your chickens and goats are healthy when you purchase them, how to keep them from getting sick, and ways to protect your livestock from predators.

For chickens, he talks about how to build a chicken coop, tips to raise robust chickens, and how to choose the best chicken breed on a budget, and more. For goats, he goes over the best places to buy a healthy goat, common mistakes homesteaders make when raising goats, tips to keep your goats from getting diseases, and more.

The Homesteaders Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

by Amy Fewell

Pretty much anything you’d want to know about raising chickens is likely found in the little guide. Amy provides detailed explanations of everything from understanding why chickens do what they do, creating your very own poultry or egg business, preventing and treating ailments with herbal remedies, setting up your property, coop, and brooder, and hatching new chicks.

Keeping A Family Cow

Keeping A Family Cow

by Joann S. Grohman

Keeping A Family Cow was originally published in the early 1970s as The Cow Economy, and has been reprinted many times with updates and edits. If you’re wondering if you should get a cow but aren’t sure where to begin, this is the book for you. Joann goes over cow knowledge essentials, like the health benefits of untreated milk, how to easily milk your cow, details on calving and breeding, and the ins and outs of making butter, yogurt, and cheese.

Raising Pigs

Raising Pigs:

The Ultimate Guide to Pig Raising on Your Homestead

by Dion Rosser

Learn the ins and outs of raising pigs with detailed instructions in Raising Pigs: The Ultimate Guide To Pig Raising. Dion’s ultimate guide covers how to choose the type of pig that will best suit your needs, how to build proper housing and fencing for your pigs, how to properly care for your swine, how to feed your pigs well, and tips for pig reproduction and breeding.

Books On Bees And Beekeeping

Books On Bees And Beekeeping

Beekeeping is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. There are extensive benefits that come with adding beekeeping into your self-reliance skills on your family’s homestead.

The importance of bees often gets overlooked, but they are actually one of the most necessary creatures to sustaining humankind. Their role as pollinators is essential to our food chain and the longevity of society.

By beekeeping, you can do your part to help keep bees from going extinct. And the honey is a major plus! Check out this booklist to kickstart your journey as a beekeeper.

Beekeeping For Beginners

Beekeeping For Beginner’s

by Amber Bradshaw

If you’re new to beekeeping completely, I’d definitely recommend this read. Follow along with Amy, a homesteader and experienced beekeeper, to learn the basic fundamentals of modern beekeeping. This book will walk you through picking the right hive, bringing your bees home for the first time, surviving winters with your bees, the basics of collecting honey, and more.

Beekeepers Problem Solver

Beekeeper’s Problem Solver:

100 Common Problems Explored and Explained

by James E. Tew

It’s easy for things to go wrong when learning the art of keeping bees. This book explores 100 common problems for all beekeepers, from the beginner to experienced level. Then, it provides several methods to solve those problems directly. Each issue is addressed in detail with photographs and diagrams and tangible solutions from highly experienced beekeepers.

Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping

Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping

by Dewey M. Caron with Lawrence John Connor

This extensive and heavily researched beekeeper’s guide is for those curious about the science and history behind the art of beekeeping. This deep dive into beekeeping concentrates on the why, how, and when of beekeeping both today and in the past. Dewey and Lawrence explain bee basics in a manner meaningful to people who lack an intensive background in biology, covering colony management, basic bee biology, and more.

Helpful Reads On Permaculture

Helpful Reads On Permaculture

The practice of permaculture is all about managing your land and life in a way that is harmonious with the natural world. Getting started with permaculture begins with your thoughts then moves into your habits and lifestyle.

It means designing your land in a way that does not harm the earth, using your resources with environmental caution, decreasing your waste and your consumption, and creating an ecologically sound life on your homestead.

Permaculture A Beginners Guide

Permaculture: A Beginners Guide

by Graham Burnett

This is a valuable read if you’re entirely new to the lifestyle and mindset of permaculture. It’s a generalized beginner’s guide, so I don’t go this route if you aren’t actually a beginner – you might be frustrated by the level of simplicity! However, if you’re looking to learn the very basics of what permaculture is and how you can take baby steps to adopt the lifestyle, this is your book.

