Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)
Not for everyone, although it’s very popular and not very time-consuming after the initial setup. You may want to try storing the worm composter in the basement or a closet, although some people prefer storing it under the kitchen sink.
Basics for Vermicomposting
- worm composter. You can buy one, or use a plastic bin. It needs to be 8–12 inches deep. If making your own, drill holes in the bottom of your bin for drainage, and in the sides for aeration. Raise the bin on wooden blocks or bricks and put a drainage tray underneath, or instead, put a second plastic bin with bricks in the bottom underneath the first one.
- bedding for the worms, such as moist shredded newspaper or computer paper (moist enough that squeezing will produce a few drops). Fill the bottom of the bin to about 1/3 of its depth with your chosen material. Add a couple of handfuls of soil, fine sand or some ground eggshells to add “grit” (which help the worms break down food particles). If you cover the worm composter make sure you have drilled plenty of air holes in the lid, especially if storing under a sink or in an enclosed area
- red wriggler worms or European Nightcrawlers are recommended. Don’t use common earthworms because they need to burrow through the earth to eat and they can’t live on food waste
- food for your worms, such as veggies and fruit scraps (not citrus), coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, tea leaves, rice, and pasta. Chop the veggies and fruit scraps into small pieces
- Place the worms inside the bedding, not on top. Secure your lid if you’re using one, and leave the worms for about a week to feed on the bedding.
- Start feeding the worms. Do this once a week using small amounts.
- Monitor the moisture and odor levels. If the bedding is too wet, add more paper to soak up the extra moisture. If it’s too dry, mist it. Stop feeding the worms if there’s a foul odor until they’ve broken down the current food waste. Mixing the bin contents may also help with the odor. Reduce the food waste amounts in the future. A worm bin should only have a good earthy smell.
- It’s time to harvest when the original bedding has mostly or completely disappeared, and the bin contents are mainly an earthy, brown looking compost (worm casting or “poop”).
- Move everything — worms, bedding, food, castings — to one side of the container. Move partially decomposed food to the other side, place more food on top of it, and replace any lid. Leave the container alone for a few weeks while the worms migrate to this new food.
- Once the worms have migrated, pick out the castings, making sure to wear gloves. Leave some of the compost for a new cycle.
- Add new bedding, mix with the leftover compost, and start creating a new batch.
Vermicomposting is only as expensive as you make it. You can take the do-it-yourself approach of using bins, and sourcing red wigglers in the manure at local farms. The material for the bedding is easy to find around home. Of course, you can choose to purchase worm composters, worms, and bedding, which can add up to over $100.
The product of vermicomposting, vermicompost (worm castings), is a highly prized soil amendment. The time it takes to produce this vermicompost varies, depending on a number of factors (e.g. number of worms, bedding type, moisture content, etc.), but in the beginning expect to wait about 3-6 months. Later, when the worms are established, they should be able to produce a batch in about a month.
You can also store any extra vermicompost in a container that is well aerated. Be sure to keep the vermicompost moist.
Indoor Automatic Composting
Automatic composting is an exciting idea for those who want to compost indoors, but who don’t have the desire to make their own composter, maintain bokashi composting, or live with worms.
Before you get too enthusiastic about automatic composting, you should know a few facts. Electric composters are the “new kids on the block”. Models have come and gone, leaving customers with no support. Reviews are mixed, so do some research before investing your money.
Although this is a fast and convenient way of dealing with food waste, there’s also a large price tag. Models range from $299-$699, and for some models you’ll need to replace the 2 carbon filters every 2–6 months. On the plus side, these composters are compact (about as large as a kitchen garbage can), and weigh between 22 and 25 pounds. They’re ideal for storing in the kitchen or laundry room — anywhere there’s an electric outlet.
They process a great variety of foods, including meat, dairy, and chicken and fish bones. As in other forms of composting, you’ll need to balance your compost mix with dry (brown) and wet (green) items so you won’t end up with sticky compost.
Once waste has been added to the bucket of the composter and the machine turned on, blades break this waste down into small particles, which are then heated and sterilized. The carbon filters prevent any odors. After 3–6 hours you have the finished product, which is advertised in marketing as a soil amendment ready for the garden or lawn. The manufacturers, however, actually recommend allowing the resulting soil amendment to mature for 30 days.
The automatic composters that complete their work in 3–6 hours are not creating mature compost. Basically, they’re grinding the waste then drying it. What you’re left with is dehydrated waste that you should add to your outside compost bin or pile to finish off the composting process. You could also feed some to your worms if you’re vermicomposting.
If you want to add the dehydrated waste to your garden, add only a very small amount. This small amount can be helpful to your plants in a few weeks after the microorganisms break down the waste and add nutrients to the soil. Otherwise, a larger amount would start to smell when decomposing. It would also cause nitrogen deficiency for the plants, harming and perhaps even killing them.
There is one automatic composter on the market that has a longer composting cycle than the models already mentioned. It has a single air filter that needs to be replaced only every 2 years. When using this particular composter for the first time you’ll need to activate the compost by adding outdoor soil (establishes cultures). Sawdust pellets and baking soda (to add to the food waste) are included with the machine purchase, but will have to be replenished. The design of the composter is different as well — it has two chambers, and the compost spends about 3 weeks in the machine. The manufacturer is very clear that the compost from this process is not fully cured and won’t be for 4–6 months. You will have to finish it off in a compost bin or pile.
Automatic composters are a convenient way to deal with food waste to prevent it from ending up in landfills, but they still present the same problem as some other composting methods — what to do with the pre-compost they produce. Nevertheless, these machines do speed up the decomposition process and save overall composting time. It will be interesting to see if future technology will find a solution for creating mature compost indoors.
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