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Worm Composting

I didn’t start composting because I needed the compost (I don’t even have a garden), but because it seemed like a shame to toss good nutrients into a landfill. Worm composting, or vermicomposting, is perfect for apartment dwellers like me, because the worms eat anything that’s rotting as it breaks down, always staying one step ahead of the smell (if you don’t overload them, that is). As a result, as it’s being processed, the compost just smells kind of dirt-like.

Any composting food is kept under a moist layer of shredded paper.

We keep the composting food under a moist layer of shredded paper.

To make the easiest sort of worm bin, drill holes into the top of a large Rubbermaid container—the more the better, since you want the air to circulate. Fill it 1/2 to 3/4 full of shredded paper. I hear newspaper works best, but I’ve always had good luck with regular paper, too. (And it’s a good way to get rid of all those credit card offers that you don’t want to leave out in your recycling bin.) Be sure to moisten the paper, but don’t soak it. Worms breathe through their skin, and they need water to do that, but if they’re swimming, they’ll either die or try to crawl up the side of the bin. Bury your fruit and vegetable scraps (no animal products), making sure they’re completely covered by bedding, and add your worms.

Our bin was getting a little too wet, so we left the new top layer of paper dry this time.

Our bin was getting a little too wet, so we left the new top layer of paper dry this time.

Earthworms don’t work, so you can’t just dig up any old worms and put them in your bin. You need to get red wigglers, because they live in the leafy litter of the forest floor, which is much like the bedding you’ve made. The first time we did this, we got a pound of worms through the mail, and they came all wrapped around each other in a ball. The second time, we just went to Arlington Bait and Tackle. So far (one month in) they seem to be bigger and eating more than the mail-order worms, so I’d recommend that. Just make sure you ask specifically for red wigglers.

Aw, isn't he/she lovely?

Aw, isn't he/she lovely?

Those are the basics. I could go on for days about what sorts of food they like best, how often to feed them, how/when to harvest the compost, and why we killed our first binful of worms (oops), but this is getting kind of long. I’ll save that for another time.


Comment from Dave
Time July 30, 2009 at 9:42 pm


I think you need to do a “Worm Composting” part two. I’d love to hear more!

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time July 31, 2009 at 7:14 am

Thanks! It’s in the works. I think I’m just waiting for them to get more interesting. I want pictures of worm cocoons or babies.

Comment from vigilant20
Time November 16, 2009 at 1:16 pm

How interesting. I’ve been toying with this idea for a while now. I’m not sure but in my climate I think they have to be kept indoors, so it’ll depend on finding room for the lil guys.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time November 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Mine, too. They’re in the basement; in our previous apartment we kept them in the guest room closet.

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Time January 4, 2010 at 9:08 pm

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Time June 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm

[…] it worth it to compost in the city? – Slate. Emphatically, yes. We compost with our worms and take what they can’t handle to Whole […]

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Time June 15, 2012 at 9:32 pm

[…] to my normal 15-minute meals), but the results are worth it. And it ensures that we—and not our worms—actually get to eat our CSA veggies each week. […]

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