Earth User's Guide to Permaculture

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture

by Rosemary Morrow

This is a slightly more detailed and extensive guide to permaculture than the one above. Rosemary talks a lot about the principles behind living a life built around permaculture: to care for people and the earth wherever possible.

Practically, she also provides detailed tips and instructions for the following practices: seed-saving, integrated pest management, domestic and rural water usage, dealing with weeds and wildlife in an ecologically friendly manner, and designing land to withstand natural disasters.

Permaculture Design a Step by Step Guide

Permaculture Design

by Aranya

This book is specifically geared toward land design and management under the umbrella of permaculture. Aranya explains the design process in extensive detail from beginning to end, covering designing frameworks, site surveying and mapmaking, placement and integration, and working with clients. There is an abundant use of flowcharts and diagrams throughout to help you learn the practice.

Prepping And Survival Skills

Prepping And Survival Skills

A prepper is an individual who focuses on training themselves in both urban and bushcraft survival skills to be prepared for all situations. Learning prepping and survival skills is a great way to prepare for all circumstances and make sure you have everything you need on your own homestead, should you be disconnected from civilization. These books go over basic and advanced survival skills for preppers and homesteaders alike.

Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide

Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide

by Jim Cobb

This step-by-step survivalist guide is full of advice, techniques, strategies, and skills to learn from the perspective of a lifelong prepping expert. Jim gives insight on preparing for the worst with skills like water collection for drinking and hygiene, storing water, growing food, hunting game, foraging in the woods, first aid and home remedies, and tactics for fortifying and defending your home.

SAS Survival Handbook

SAS Survival Handbook:

How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate

by John Lofty Wiseman

John’s handbook specifically addresses ways to survive unforeseen situations as they arise. John provides strategies and tactics for surviving in any type of situation, from accidents and escape procedures to adapting to various climates like polar, tropical, or desert, to identifying edible plants, to creating fire. The is an all-inclusive how to for surviving anything, complete with detailed descriptions, illustrations, instructions, and diagrams.

Natural Medicine And Remedies

Natural Medicine And Remedies

For some, being entirely self-sufficient without using outside sources includes medicine. Many homesteaders engage with herbal remedies like tinctures, teas, syrups, and salves to calm anxiety, heal wounds, or help with ailments like headaches or the common cold. These easy reads will give you some basic advice for beginning the world of herbal medicine.

The Homesteaders Herbal Companion

The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion

by Amy Fewell

This book is the go-to guide for those wishing to start their journey with home remedies. Amy covers everything from incorporating herbs and essential oils around your home, the basics of herbalism, and how to properly use each type of herb around your homestead. Whether you are new to homesteading and herbal medicine or you know the basics already, there is much to gain from this comprehensive guide.

Medicinal Herbs A Beginners Guide

Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide

by Rosemary Gladstar

In this beginner’s guide, Rosemary goes over 33 common healing plants and their uses. She also includes advice on growing, harvesting, and preparing each plant along with tips for using herbs in healing tinctures, oils, and creams. This is a valuable read if you’re looking for an in-depth inventory of useful medicinal herbs with pictures and tips for usage.

Be Your Own Doctor

Be Your Own Doctor

by Rachel Weaver

This book is specifically geared toward creating safe, high quality, in-home medical care. Rachel divides her book into sections: essential household remedies with which includes remedies for common issues, first aid, and immunity boosters, then health hormones and pregnancy, and, lastly, planning ahead and getting supplies. I would recommend this one to anyone thinking about trying herbal medicine in their homestead.

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How To Compost With Worms: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

How To Compost With Worms: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

how to compost with worms


ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I first started worm composting, I remember adding in a whole watermelon’s worth of rinds, thinking it would take weeks or maybe even months to break down. The next week, I couldn’t find them in the bin, my worms broke down them all!ryan mitchell simple living expert

When people think of composting, they usually picture throwing all of their food waste in a pile that they turn every once in a while. But what if I told you there is an entirely different form of composting you can try? Composting with worms!

