When it comes to composting, where to start—and how to get started—can seem a little intimidating, even for the most well-intentioned and eco-savvy among us. There’s the bokashi composting system, or you could try out a solar-powered “green cone” composter. On the pricier side of things, indoor electric composters that get the job done in record time, or you could opt for an outdoor compost tumbler if you have a big yard and even bigger fertilizing needs. All these options can be a lot to take in, and (if I had to wager a guess) it might be part of the reason why composting buckets haven’t yet reached the ubiquitous status of recycling bins. That’s why, when you begin your composting journey, I always recommend enlisting a little help from a few (er, few hundred) diligent workers: worms.
Yes—worms! And before you run away screaming at the thought of actively bringing creepy crawlers into your home, hear me out. Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) is one of the most effective, efficient methods for compost newbies just dipping a toe in the natural fertilizer waters. Why? With traditional composting, there’s a lot of “turning” of the compost to avoid, among other things, the bad kind of rot. Add worms into the mix, though, and they do all that turning and mixing for you. The worms are extremely low-key, and happy to thrive in a cool environment on a diet primarily of (approved) kitchen scraps, meaning that the leaves and yard clippings that typically help fuel larger bins aren’t needed with the worms. What’s more, the worms should be kept indoors, and since their bin can be almost any size, that means they’re ideal for apartment dwellers. Just think of them as some really helpful houseguests.
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Making a DIY worm bin is also fairly straightforward—and cheap. Begin with a medium-sized plastic container with a snug lid (ours is a bit bigger at 10 gallons, like those used for storing toys) and drill 6-8 small holes in the top for aeration. Place a layer of moistened cardboard and shredded up strips of newspaper to line the bottom of your bin (the worms love it!) then fill about halfway up with soil. Make a small hole in the soil and bury your first round of kitchen scraps, then cover with another layer of moistened cardboard and newspaper. (Any time you add food scraps, placing a layer of moistened cardboard helps to keep away bad bugs while keeping the compost moist.) Place the bin a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight, and just like that, you have the makings of your very own worm composting bin. (You can also purchase a fancier one here, if that’s more your style.)
Next, introduce the worms to their new environment. Miraculously, you can order worms (red wigglers) online specifically for composting purposes, and they arrive at your doorstep just like any other package. (The day our worms arrived, I’m pretty sure the mailman was concerned when my husband exclaimed, “Hooray! Our worms are here!”) Once the worms begin to engage with their new home, consider feeding them about once every 10 days or so, as not to overwhelm them, and follow the guidelines as to what is and is not worm composting friendly. (Eggshells? Yes. Citrus, meat and dairy? No.) In the beginning, you might consider using a spray bottle to keep the bin moist, but by a couple of months into the process, the bin should be able to maintain the proper consistency on its own by just letting the worms work their magic.
There are plenty of thoughtful resources with more detailed information about setting up your own worm composting system (this primer from Cornell is highly informative), including the best ways to use the nutrient-rich compost to help make all of your plants thrive. Because once the squeamishness about a box full of working worms falls away, there’s no better feeling than knowing food waste is being reused for the greater gardening good.
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