Thursday, January 31, 2013

Indoor Composting 101: Setting Up Your Compost

Ready for your indoor worm bin? Maybe you read my introduction to composting, and you're ready to start. Maybe you've been interested for awhile and you're ready to make the plunge. Regardless, I'm going to help you set up your indoor compost today.

Worms - Not just any worms will do. Red worms, or red wigglers, are the breed to get, and you can find them online at certain vendors, like Amazon. Because there's always the chance they'll arrive dead (check those reviews!), I find it best to  find a supplier that's local. In NYC, the LES Ecology Center is great, and you can pick up worms several times a week at the Greenmarket in Union Square.

Deciding how many worms to get can be a challenge. What's recommended is this: Save your food scraps for a week, then weigh them. 1 pound of food scraps = 2 pounds of worms.

If you don't want to wait and weigh your food scraps for whatever reason, then I recommend you buy either a half pound or a pound of worms because the worms have a way of sorting themselves out. They will either reproduce if more are needed or they will die off if less are needed.

Storage Bin - There are quite a few different options for setting up your worm bin. If you search online, you'll find quite a few worms bins being sold that are specifically designed for composting. Below are a few different options, but I haven't used any of them, so be sure to check out the reviews.

A simpler and cheaper option would be to go to the dollar store, or whatever store you'd like, and buy a plastic storage bin. I bought one for a few dollars and poked holes in the top with a screwdriver. Et voila, a worm bin for less than $5. 

Make sure the worm bin is deep enough for air to circulate, and make sure it's large enough to hold the worms you purchase. To be precise, allow one square foot for each pound of scrap food per week.

Bedding - Bedding is very important for the worms since they don't like light and being exposed. A few options: shredded newspaper, shredded computer paper, and shredded cardboard.

When starting the compost, I shred the newspaper by hand, then dip it water. I squeeze the excess water out, so it's just damp. Then I set the damp newspaper at the bottom of the worm bin. Easy!

Once you've got your supplies, it's time to put everything together.

If you bought a plastic storage bin, be sure to poke enough holes in the top for the worms to breathe. 

Add worms on top of the damp bedding.
Add damp bedding to the empty plastic bin.

Dump your worms on top of the damp bedding. They will burrow their way underneath the bedding, where they will continue to live.

You can add some food scraps* right away, but usually the stressed worms will not be hungry. To add food scraps, chop the scraps as small as you can get them (I usually process them in a blender**) and bury the food scraps underneath the bedding. Never leave food scraps on top because that attracts flies and other pests.  

*Food scraps to add: fruit and vegetable peels or waste, coffee grounds, tea leaves, bread, egg shells, and spoiled food.
Food scraps to avoid: Dairy, meat, bones, human or animal waste, or anything non-biodegradable. 

**If you don't want to blend your food scraps, it will take much longer for the worms to digest and work through them.

Put the lid (with holes!) on the storage bin and place your indoor compost somewhere dark and moderately warm, between 55-77 degrees Fahrenheit. I usually keep mine in the pantry, but under the sink is also a great option.

That's it! 

Check on your worms periodically because it doesn't take long for them to die out if something happens. I'll have another article on troubleshooting tips soon, but generally it's pretty straightforward. 

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