With vermicomposting, you rely on an abundance of tiny worms to help decompose your scraps, and boy do they know how to get the job done. It’s the same process the worms would perform in the natural world, but when you give these little guys the perfect conditions, they go crazy.

What Is Worm Composting And Why Should I Start?

what is worm composting

Composting with worms, also called vermicomposting, is a composting method that uses earthworms to do the bulk of the hard work for you — sounds like a pretty sweet deal right?

worm compostIn a general sense, compost turns to soil by taking in water and oxygen and producing carbon dioxide and heat. The decomposition process is caused by various bacteria and microbes breaking down your scraps. Worms can do the same thing, but faster.

When you add worms to your compost bin, the worms expedite the process by helping the bacteria and microbes do their job. The vermicomposting method is regarded by composting pros as the easiest and most successful method for composting, especially if you’re just starting out.

How To Compost With Worms: Pros and Cons of Vermicomposting

Pros and Cons of Vermicomposting

I chatted with Nick Shaw about all things worm composting. Nick is a composting enthusiast and owner of Apex Organix Compost, a commercial composting service in Fairfax, Virginia. Throughout our conversation, he gave me insightful advice on why vermicomposting is a wise method for composting newcomers.

worm composting pro tip “Vermicomposting is much less work than building a compost bin, making sure it gets hot enough, turning it, and trying to sift out finished compost. And if you’re in a small apartment, it’s something you can still do!” – Nick from Apex Organix

Worm composting has benefits, but it also has its downsides. When choosing a compost method, it’s important to consider where you want to keep your bin, how quickly you want the process to go, and the type of environment you can provide. I’ve created this chart of the pros and cons for composting with worms to help inform your choice of composting method.


  • Easy to manage
  • Less prone to odors
  • Worm compost has more nutrients
  • Faster than traditional composting


  • Worms cannot decompose proteins
  • Requires specific worm species
  • Easy to overfeed worms
  • Smaller volume

PRO: Worm Compost Is Easy To Manage

When it comes to maintaining and keeping up with your compost bin, vermicomposting gets a lot of points for being user friendly.

Composting with worms takes up less space than a traditional compost bin, so you can easily adapt this method to a small studio apartment or the corner of your living room. You do not have to turn a worm compost bin as often as you do other types of compost.

PRO: Vermicompost Is Odorless

Vermicompost is the least likely to give off a smell when compared to other methods. If your nose is bothered by your worm compost bin, something is wrong.

Saying that worm compost is entirely odorless might be a bit of a stretch, as all compost does tend to emit a slightly earthy aroma. However, the odor coming from your worm compost should be pleasing to the senses. More points for the earthworms — especially if you’re composting indoors.

PRO: Worm Compost Has More Nutrients

Vermicompost is richer in nutrients than traditional compost. It is jam packed with more phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen, all of which are extremely beneficial in aiding the growth of your plants.

Vermicompost also holds nutrients for a longer time than traditional compost, so it can supply these high levels of healthy nutrients to your plants for even longer.

PRO: Vermicomposting Is Faster Than Traditional Composting

Vermicomposting is quick. This is because your earthworms are working overtime to do the bulk of the work it would usually take the bacteria and microorganisms many months to complete.

Traditional composting methods can take anywhere from eight to 15 weeks to produce results, but vermicompost gets the job done at two to five times that rate!

indoor compost bin

CON: Worms Cannot Decompose Proteins

Proteins, dairy products, meats, and cheeses are compostable when it comes to traditional compost methods. Experts certainly have varied opinions on whether or not you should compost these items though, as they can attract more pests and can also harbor pathogens.

However, when it comes to vermicompost, composting dairy and proteins isn’t an option at all. Earthworms have strong mouths but don’t have teeth, so thick products like meat and cheese are too difficult for them to digest. Stick with fruits and vegetables to keep your wrigglers happy!

CON: You Have To Tend To The Needs Of Your Worm Species

When going the vermicomposting route, it’s wise to tend towards buying species that are tolerant of the climate you’re in. When you add worms to your compost, temperature matters.

Location and climate are important considerations when buying worms. For example, African Nightcrawlers need warmer temperatures to survive while European Nightcrawlers enjoy cooler temperatures.

