Apartment dwellers and urbanites often lament the lack of options for composting in homes with limited yard space. If you’re not the kind to get all squirmy over worms in your house, I highly recommend worm composting as a method for dealing with your kitchen waste. You can buy ready-made worm bins, but if you’re even a little bit handy and have access to a drill you can make a vermicompost bin yourself for under $5. (My buckets came from the local bakery and cost me $2 a piece.)
Get started with vermicompost
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 2 nesting buckets (or three; see note at end of post)
- 1 bucket lid
- a drill fit with an 1/8″ (or so) bit
- worms (You’ll need red wigglers for this; if you have a friend with worms see if you can have a handful. Otherwise, you may need to buy some, which will put your expenses up over $20 – still less than a ready-made bin.)
- Drill holes in the bottom of one of the buckets.
- Shred newspaper and place it in the perforated bucket to a depth of 6″ or so.
- Thoroughly wet the newspaper and allow to drain for a moment.
- Add about 2-3 cups of kitchen waste. What you see here is the unfortunate result of a refrigerator spill that I didn’t notice in time to prevent rotting: several small sweet potatoes, an apple, and a bunch of green onions.
- Place the worms on top of the kitchen waste.
- Pull the damp newspaper over the top of the scraps and worms. Tuck them in, if you will.
- Put the bucket with the worms inside the second bucket and put on the lid. The bottom bucket serves the purpose of catching any liquid that leaches from the active bin.
It takes less than half an hour, start to finish, to put this vermicompost bin together.
A worm bin of this size is best suited to a single person or couple. Larger households will generate more waste than this size bin can handle. Simply use the same method with larger containers, such as these totes.
While your wormery is getting established, don’t overdo it on adding waste. Add 2-3 cups or so every couple of weeks. Once a brown base develops under the paper (this is the worm castings, or worm poop), you should be able to add more. The worms will multiply based on how much food is made available to them.
This vermicompost bin takes up about a square foot of space and could fit under the sink. And I promise. If you’re doing it right, it does not stink.
Note: When the bucket begins to get full, you can add a second perforated bucket. Just add moist newspaper and scraps like you did during set up, and add it to the stack. Make sure the top bucket is resting on the waste in the bucket below. The worms will slowly migrate up and after a few weeks you can simply pull out the middle bucket and use the rich worm castings on your potted plants.
To harvest the castings without adding a second bucket, dump the contents into a large piece of cardboard. The worms will move down into the castings and away from the light. Skim off the top layer, wait a few minutes for the worms to move deeper, and skim some more. Continue until you have harvested most of the castings, then put the worms back in the bin with fresh scraps and top it off with damp newspaper.
UPDATE: As Carolyn noted in the comments below, if you don’t plan to make this for under the sink or in a closet (where it’s dark), either use an opaque container or throw an old blanket or tarp over your container to keep the worms’ in the dark.