On October 11, 2017

Indoor composting made easy

By Carl Diethelm, a.k.a. Compost Carl

As a tenant not owning his own home and living in town, I understand how difficult it can seem to be to compost food scraps instead of putting them in the trash. There might not be space to compost outside (if the landlord would allow it), or it could be a bit of a walk to take out the scraps every few days or so. Luckily, there are ways around these obstacles that can still save money from trash fees: vermicomposting, using worms to help break down food scraps, is a relatively odor-free process that can be accomplished indoors.

There is no need to brave that snowstorm if there is a “worm bin” right under the sink!

The questions may be raised: how much does a worm bin cost, and how much work does it take to manage? The answer is that it depends on how much time and money that a person is able to invest into the project. A rule of thumb is that by putting more time and effort into a vermicompost system, less money will be required, and vice versa. The following steps will compare the advantages of certain methods for keeping worms at home, and will provide a basic understanding of how much time or money each method requires. Anyone that is planning to start a worm bin would do well to research the process and ask for tips beyond reading this article.

Four steps for indoor vermicomposting:

Choose a container

Basically this decision comes down to whether the container will be purchased, or if a cheap or free do-it-yourself bin will suffice. A specific worm bin that can be purchased is the Can-O-Worms, which costs less than $100. This container makes it an easy process to raise and feed worms. I recently obtained one of these for my apartment, and it surely is low-maintenance
I check the worms every few days to make sure they aren’t escaping from the different layers, but other than that, I just feed them about every week. The Can-O-Worms has to be kept in a ventilated closet or open room, however, as it is fairly large. When used correctly, this handy method will allow removal of worm castings (the leftover compost) without needing to sift out worms and uneaten material.

The cheaper option is to find a plastic bin or bucket: storage totes and five-gallon buckets are the usual suspects for DIY bins. If it needs to fit under the sink, then consider how much space is available. Something to keep in mind is drainage; if excess moisture can’t exit the bottom of the container, the worms may drown! It can be trickier to get all the worms out of the castings, since there is only one area that worms can eat. I actually enjoy sifting worms out by hand, so fans of picking up squirming worms could enjoy this method.

Prepare container for worms

This may include drilling air holes, and laying down bedding for the worms to live in. Air holes are already present in most worm bins that are purchased, and it isn’t difficult to poke through most plastic containers. There are pre-made packages of bedding that can be purchased, such as coconut coir, which worms love, but wood shavings or newspaper are used as well. Essentially, whatever “brown” (or carbon-rich) material is available will be able to host worms. The bedding must be soaked in water to promote the moist environment that worms like to live in. Once there is bedding, it’s time to get some worms!

Obtain red wriggler or compost worms

While there are plenty of worms that could be caught in the wild, not all types of worms will best serve the purpose of dealing with food scraps. Generally, the smaller species of worms will thrive in a kitchen worm farm, while larger worms that could be used as bait for fishing won’t eat food scraps as quickly. The red wriggler worms are generally preferred by vermicomposters and can be bought online or at some garden supply stores. Some methods of capturing worms from outside can be successful, such as partially burying hole-y cardboard boxes with food scraps and bedding for a couple of days. Again, that requires sifting out worms, and can take multiple trials to find the right areas and obtain enough worms. One pound of red wrigglers, or about 1,000 worms, is a good base to start with for an indoor bin. They will reproduce over time, and the more worms available, the quicker they break down food scraps.

Feed the worms over time

Most of these methods do take a long time for worm populations to peak (two to five years), which allows almost all household food scraps to be deposited in the worm bin. While the worms are breeding and feeding, try not to fill the container with more than one inch of food scraps over half the surface. This could mean waiting a month or two without adding food scraps while the worms do the dirty work. Once no more food scraps are visible, try to add fresh scraps to a new area, so that the castings can be scooped out with minimal worms stolen from the bin. Once worm populations reach 15-20,000, food scraps can be added regularly. Worms will eat almost anything soft (such as fruit and vegetable scraps, moldy bread, and even hair!), but some materials can make the environment more acidic, which could prevent their activity and promote other insects’ growth.

Again, to keep a healthy, productive worm farm, look into books and websites that give detailed information on raising worms indoors.

The Can-O-Worms owner’s manual is also available online. With the coming winter in mind, try to get your worm bin started sooner than later, or it will be a tough time for the worms adjusting after being shipped through the cold. If you have questions that can’t be answered, call the Rutland County Solid Waste District at 802-775-7209.

Carl Diethelm, GMC Class of ’17, majored in renewable energy and ecological design.

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