CON: You Can Easily Overfeed Your Worms

When composting with worms, the quantity of your scraps is vital. While the success of traditional composting methods is dependent on the way you layer your scraps, you can have as many or as few scraps as you like. That’s not the case with vermicompost.

Overfeeding worms can cause many problems with your compost like odors, acidity, excess moisture, pests, and sick worms, which you want to avoid.

CON: Vermicompost Needs A Shallower Container

Vermicompost works best in a fairly shallow container because it makes it easier for the redworms to feed in the upper layers of the bedding. You want the depth of the container to be between 8 and 12 inches.

how to start a compost pile

How Do I Maintain My Worm Bin?

How Do I Maintain My Worm Bin

Once you’ve made the decision to go the vermicomposting route, you’re going to need advice on how to maintain your bin. When I first started out, I had tons of questions, from what scraps worms prefer to what to do if my worms were eating too much to how often I should turn my worm bin.

What Should I Compost In My Worm Bin?

What Should I Compost In My Worm Bin

You can compost almost anything you would use in traditional compost in your worm bin, including:

  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
  • Roots and bulbs
  • Husks, skins, or peels
  • Eggshells
  • Dry leaves
  • Green leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Pine needles
  • Natural fibers
  • Non-glossy paper
  • Tea leaves or bags
  • Coffee grinds
  • Coffee filters
  • Wood ash
  • Sawdust

worm composting advice“They love watermelon. They go crazy for watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and pumpkin. But if you really want to see them process material, give them some watermelon, wait about six hours, and they’ll go to town.” – Nick from Apex Organix

What Shouldn’t I Compost In My Worm Bin?

What Not To Compost In My Worm Bin

These materials can be harmful to the worms in your bin and are best to avoid:

  • Meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Citrus fruits
  • Onions or garlic
  • Cooking spices
  • Fats or grease
  • Bones
  • Breads & crackers
  • Pastries
  • Coated paper
  • Stickers
  • Envelope stamps
  • Cat or dog feces
  • Diseased plants
  • Pesticide treated plants
  • Treated wood products

Where Beginners Go Wrong Composting With Worms?

advice for worm composting beginners

When I first started out composting with worms, I didn’t want to make any rookie mistakes with my scraps, my worms, or my compost bin. Here are three example problems that keep composting beginners from reaching their best possible vermicomposting results.

1. Overfeeding Your Worms

Overfeeding Your Worms

I talked about this a little bit already, but this is a common misstep for vermicompost newbies. When you have a ton of kitchen scraps that you’re excited to start composting, it can be tempting to want to just throw them all on top of your pile and let the games begin. This can be harmful or even deadly to your worms.

pro advice on worm composting“When you overfeed, you can run into all kinds of problems that just aren’t good for the worms, especially if you keep the worms inside. The bedding material can become too acidic because, if you add too much food material, you are adding too much nitrogen to the soil, so add more carbon.” – Nick from Apex Organix

2. Putting Your Worms In A Compost Tumbler

Putting Your Worms In A Compost Tumbler

A compost tumbler is not an ideal habitat for composting with worms. Earthworms are going to do much better in a traditional outdoor bin or, if you want to compost indoors, a plastic storage bin or bucket with a lid.

For one thing, tumblers are designed to be rotated, but earthworms need a habitat that’s not being actively disturbed. Another issue is that compost tumblers are designed to heat up, so not only will you stress the worms out with excess movement, but there’s also a decent chance you’d end up killing them in the tumbler due to ammonia release.

do not use a compost tumbler for worm composting

3. Trying To Compost Perfectly On Your First Try

Trying To Compost Perfectly On Your First Try

Just like with anything else we try for the first time, it’s easy to be discouraged when things go wrong. Composting is a slow process without an exact recipe, and it takes a lot of guess and check to get right. Beginners tend to go wrong by letting their desire to get the perfect pile and soil on the first try keep them from trying vermicomposting out at all.

pro tip about worm composting“People get overwhelmed by the amount of information out there — they let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just get started.” – Nick from Apex Organix

What Is Wrong With My Worm Compost Bin? Troubleshooting Your Vermicompost

Troubleshooting Your Vermicompost

Being a beginner vermicomposter can come with an array of challenges, and it’s easy for these challenges to make it feel like you’re failing.

