Happy Earth Day! We can all do our part to divert landfill waste, and composting at home is a great way to start! With the Department of Sanitation’s new composting initiative, it has become easier than ever to compost your food scraps in New York City. But, if you are looking to actually use the compost that your food scraps create in your home or garden, it makes sense to compost at home. There are several ways to compost, but below are directions for vermicomposting, an aerobic method where microorganisms need air to (aerobic) to consume and decompose organic matter.
If you are short on space, and especially if you don’t have a backyard, vermicomposting is your best option. Vermicomposting is the aerobic decomposition of organic materials by worms.
– Purchase a medium to large sized opaque plastic bin with a lid and an appropriate amount of red wiggler worms. The bin size you choose should depend on how much you plan to be adding to your worm bin on a monthly basis, and how many red wiggler worms you plan on purchasing- a pound of red wigglers will require about 3 pounds of scraps a week (another way to remember this is that worms eat approximately 3 times their weight per week).
– Purchase red wiggler worms. Worms can be purchased through the Lower East Side Ecology Center for pick up at the Union Square Greenmarket, or you can put in an order online (Carolina Biological is a good online resource for this).
– Drill fine holes into the lid and top of your bin to ensure that enough air is circulating throughout the bin (see photo below).
Once you’ve acquired these essential materials, do the following to set up your worm bin:
1. Shred enough newspaper to fill your bin about 3/4 of the way. The newspaper should be shredded into 1/2″-1″ strips. Place the shredded newspaper into the bin and spray with water, making sure that all the newspaper strips are moist but not sopping wet. Arrange the newspaper so that it is fluffy- you don’t want it compressed at the bottom of your bin.
2. Add about 2 cups of soil to your worm bin- this introduces beneficial microorganisms to your worm bin, and aides with the worms’ digestive process- worms use the gritty particles in soil to break down organic matter. Potting soil or soil from the outdoors are both acceptable.
3. Add the worms to the top of the newspaper bedding. The worms will find their own day down to the bottom of the bin. Your bin is now ready to have food scraps added to it.
4. When adding food scraps, incorporate them into the bedding rather than leaving them at the top. Worms are vegetarians, so fruit and vegetable scraps, along with some cleaned egg shells, are the only things appropriate for this type of composting. Never add meat, bones, oils or dairy products to your bin. If your fruit and vegetable scraps happen to be coated in oil or dairy products, they should not go into your worm bin. Feel free to cut up fruit and veggie scraps before adding them to the bin- the smaller the pieces the better!
1. If conditions in your bin are very wet, mix in newspaper scraps. If conditions are very dry, spray the bin with water. It’s much more likely that your bin will be too wet, considering that most things that you’ll be adding to it will be fairly moisture rich.
2. If you see that fruit flies are appearing in your bin, there is a good chance that you are adding fruit and veggie scraps that have fruit fly larvae embedded in their flesh. To avoid this problem, try freezing your fruit and vegetable scraps before adding them to the bin – this will kill any fruit fly larvae. To eliminate the fruit flies already in your bin, you can try laying a full sheet of dry newspaper on top of your bedding to prevent fruit flies from making a home in the bin.
3. Fluff your bedding every time you add scraps to your bin to ensure that air is circulating throughout the entire bin.
4. Keep your worm bin indoors, especially in the wintertime. Colder weather will slow down the worms’ digestive process, and freezing temperatures will kill them!
5. Worm bins should not have a strong smell. If your bin is particularly stinky, chances are it is too wet.
After about 3 months, the compost in your bin will be ready to harvest. To do this, move all of the matter in the bin over to one side, and fill the other side with newspaper bedding in the same way as when you were initially setting up your bin. Continue to add fruit and veggie scraps to your bin, but ONLY to the side with the new bedding. After about a week, the worms will have migrated over to the new bedding, and you will be able to extract all of the compost on the other side.