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  • Writer's pictureRobin Ankerich

Small Space Composting

Compost your food scraps mean no more smelly kitchen garage. The rotting food and liquids we put in the garbage-can is what makes the trash cans (at least in the kitchen) smell bad. Instead of sending food scraps to the garbage dump where stuck between layers of plastic and other waste, it will break down more slowly and omitting green house polluting gases in the process. Composting is like upcycling. It takes those unused or spoiled food scraps and turns them into vital nutrients.

Living in an urban or rented environment, you might not think composting is possible without the use of a yard, but you are in luck. There are a few ways apartment dwells can compost. First off is city or private company pickup or drop-off systems. If that is not available, even without backyard options there is Bokashi (a Japanese form of fermenting food scraps) and Vermiculture (aka worm composting). Above you will see our first Vermiculture bin. We elected to compost using worms rather than the Bokashi route because it is a more hands off allowing the worms to do the work.

Vermiculture can be done indoors or outside in the shade. The bin pictured above started out inside, but we realized that when we added the top tier it was too tall for the kitchen island, so we moved it out to the balcony. Though many people said Florida summers were too hot for worm composting, we kept the bin in the shade, and the worms survived and thrived while breaking down our food scraps. After 4 year of composting with worms, I wanted to share how easy it is and maybe inspire you to try it.

Two Other Pluses to Worm Composting Are-

FREE LIQUID FERTILIZER! - The extra moisture that runs off form the decomposition process is potent fertilizer you can use for both indoor or outdoor plants. Bottles of liquid fertilizer can sell for a lot. But with a vermiculture bin, each week before I add in more food scraps, I'm able to drain anywhere from one to two cups of "worm tea." Typically it is diluted 50:50 with water before adding to plants when watering. It contains nutrients as well as beneficial microbes, and has no bad oder like more bottled fertilizers!

The ability of recycle spent potting soil is also an added bonus. If you have indoor plants, they will consume the nutrients contained in that potting soil in a year or twos time. You can refresh that potting soil by adding in fresh potting mix or compost, but you can also add old potting soil as a bedding material to your bin and have the worms bring it back to life.

How to Compost with Worms

1. Secure a bin and worms

While there are plenty of instructions online on how to create a worm bin out of plastic tubes, I highly recommend investing in a vermiculture designeated bin. They are designed for ease of use, harvesting compost and "worm tea," and they look better so you will be more likely be willing to keep it in a useful location. As you can see from my pictures there are natural materials like wood and metal bins, but plastic is the most common material because it is light weight and easy to clean. Homemade versions may not have the ability to drain off the tea (extra moisture), while most specially designed bins will have a tray or drain built into the bottom.

In addition to the bin, you will need worms. Red wigglers are the most common option for their ability to breakdown food scraps and habit of living in the top 3-5" of soil. They are commonly used as fishing bait and are easiest to source locally where bait will be bough. Local compost suppliers as well as online suppliers also sell and ship worms. Typically it is a good idea to start off with about 5 pounds of worms.

2. Collect Food Scraps

Then you will need to collect your food scraps. While you can add them each and every time you cook, it is easer to collect them and add them once or twice a week. While you cook it is helpful to have somewhere to put your scraps. Some people keep their food scraps on the counter at room temperature. But from personal experience, that opens up the opportunity for fruit flies and oder as food sits out at room temperature. To solve these issues, I keep my scraps in a mason jar in the refrigerator door, then once a week or when it is full, feed the worms. I typically feed them once a week, but I have had them survive while away for 2 weeks for the holidays.

You Can Add:

- Fruit Scraps

- Vegetable Scraps

- Peels and Cores

- Mushroom scraps

- Produce past their prime

Worms Do Not Like or Cannot Breakdown:

- Citrus (acidic foods)

- Spicy Peppers

- Onions and Garlic

- Meat or Bones

- Eggs

- Seeds or Large Pits

- Cooked Foods

3. Bedding is your final ingredient

The easiest source for bedding is brown paper, newspaper, uncoated paper board, toilet paper tubes, or thin cardboard. You can also use spent potting soil or dry leaves. All of these materials help absorbing extra moisture from the food scraps. The worms like a moist but not overly wet environment. If you have the right balance of paper to food scraps, the bin will not have any odor at all. Too little or too much paper slows the worms ability to break down the food scraps which can lead to oder. But rest assured, it is easy to learn after a week or two exactly how much bedding to add each time you add the food scraps. The bin should be moist as if you pushed over a boulder and found the damp soil underneath. Add more or less bedding until you reach that happy place.

4. Open the bin and pull back the top paper

This is my bin after pulling back the top blanket layer of paper one week after last adding food. You can see that the worms have processed almost all the food and some of the thinner paper. But they have hardly started to break down the whole house plant leaves I'd added at the same time.

***My trick for quicker composting***

To speed up the decomposition and thus the quicker harvest of the "black gold" (the compost the worms castings create), I throw the jar of food scraps in the blender with a bit of water to make the food scraps smaller. Worms mouthes are tiny, so it will take them time to breakdown an entire apple core. Blending is not required, but it will speed up the process greatly. As you can see in the picture of my bin - the worms ate through an entire blender full of scraps in the time they barely started breaking down the fern leaves.

5. Add your food scraps to the bin

Once you have pulled back the top "blanket" or cover of paper, you simply need to add the food scraps (whole or pureed). I puree mine to speed of the process of harvesting the compost by months, but it is not required.

6. Top with bedding

Once you have added the new food scraps, cover with a layer of paper or other bedding material. The amount of moisture in your scraps will dictate just how much to add, but you will learn overtime how to judge the perfect amount.

7. Cover the bedding

Then pull back and cover that layer of bedding with a "blanket" of paper to cover the material and help seal in the moisture.

8. Fresh the top blanket layer (if needed)

If that top layer of paper has started to break down or if the worms have started to eat through any area, add a new layer of newsprint or brown paper. This top layer should be pressed into the edges of the bin. It will also help keep out unwanted pest like fruit flies or fungal gnats. Then cover the bin with your lid.

I hope this post has been educational. And just maybe it was the confidence boost you need to start composting your food scraps with vermiculture.

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