However, many of these obstacles come with simple fixes. Below, I’ve compiled a list of common problem spots paired with helpful solutions for those starting out.

My Worms Are Sick Or Dying

My Worms Are Sick Or Dying

If you start to notice dead worms in your worm bin, you need to take immediate action to save your remaining sick worms. It doesn’t take much to keep earthworms happy, but sometimes things go wrong.

Here are some ideas of what might be wrong with your bin if you see dead worms, with quick tips on how to fix the problem:

Temperature of worm bin

Worms are not successful in a bin that is extremely hot or extremely cold. Use a thermometer to check that your bin is between 55º and 70ºF.

If your bin is too hot, feed the worms fewer scraps and rely on their natural ability to sustain themselves until your compost pile starts to cool off. If that doesn’t help, you can add ice cubes to the top of your pile.

If you bin is too cold, make sure you keep a lid on the bin to trap in heat. If your bin does not have a lid, use a black tarp to cover your worm bin. You can also try adding hay or straw to insulate your bin.

gardening 101

Moisture in worm bin

Worms don’t like it when the bin is too wet or too dry. To check this, think of the top of your compost pile like a wrung-out sponge. It should feel moist to the touch but it should not be holding water, dripping, or have any standing water.

If your bin is too wet, try soaking up the excess water with cloth or paper, or insert small rolls of newspaper in several holes throughout the bin.

If your bin is too dry, just add some more water to the top of the pile with a watering can or a hose. Be careful not to do this too quickly or you’ll suffocate your living worms.

Air flow in worm compost

Your worms need to be able to breathe! Make sure your bin has good holes for aeration and that the layers of your bin are not so compacted that they restrict air flow between layers and scraps.

Amount of light in vermicompost

Worms are used to living in a severely dark environment. Too much sunlight can be deadly for earthworms. The best way to make sure your worms stay happy is to keep the lid on your worm bin when you aren’t turning, checking on, or managing the pile.

Under or overfeeding your worms

Your worms could be dying off from a lack of food or overfeeding. If your worms do not have enough food, they will begin to eat their own castings. It’s common for composting beginners to be surprised by how quickly their worms eat away at their scraps, so check to see when you need to add more food.

It’s also common for people to make their worms sick by overfeeding them. If you see large amounts of food leftover after one to two weeks, you are probably overfeeding. I recommend you play it safe by feeding your worms an amount they can handle every two or three days.

basics of homestead gardens

Amount of space in your worm bin

Make sure your bin isn’t overly full of scraps, bedding, or even earthworms. Your worms prefer a nice full bin of food, but they can feel overcrowded if your scraps and materials are too compact. If you feel like the hatchlings are making the bin too full, you can take out some of the fully grown worms and move them to a new bin so all of your worms have enough space to move freely and feed as they please.

Type of water used in vermicompost

It is crucial that you use dechlorinated water to moisten your worm bin. Tap water often contains chlorine, which can be deadly to your worms. You can buy dechlorinated water at your local grocery or hardware store, or you can dechlorinate your tap water by boiling it.

Check the pH levels of your worm bin

Your worm bin should not be too acidic or too alkaline or it will harm your worms. You can check the pH levels of your bin with a pH probe. The goal is to have a neutral pH of 7.

If your worm bin is too alkaline, add some acidic foods like citrus fruit peels, onions, pineapple, tomatoes, or peppers — but be careful not to add too much and swing the pendulum the other way. Too much acidity can hurt worms more easily than a bin that is too alkaline.

If your worm bin is too acidic, make sure none of those acidic kinds of food are in your pile.

