All You Need To Know To Compost In Your Apartment

<p>First, you need a worm bin. While you can purchase any plastic storage bin and convert it into a worm bin, for $55, you can buy a pre-made worm bin from the <a href="">Lower East Side Ecology Center</a>. For that price, you get a 16" x19" x12" high <a href=";view=article&amp;id=25&amp;catid=11&amp;Itemid=96">bin with the worms you'll need</a> to turn your food scraps into compost. If you want to construct your own bin, the fine people at the Compost Project recommend a plastic one (no rotting like wood) that you would typically store your bulky winter sweaters in. Once you've constructed your bin, you'll still need worms (more on worms later!), available locally at <a href="">Lower East Side Ecology Center</a> and <a href="">New York Worms</a> in Long Island.</p>

<p>With your completed/purchased worm bin, you need to make bedding for the worms. This helps control the odor levels of the worm bin, keep moisture levels ideal, and ensuring a dark environment for the worms to thrive in. The best source of bedding is a newspaper (as long as people compost, print has a future!). Not the glossy paper like the Sunday Times Magazine or any other magazine, but actual newsprint. If you have a tabloid newspaper (Daily News, NY Post, etc), you should rip the paper from side to side, while a broadsheet newspaper (NY Times, WaPo) should be ripped from top to bottom. In total, you'll need about 6-8" of paper.</p>

<p>Next, you want to add soil to your bin. You only need a few handfulls, but the soil will help the worms digest. Think of it as the roughage humans need to help our digestive systems!</p>

<p>Once you've added your soil, it's time to add water to your worm bin. Worms need the bin to be moist so they don't dry out. Also, it's important that you don't add too much water or the worms will drown. How much water is too much? If you can wring water out of the paper, you've added too much. But if you've added too much water, you can add a little more paper to the bedding.</p>

<p>Giving that newspaper a good squeeze to make sure it's not dripping wet. </p>

<p>Now you're ready to add the worms! You can add the worms directly on top of the bedding, where they'll naturally migrate away from any light source or you can add the worms to the middle of the bin and cover them with some bedding. The worms for indoor compost differ from the typical worm you might find in a garden. Instead of the larger nightcrawler, you'll most likely use the smaller <a href="">Eisenia fetida</a>.</p>

<p>Okay, you have a worm bin with bedding and worms. The worms need to eat! For every pound of worms (that's how much you need for the size of bin we're using in this demo), worms will eat 1/2 lb of food per day. The appetite of your worms varies depending on the temperature. One way of avoiding overfeeding your worms is to collect your food scraps in a container and add food once a week until you learn how much food is ideal for your little group of lumbricidae. When you add the food, you want to add it into the middle of your bedding and cover it with newspaper. Don't worry if there aren't any worms near the food — they'll find it pretty quickly. It's important that any food is covered with newspaper in the box since this will prevent any odors from developing. If you're adding food daily, change up the location of the box you add the food to — one day on the left, one on the right, etc. </p>

<p>A full container of this size is approximately the amount of food the worms in a bin this size can eat in a week.</p>

<p>The worms are making good progress in this bin.</p>

<p>After about 3-4 months, when the bedding begins to look like crumbly soil, you're finally ready to harvest your worm bin. At this point, the things you've been adding (food scraps and newspaper) to your worm bin, will no longer resemble the original material. There are two ways to harvest — one more involved and one less involved.</p>

<p>In the less involved method (pictured here), you move your vermicompost (this is the <a href="">technical term</a> for what you have left after composting) to one side of the worm bin and adding bedding/food scraps to the other side of the bin. In about 4-6 weeks, most of the worms will move over to the "fresh" side of the bin, leaving you with vermicompost that is relatively worm free.</p>

<p>The Department of Sanitation <a href="">has good instructions</a> on the more involved method of harvesting your vermicompost (partially pictured here). Warning: it requires touching worms.<br/><br/>What do you do with all this vermicompost? You can mix it with potting soil, add it to treespaces, parks, give it to your friends, or add it to your potted plants. It's important that you don't plant things directly into the vermicompost, as it's too rich to use as potting soil. <br/><br/>Some tips and things to look out for while indoor composting:</p><ul><li>The worm bin should be stored out of the sun — in a closet, under your bed, under your dining room table, etc. We're told that some people even turn their worm bins into a base for a coffee table!</li><li>Your worm bin should have an "earthy smell" and will smell bad/rancid if it's too wet or has too much food.</li><li>Worms love leafy greens, watery rinds, bananas, coffee and tea.</li><li>Worms don't love citrus too much because of the acid. So when possible, add less of that.</li><li>Other things you can feed your worms besides fruit and vegetable scraps: crushed egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags and leftover bread and grains.</li><li>Things you should not feed your worms: meat, fish scraps, fatty/oily foods. </li><li>If you're concerned about smell, there are some items you should avoid adding to your bin: broccoli and onions both smell while decomposing. Otherwise, the bedding should control most of the odors. </li><li>Fruit flies can be a problem, but there are some precautions you can take to prevent them: washing your fruit peels in warm water, freezing or microwaving food scraps before adding them to the bin, or even avoid adding fruit at all. But if you make make sure the food scraps are buried under bedding, you shouldn't have an issue. You can also build fruit fly traps if they do become an issue. This <a href="">PDF has info</a> on how to build a trap for the fruit flies.</li><li>While water is important to your compost bin, you most likely don't need to add additional water as you're composting. The food that you're adding will likely add enough moisture to the bin.</li><li>One common mistake is letting the worm bin get too wet, especially when you're close to harvesting. As always, you can add some newspaper to help dry things out.</li><li>Your worm bin should be kept at temperatures between 55°-80°F. To cold or too hot and your worms could die.</li><li>NYC Wasteless has a <a href="">great troubleshooting guide</a> (PDF) for your worm bin. Everything from what it should smell like, to some solutions to typical problems you might encounter. </li><li>Finally, if everything dies, you should start all over from the beginning. You don't want to add new worms to a bin that didn't work out.</li></ul><br/><br/>If you want more information, the Department of Sanitation has lots of information <a href="">on their website</a>. You can also attend a NYC Compost Project in Brooklyn workshop on starting your own worm bin. Their next workshop is 7/12/12 at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. To register for classes, visit the <a href="">Brooklyn Botanic Garden's website</a>. You can even call or email their Compost Helpline with questions: 718-623-7290/