The Compost Results

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:
start of bin

And just three months later, it had turned into this:
finished compost

 

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.

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Christi~berrymomma says:

    How are your plants liking the fertilizer? Very cool. My bin smells. I think I put in way too many scraps, so I’ve got fruit flies too. It’s in the garage so it doesn’t bother us at all. Not a problem. But I thought it would compost faster than it seems to be.

  2. smallnotebook says:

    It’s just been a couple of days, but I can tell a real difference in my plants. I think the basil and lavender have grown a lot, and the leaves on the camellia are much greener.

    Christi, does your bin have water drainage? Some extra bedding can help absorb odors. I like cardboard egg cartons, because they don’t get matted like wet newspaper can. Try stirring it up a little bit to get some air in there. The worms in my bin are just now starting to eat as much as I originally thought they would. I guess I didn’t have as many worms as I thought at the beginning, but they’ve multiplied since then so I can feed them more.

    • ish so happy for plants says:

      hey dude im doing a project for school exhibition n i’ve chosen this topic….it is soooo coooool to do dat thing…….luv doin it n will never stop….

  3. I’m impressed. very impressed. I was composting but without the worms. I have a large compost bin in my garden which I was proudly using until one day, there was a rat in it! I don’t do rodents. We can put our compost in our yard waste bin and thankfully our yard waste bin is rat proof. I don’t reap the ‘fruit of my harvest’ but I don’t have any more rat encounters either.

  4. smallnotebook says:

    Oh no Denise! I wouldn’t be able to handle rodents either!

  5. This is really great that you did this. I don’t know why.. but it’s kind of gross looking. Weird, I know, but I have a fear of worms -> that’s why I use gloves when gardening. Isn’t that why everyone wears gardening gloves? :)

  6. smallnotebook says:

    Dana, that’s funny, and you’re right, the compost isn’t pretty. But I must say the plants are becoming gorgeous!

  7. That is fantastic! I know you are proud. It does take a bit longer than I expected as well… I am hoping to move my worms into my big bathtub soonly. I am waiting on my dearest to finish drilling holes in the sides. Great looking compost! I know you are pleased!
    Hooray for worms! :)
    Love,
    Chas

  8. Wow! I never even thought of doing this! That is amazing, I will have to attempt this as some of our plants need some good soil.

  9. This is very neat. I like your tutorial as well. While we debate how we wish to compost, my husband still argues for a fenced in area with yard clipping additions… Still in discussion mode. But you’ve done it! I applaud you.

  10. Oh, I have wanted worms ever since I read Sharon Lovejoy’s book Roots Boots Buckets & Shoots! That book came out in 1999. Hmmm, I guess that is major procrastination there. You have inspired me, though! I really want to do this (and I want bees and chickens someday too…).

    This totally goes along with my post about food waste. What a great way to do something with the parts of the plants that are not so great to eat…

  11. smallnotebook says:

    I haven’t heard of that book Jessica, I’ll have to check it out.

  12. How great! I know this won’t be going on my to-do list for this summer, as it’s just too full, but I’m definitely going to keep this in mind!

  13. That is really great and is something that I would really like to try. Thanks for sharing your updates on this!

  14. Wow, your bin worked a treat & what a great insipation you are. I will certainly be trying the worms – cant wait! Thank you so much for your help & instructions there wonderful.

  15. Fruit flies arrive on the fruit you purchase and then put into the bin. The bin doesn’t “attact” fruit flies from the surrounding environment. Good call on microwaving scraps first. That will help kill the fruit fly eggs/larvae and speed the time it takes for the worms to do their job.

  16. I just have one question. What size holes did you make in the bottom of the top bin? Did the bottom bin collect “tea”?

    I cant wait to try it myself. I am planning to get to the store this week to start and order worms this weekend!

  17. The holes are about a quarter-inch across. I was concerned that they were too big and the worms would crawl out, but the worms stay in the bin with no trouble.

    The bottom bin does collect worm tea. I don’t need to add water to the bin, because fruit and vegetable scraps usually add enough. Good luck with your bin!

  18. your wonderful instructions are more helpful than many vermicomposting sites i have visited. thanks for sharing!

    one question: when you were harvesting the compost (or any other time), did you notice other mites, bugs, or compost critters? i have read they are common and not harmful to the compost or worms, and i have not seen any in my own system yet, but i am not excited about the prospect of encountering them if harvesting by hand.

    your compost looks great!

    • You’re welcome, Trisha.

      No, I don’t find any other bugs when it’s time to harvest the compost. I stop adding food scraps for two weeks or so before, so I suppose that’s why. If the bin contains a lot of food scraps, then yes, at that time I’ll see other bugs in the bin as part of the ecosystem.

  19. thanks for the very vivid and provocative info rachel. it is me who want to try this worm-thing business and find this blog is so informative. ;)

  20. Cyndalina says:

    Who is the author of this article? My daughter wants to use it as a comparing/contrasting reference in her project and needs the date the article came up, name of the article, and author. Lovely project.

    • Hi Cyndalina, I am the author of articles on Small Notebook unless otherwise noted in the post. –Rachel Meeks

  21. wow iam so inspired,I feel confident after reading your artical. I started my compost today

  22. What do you do with the “tea” in the bottom bin? Do you put it back in the top bin? Or just dump it out?