My preferred way to compost indoors is vermicomposting, or worm composting. Let’s dispel some myths and fears about composting with worms:
Can I dig up worms from a backyard or park for vermicomposting?
No. Earthworms are a different kind of decomposer than Red Wigglers, which are the ideal worms for vermicomposting. Red Wigglers and other composting worms are quite small but mighty workers who eat the materials you put in their bin and give you castings in return (worm poop = compost).
Will the worms crawl out of the bin and get in my bed/on me?
No. The worms really don’t want much to do with you, and if their bin is balanced with greens, browns, water and air, they will be very content to stay in their bin. They also do not like light, dry surfaces or the oils on your skin – they will not crawl out unless they have to for their own survival (i.e. the bin has become unlivable with too much moisture, no food, other pests, etc), and even then they are very likely to die not far from their bin. Think about worms on the sidewalk in the rain – as soon as the sun comes out, their time is limited as they dry up really quickly.
Will it stink?
Ideally, no. A healthy compost system shouldn’t smell like much at all. If you have thrown the equation off balance, you might get an unpleasant odour – for example if you only have greens and no browns in the bin, that high volume of nitrogen will create a foul odour and a slime. I’ve had a vermicomposting bin in my laundry room for almost three years now, and it has only developed an odour when I’ve neglected it and lost the proper balance of greens, browns, water and air.
Can I put anything in the bin?
No. The same rules to general composting apply, no meat, no oil/grease/fat, no dairy and no human or animal excrement. You should also be putting a balance of food scraps in there – just like our stomachs, if you are only consuming one kind of food, it can upset the worm’s digestion. I recommend avoiding highly spicy or super acidic foods in the bin – if you do, try to limit the quantity and ensure you have balance with high water content foods like fruit scraps or cucumber scraps. Maintaining the balance of greens and browns is very important for vermicomposting. I keep packing paper from deliveries, toilet paper cardboard rolls, used tissue paper and newspaper close by my bin to ensure I’m also adding browns when I add any food scraps.
Can I keep my worms on my balcony or outside?
No. There are too many weather and temperature conditions to worry about that put the worms at risk. I recommend always keeping your vermicomposting bin indoors. I keep my bin in the laundry room, but really anywhere that is a temperature controlled, generally dark space would work.
One of the best perks of vermicomposting is how affordable it is. You can certainly buy fancy worm farms and bins, but they are not necessary.
Make your own worm bin
I’ve been using a DIY worm bin for almost three years now, and it cost me about $10 total.
You can purchase whatever size bin works for your space, but choose a softer, flexible plastic bin as opposed to a hard plastic that will crack easily. Plastic’s #2 and #4 are your safest options for use with gardening/organic materials. I use a 37.9 L Rubbermaid bin, which costs approximately $10 and is available in many stores [or check your local freecycle groups!].
I borrowed a friend’s drill and made air holes in a rectangle pattern on the lid, approximately 3 or 4 inches apart, and used excess soil from my garage/dead houseplants to create the base for the compost environment.
There are tons of videos on Youtube about how to make your own worm bin with one container or multiple containers – simply search “worm bin” or “vermicomposting bin”, and take a look to see what might work for you!
Where to get your worms
There are certainly companies and folks who sell worms both in stores and online (depending on your area), but I find it pretty easy to find worms for free. Check local composting/gardening groups, online forums, buy and sell sites, and perhaps even your local government to see if you can get free worms. In my experience, folks who love composting are very eager to give worms away (especially if their population is large) and assist with starting on your compost journey. It is also very encouraging to chat with folks who are experienced with vermicomposting for troubleshooting, questions, and to celebrate successes!
I got the Red Wigglers for free from Compost S’cool (an educational compost ‘facility’ operated by my municipal government) when I started, and later got more worms for free from a Facebook group.
Once you’ve got your base soil and your worms in the bin, you can add in your browns and greens.
Shredded newspaper or packing paper is a great starter ‘bed’ for the worms, and will help keep air flow through your bin. You only need a small amount of worms to start, as they will get their own population breeding with time. If you find you have an excess of worms, pass them on to someone else trying to get started!
You can easily remove the finished compost by moving all new food and some new ‘bedding’ to one side of the bin, and the worms will migrate there to start feasting. After a couple of weeks you can remove the old bedding from the bin and spread the new bedding and food over the bottom of the container. Let the old bedding ‘cure’ for a few weeks or months in a container, and then it is ready to use!
A troubleshooting tip…
If you’re finding unwanted pests (flys, mites) in your bin: put a piece of stale bread in your bin, and the next day check to see if the unwanted pests are on the bread, remove it and dispose of it. You may have to do this a couple of times to fully get rid of them.
The best measure is prevention, by ensuring you’ve got a good amount of browns at the top of the bin, covering the food so that it isn’t attracting pests. For more help on troubleshooting and dealing with vermicomposting issues, find resources here and here.