Whether you are an apartment dweller looking for a new winter project, or a gardener looking to keep your hands in the soil as we enter this winter season, making your own compost bin is fun and simple! Compost is decomposed organic matter that can be recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Because of the variety of foods and fibers that can be put into a compost mixture, the resulting “soil” is rich in nutrients that makes for healthy, quick growing plants in the spring.
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While there are several types of composting methods, vermicomposting is most suitable for indoor, household composting. Vermicompost is the process of composting through the use of worms, usually red wigglers, to create a diverse mixture of decomposing food waste. Worms not only ingest partly composted material, but also continually re-create aeration and drainage tunnels as they move through the compost. The worms’ digestive systems also add beneficial microbes to help create a “living” soil environment for plants. Composting is a sustainable habit practiced by many restaurants, farms, and households in North America and it can become your habit too!
How do I start?
First, choose a location for your indoor bin. Perhaps you will keep it under your kitchen sink, in your mudroom, or in your basement. The compost will not smell if tended-to correctly, so don’t worry about stinking up your house! Any type of container will suffice, as long as it can be covered. You can use plastic bins, small garbage cans, or buckets. To ensure proper drainage, drill holes in the bottom of your container and place the bin inside another bin or on top of a tray to catch the liquid. Add a layer (about 4”) of dirt to the bottom of your bin, followed by a layer of dry fiber (shredded newspaper, cardboard, and junk mail). Every time you add vegetable and food waste, add another several inches of shredded paper. It is important to keep the paper slightly moist, so keeping a spray bottle next to the bin is recommended. In addition, once a week it is important to mix the compost and add a half scoop of new soil.
What can I put in it?
The best items for your bin are vegetable and fruit scraps. Red wigglers will also eat pulverized eggshells and coffee grounds. Depending on your family’s diet, it may take some time to experiment and discover what foods work best with the worms. Avoid using meat, dairy, fats, oils, and processed foods, as these are not eaten by the worms.
What do I do with the soil mixture?
If you already have a garden, add your rich compost mixture to soil when it’s time to start planting! Adding compost to gardens as a fertilizer can increase yields and produce healthy crops. If you don’t have a home garden, you can mix compost into potted plants or give it to friends and family that may benefit from it. In any case, composting your scraps helps divert material from landfills and can eliminate chemical-laced industrial fertilizer.
Where can I get Worms?
At Walking Mountains Science Center, worms are used to compost food scraps. Contact Melissa Kirr (email@example.com) at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon to inquire about the availability of surplus worms. Or, check out Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm (unclejimswormfarm.com) to order online and access further information about vermicomposting.
Amy Seter works as a Naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.