If you live in an apartment then you probably cannot have a composter unless have a small garden. However you can make use of a wormery instead to turn your food scraps and waste paper into nutrient rich soil for pot plants and container gardens.
At first the idea of keeping rotting food inside your apartment sounds absurd but a well managed wormery does not smell and you get the added advantage that you will not need to empty the kitchen trash can as often as all the non-meat organic waste can be deposited in your wormery instead.
Creating your own Wormery
These instructions explain how to make your own wormery for an apartment. If you have a garden you could scale up the wormery and keep it outside and follow the same principles to manage the wormery effectively. For a large garden we recommend using a composter and relying on worms and microbes already in your garden soil to do the work for you rather than spending money on a wormery. See our pages on garden waste for details on composting, grass cycling and how to prepare your own leaf mulch
Making the Wormery
- Buy a plastic box to use as your wormery. A 5 gallon plastic container is suitable for the average 1-2 person apartment. The container needs a well fitting lid and you will also want a shallower plastic container with a slightly larger footprint for the 5 gallon container to sit it.
- Avoid containers with clear plastic walls as the worms like to be in the dark. If you do use a clear walled container keep the wormery in a dark cupboard. A convenient place might be the cupboard under the kitchen sink so it is easily accessible for adding fruit and vegetable scraps while cooking.
- Drill several holes a couple of inches apart in the sides and bottom of the 5-gallon container.
- The holes in the base allow excess water from the decomposing fruit and vegetable waste to drain from the 5-gallon container into the shallower secondary container.
- The drained liquid will smell because it is a very concentrated nutrient rich solution but simply rinse the secondary container in the sink. Alternatively you can dilute this concentrated nutrient rich waste solution, approximately 20 fold, and use it as a natural organic feed for your houseplants or garden.
- The holes in the sides of the container allow oxygen into the container providing oxygen to the worms and also speeding up the decomposition of the organic material.
Adding the Organic Material and the Worms
- Shred or rip up enough paper to provide at least a couple of inches of bedding material at the base of the container. This is one way to make use of all that junk mail you receive and it is a great way to get rid of any documents containing personal information that you may be worried about putting in the trash.
- Add a handful of soil and some fruit and/or vegetable scraps on top of the paper bedding.
Then add your worms
- You can purchase red wriggler worms from Logan Worm Farm, based in Jobstown, NJ. Simply call (609) 724-0111 for more information or to place an order and the worms will be mailed to you.
- The red wriggler variety of worms are recommended for vermiculture.
Continue to add roughly equal amounts of fruit/vegetable scraps and shredded paper.
- If you find that the compost is getting very wet and a lot of liquid is draining into the secondary container then you need to add more shredded paper. On the other hand if you find that the compost is very dry then you need to add more fruit/vegetable scraps.
- If you keep the balance of paper and food scraps approximately right you should not need to add water to the wormery.
Harvesting the Vermicompost
- It will take 2-3 months for the worms to convert all of the organic material into vermicompost. If new material is added to the top of the container without mixing then the material at the base will be ready for harvesting whilst the material at the top will require further decomposition by the worms.
- Transfer the partially-decomposed material into the secondary container temporarily so that you can access the decomposed material at the base. Most of the worms will be found in the partially-decomposed organic material as they gravitate towards the better food source. However you will still need to sift through the vermicompost to remove the worms so that they can be returned to the wormery.
- Once you have extracted the compost place the worms and partially decomposed organic material back into the 5-gallon container and continue the process to generate more nutrient rich soil for you plants to enjoy.