The Worms In My Compost Bin Are Not Having Babies

The Worms In My Compost Bin Are Not Having Babies

A healthy vermicompost pile produces hatchlings as your happy earthworms start to mate. It can take a few weeks for worms to hatch, so be sure to account for that time when considering the health of your worms. If there aren’t any mating earthworms, egg capsules, or tiny hatchlings in your worm beds, it is likely due to one of these two reasons:

Your worm compost bedding is unhealthy

It is possible that your worm bedding is too wet, too dry, too acidic, or just needs changing out so the worms have a comfortable environment to reproduce in. After your worms are initially added, your bedding should be kept moist but not too wet. The top 6 to 8 inches of the bedding should be turned every seven to 10 days. About every six to nine months, the old bedding should be replaced with brand new bedding. Use straw or hay, newspaper, coco coir, or shredded cardboard to do this.

Your worm compost bin is too cold

If your bin gets colder than 60 degrees, your earthworms will not breed or produce hatchlings. See above for tips on how to heat up a vermicompost bin that is too cold.

My Worm Compost Is Bringing In Pests And Fruit Flies

My Worm Compost Is Bringing In Pests And Fruit Flies

Pests and fruit flies in your worm bin are not ideal, especially if you are keeping your bin inside your house. Here are a few suggestions for getting rid of unwanted bugs in your vermicompost bin:

Add newspaper to your worm bin

Layer a sheet of newspaper on top of your worm bedding to help keep flies out of your
bin. If the flies start congregating on the paper, change it more frequently to see if this helps eliminate them. If the flies won’t leave, you may need to change out your worm bedding completely to destroy fruit fly eggs and larvae.

Build a moat in your worm bin

You can keep smaller bugs like ants or mites out of your worm bin by surrounding it with a water moat that the bugs cannot cross. Be careful with this trick though, as you don’t want the moat to leak over into your bin and completely soak your compost.

Use a bread slice to get rid of bugs in vermicompost

Another trick for small insects is to place a slice of bread on the surface of the bedding. Then remove the bread slice when it’s covered in tiny bugs and discard of the bread and the little pests.

My Worms Are Escaping From My Compost Bin

My Worms Are Escaping From My Compost Bin

When you first add worms to your compost bin, the little guys may try to escape, as they haven’t yet gotten used to their new environment. They can also react to barometric pressure, causing them to try to escape in the case of a storm.

One tip to control those more free-spirited earthworms is to keep a light on near the bin. Worms avoid bright spaces, so they will not try to crawl out towards the light if they are confined to the darkness of an enclosed bin.

My Worm Compost Bin Smells Bad

My Worm Compost Bin Smells Bad

One of the most common complaints for composting beginners is odor. However, vermicompost tends to be the most odorless form of compost. Your worm bin should barely smell, or, if it does, the smell should be earthy and satisfying.

If there is a gross smell coming from your worm bin, that’s a very clear warning sign that something is seriously wrong. Here’s what to do if your vermicompost stinks:

Try adding more oxygen to your worm bin

To do this, gently lift up the layers of food waste and bedding, enabling air to enter into your compost pile.

Try to scout out if the odor is coming from one specific source. If you track down the culprit, [BOLD]remove the moldy kitchen scrap from your vermicompost bin.

If you can’t find one specific smelly element in your worm compost bin, [BOLD]add a layer of shredded paper, hay and straw, or cardboard strips to the top of the bin, and gently work some of this bedding into the lower layers. The extra carbon you add will help to balance out any of the extra nitrogen that’s making your worm bin pungent.

Types Of Worms Used For Vermicomposting

Types Of Worms Used For Vermicomposting

You may feel like all earthworms are similar, but different species actually require different climates and can be good for vermicompost for different reasons. Check out the most common worms used in vermicompost and the specific ways to care for each species:

Vermicomposting With Red Wrigglers

Vermicomposting With Red Wrigglers

red wrigglers composting worms

Red wrigglers are the most common earthworms used for vermicomposting. The scientific name for red wrigglers is Lumbricus Rubellus. Wrigglers are one of the easiest worm species to take care of with the least number of problems for composters.

They can survive within a wide range of temperatures from 55° to 95°F (13° to 35°C) and are also one of the cheapest species to buy in bulk. You can anticipate receiving about 800 to 1,000 worms per pound when purchasing these red earthworms.

