Three months ago I started a project to learn how to compost. Many of the skills I want to learn how to do (like beekeeping and raising chickens) will have to wait until we have a house and some land. Composting on the other hand, is something I can do right now in my very own apartment.
Composting is an amazing process. Instead of going in the trash, all of my banana peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg cartons, and other scraps got tossed into the compost bin. In just three months time, they were transformed into something I really wanted: rich, dark, organic fertilizer for my plants.
To enrich and speed up the composting process, I added red worms to the compost bin. This is called vermicomposting, or vermiculture. The worms help to break down the food and turn the soil so that it remains aerated. I created a tutorial with step by step photos if you want to learn how to make your own compost bin.
In the beginning, the bin with food and paper scraps looked like this:
And just three months later, it had turned into this:
Harvesting the compost:
For the final two weeks, I placed new food scraps on only one side of the bin. Then I stopped feeding them to give them a chance to finish up all the leftover food. Many of the worms moved toward the side of the bin that still had food and bedding. When it was time for harvest, I scooped out the compost from the other side, and sorted through it to rescue any worms that should have stayed in the bin. And yes, I sorted it by hand, which was really not too bad. I had thought the worms were pretty creepy at first, but by this time I viewed them as little working worms that I had a responsibility for. I collected only half of the compost, since the other half would have required too much sorting.
After I had collected the compost I wanted, I had enough to cover the soil for every single one of my patio plants and herbs. I just put the compost directly on the soil, covered it with mulch, and watered the plants. The rest of the compost bin contents went into a bucket temporarily, and I started the bin again with fresh bedding and new food. Then I added the worms and remaining compost back in, and covered it to start the process again.
My big question answered: did the bin have any smell?
Surprisingly, and amazingly, no! The bin and the compost did not have any unpleasant smell, which was my main concern. The one time I noticed an odor, I performed some bin maintenance, and that took care of it.
What I wish I had known:
Before I went out of town for a few days, I gave the worms an extra big portion of food. When I came back from the trip, there were fruit flies in my kitchen! That’s when I questioned the very thing I’m sure some of you are already asking: Am I COMPLETELY NUTS? I moved the worm bin outside (the spring weather was mild), and stopped adding food for a while so the fruit flies wouldn’t be attracted to it. To take extra precautions against fruit flies next time, I keep the fruit scraps in a container in the fridge, and microwave the food before adding it to the bin.
Was it worth it:
Yes! The miracle of turning something discarded into something valuable, the acquisition of a useful skill, the small amount of time and effort, and being one step closer to my goal of having a natural, sustainable lifestyle are all reasons why I’ll keep composting.