Thursday, December 6, 2012

Indoor Composting: An Introduction

I have an indoor compost that I just LOVE. Getting past the ick factor of having worms in your house, I think they're perfect for anyone that eats natural foods and doesn't have a yard. This is part of a 3 part series on composting. Next up are building the worm bin and harvesting the worm bin.

My happy worm bin, residing in my pantry.
Despite my joyful feelings on my worm bin, I was actually terrified and mulled over the idea of getting one for months. I didn't know anyone with whom I could consult so it seemed scary. Plus, when you search for info on the internet, many caution you against composting indoors. The best are outside, or so they say. The only reassurance to be found was my sister telling me that everyone in France has one they keep in their kitchen. 

I have no data to back that up, but it did make me feel a little more confident.

Mostly, I think I was terrified of getting bugs. And not just any bugs, though flying bugs are scary, but cockroaches. I've lived in large cities for the last 5 years, and I've managed to avoid having cockroaches in all of my apartments. I certainly didn't want to invite them in now.

Luckily, cockroaches don't really come with worm bins. Fruit flies, sometimes. Cockroaches, no.

I had extensive talks with the Lower East Ecology Center and I also attended a free class at my local library on indoor worm bins before I felt confident to purchase a pound of worms. (The Lower East Side Ecology Center also has a fantastic pdf that gives lots of helpful hints on what goes into a bin and troubleshooting problems.)

And since then, it's been pretty easy! I did have one bout of fungus gnats for 2 days, but as freaked out as I was am by bugs, all it meant was the balance in the worm bin was off. I just needed to add more browns, and poof! The gnats were gone. (And don't worry, they don't get into any other food in the pantry. They're there because they like decomposing food so your grains or oil is the least of their concern.)

Are you thinking about an indoor compost? I highly recommend it!

Why should you have a worm bin?
  • It's fairly inexpensive. There is some cost upfront on the worms and the bin (I believe I paid $27 total), but maintaining it costs nothing.
  • It's easy. At most, I spend maybe 20 minutes a week attending to my worm bin, but that's only because I drop in coffee grounds and tea bags frequently.
  • Worm bins done correctly do NOT attract pests. If you should be unlucky and attract some, simply add more browns and the problem should go away.
  • Worm bins done correctly do NOT smell. The only thing I've ever smelled out of mine was a nice "earth" scent.
  • Over 30% of trash thrown out has organic material that can be composted. Instead of throwing out food scraps or rotten food you forgot to eat, you can recycle it by adding it to the worm bin. 
  • If you send organic material to a landfill instead of composting, air cannot get to the organic material so it creates methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Compost at home, and it creates oxygen.
  • You'll have nutrient rich vermicompost for your garden, which saves money on fertilizer, improves plant growth and quality, reduces erosion and nutrient run-off, reduces the need for pesticides, and breaks down clay-based soils.
  • If you have children or enjoy such things yourself, it's a fascinating science project since you're creating a little habitat for worms and seeing how matter is broken down.
What goes in the worm bin?
There are two categories of things that can go in the worm bin: greens and browns. The greens are predominantly the food scraps, and the browns are the dry materials like newspapers. Some prefer a 50/50 mix of greens and browns, but I find a better ratio is 40/60, just slightly more browns than greens.

Fruit and vegetable scraps
Egg shells
Tea leaves/Tea Bags

Nuts and shells
Coffee Grounds and Filters
Shredded Cardboard
Shredded Newspaper
Lint from dryers or vacuum cleaners

I typically throw my fruit and vegetable scraps in a bin in the freezer (very helpful for preventing fruit flies from banana peels!) and then once a week or so, I'll blend everything in a blender. It helps everything decompose MUCH faster. The worms also love the pulp leftover when I juice.

There are a few foods that you're cautioned against: onions, garlic, and broccoli. Apparently they can stink when they're decomposing. I personally have not found them to be any problem, though I do blend them before adding to my worm bin.

What DOESN'T go in the bin?
Pet Poop

All of those things cause the worm bin to smell and/or attract bugs or larger pests. So don't do it.

Hopefully you feel safe and secure now in bringing in hundreds of worms to your home to make your life easier and the environment just slightly better. The next post in this series will be about building a worm bin!

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