Cost: $30–$35 per pound

Vermicomposting With European Nightcrawlers

Vermicomposting With European Nightcrawlers

european nightcrawlers worms

Another earthworm species that is fairly easy to manage is the European nightcrawler, also known as Einsenia Hortensis. Think of these guys like the larger cousin of the red wrigglers who are a tad bit higher maintenance. These nightcrawlers like cooler temperatures, so make sure to be considerate of that when going this route.

Another thing to note with European nightcrawlers is they will birth hatchlings at a slower rate than other species, so you won’t have as many worm babies right away. Since these guys are larger, you should expect about 300 to 400 worms per pound when you buy them.

Cost: $35–$40 per pound

Vermicomposting With African Nightcrawlers

Vermicomposting With African Nightcrawlers

African Nightcrawler worms

African nightcrawlers are high-quality worms to use for vermicompost, as they are known for having better looking worm castings (as good looking as one could call worm poop), but they are also far more difficult to care for.

While their castings make them a popular option, African nightcrawlers require extremely hot temperatures in order to stay alive. They can begin dying off at 60°F (16°C), making them a poor choice for those who live in colder climates. Anticipate about 300 to 400 worms per pound.

Cost: $35 per pound

Vermicomposting With Indian Blue Earthworms

Vermicomposting With Indian Blue Earthworms

Indian Blue Earthworms

It is highly common for the Indian blue earthworms to be confused for red wrigglers due to how similar the species’ look. The Indian blue worm prefers warmer, tropical climates as opposed to colder, frigid climates.

One downside of using these guys in your compost is that they are highly sensitive to barometric pressure, so they commonly try to (and successfully) escape their worm bin with weather changes like hurricanes or thunderstorms. Indian blues are also harder to find and not as common in the U.S. If you can get your hands on them, expect 800 to 1,000 worms per pound.

Cost: $40–$50 per pound

Where Can I Buy Composting Worms?

Where Can I Buy Composting Worms

So where can you buy composting worms? There are several ways to get your hands on vermicompost worms in bulk. You can order earthworms online or purchase them for a local retailer or worm farm.

Many worm farmers and retailers ship their worms, but you can also purchase them on site. Here are a few sources for purchasing your vermicomposting worms:

planet natural

Planet Natural –

Planet Natural sells red wrigglers in bulk and will ship them directly to you. Your shipment will arrive in a cloth bag ready for you to use in your own worm composting bin. Planet Natural recommends that you use about 1,000 worms for areas up to 250 square feet and sells worms in groups of 250 to 4,000. You can order red wrigglers directly from their website.

Price: $35–$135 depending on quantity

uncle jims worm farm

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm –

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm sells several packages of vermicompost worms in bulk. They sell red wrigglers, European nightcrawlers, and mixed bags of composting worms in quantities from a mere 100 up to 2,000 worms. Each order is shipped and delivered straight to your door. You can purchase Uncle Jim’s vermicomposting worms on their website.

Price: $25–$70 depending on quantity

pet store

Local Pet or Hardware Stores

If you don’t want to order online, you can also purchase vermicomposting worms at your local pet or hardware stores.

You can buy common earthworm species like red wrigglers at these stores, however, it’s likely that they will come in smaller quantities than if you buy the vermicompost worms online and have them shipped to you in bulk.

Pet stores like Petco sell earthworms in groups of 45, while hardware stores like Cabela’s, Home Depot, or the Garden Center of Walmart typically sell them by the ounce.

If you buy your vermicomposting worms from a pet or hardware store as opposed to a worm farm, make sure the species is the right type for composting. These stores sell worms for many other purposes like fishing or feeding rodents, and not all earthworms are great for compost.

Price: $3.50–$5 per ounce

How To Build Your Own Worm Composting Bin

How To Build Your Own Worm Composting Bin

You can use most of the same materials and techniques when building a worm composting bin that you would use to build a traditional compost bin, but there are some specific elements to add when building a worm bin that are better for the health of your earthworms.

Features To Add To A Worm Bin

  • Build a 12- to 20-gallon bin
  • The bin should be dark
  • Give your worm bin a lid
  • Build a drainage mechanism
  • Give your worm bin aeration holes
  • Add 1-inch legs to your worm bin
  • Add a tray underneath your worm bin
  • Add bedding material
build a bin for worm composting

Read detailed instructions on how to assemble your very own DIY compost bin here.

how to build a compost bin

Your Turn!

  • How will you build the best environment for your vermicompost?
  • What type of earthworms will you add to your compost bin?

How To Start A Compost Pile For Beginners

How To Start A Compost Pile For Beginners

how to start a compost pile


ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I first started composting on my own, I had tons of questions. I got hung up on what I was doing wrong instead of what I was doing right. Composting is a science and an art, so you’re not going to nail it on your first try. There is a lot to learn and it’s okay to fail when you first start.
ryan mitchell simple living expert

In a society obsessed with instant gratification, it’s hard for us to let good things take time. Composting is a slow process that takes diligence, patience, and keen attention, but the process brings abundant rewards. Composting reminds us that we aren’t meant to be blind consumers of what the earth has to offer, and that our ecological footprint is important.

What Is Composting? Compost Defined

What Is Composting

what is compostIn the simplest terms, composting is the decomposition process of organic matter to create a smooth, dirt-like material that can be used to nourish plants and trees as well as fertilize soil.

There are several different types of composting which I’ll outline later, but all types serve the same purpose: turning organic waste into nutrient-rich soil.

How Does Composting Work?

How Does Composting Work

As your carbon-filled kitchen scraps begin to rot, microorganisms from the soil will break it down. This leaves you with humus, a thick black and brown substance full of a fiber, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that can nourish plants and trees.

The microorganisms are able to break the material down by taking in water and oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide and heat. And then, like magic, last week’s banana peel has decomposed to become fibrous soil!

how compost is made

Benefits Of Composting

Benefits Of Composting

Composting has many benefits, but here are just a few to convince you to start composting on your own:

Composting Gives Your Waste Purpose.

Organics make up 1/3 of the garbage that is sitting in our landfills. Throwing organic material away adds waste to landfills that could have been used for greener purposes.

Compost Prevents Plant Diseases.

Using compost causes your plants and trees to be more resistant to diseases and harmful insects because of the healthy nutrients in the compost.

Compost helps to conserve and clean water.

Adding compost to soil can reduce the amount of water needed for crops. Additionally, compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground actually cleans the water flowing into the ocean.

Compost improves air quality.

The composting process sucks carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back into the ground.

Composting helps the economy.

Composting plants have been proven to create more jobs than other disposal facilities, such as landfill sites.

Composting lowers your personal carbon footprint.

Composting minimizes greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the amount of carbon your personally put out into the atmosphere.

composting has many benefits for the environment

Types Of Composting: Which One Is Best?

types of composting

Different types of composting require slightly different environments and processes, and they each produce a diverse outcome. There are three main types of composting, and it’s important to know how they each work and what they require when deciding which method you want to try your hand at.

Aerobic Composting

Aerobic Composting

aerobic compost pileTypically, when people talk about composting, they are referring to the aerobic composting method. With this method, microorganisms rely on oxygen to break down waste. When you hear composters discuss turning their compost pile, it means they’re using the aerobic method.

The act of “turning” or “spinning” a compost pile is crucial because it is in the rotation of scraps that the pile is able to aerate, and the organisms can take in the oxygen they need to get the decomposing show on the road.

When going this route, you’re going to want to add lots of nitrogen-heavy scraps like leaves, grass, and vegetables. This will raise the temperature of your pile and speed up the overall process.

Benefits of the aerobic composting method:

  • Relatively odorless
  • Does not take as long as anaerobic composting to see results

Anaerobic Composting

Anaerobic Composting

anaerobic compost pileAnaerobic composting is the exact opposite of aerobic composting: There is no oxygen used in the decomposition process. Anaerobic composting is what happens in landfills — waste breaks down over a long amount of time, completely on its own, just by sitting in a pile.

However, without oxygen to help the organisms break down matter, bacteria can take over and causes the pile to emit a highly pungent smell.

Benefits of the anaerobic composting method:

  • Takes very little effort to maintain — throw scraps into a compost pile and don’t touch it for a year or more to see results
  • Produces more usable nutrient rich humus per volume of organic waste put into the compost pile