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How to Vermicompost in an Apartment: A Step-By-Step Guide


Apartment composting with worms

Vermicomposting is growing in popularity and for good cause. It’s a low-maintenance way to make use of your kitchen scraps. And, unlike regular compost piles, vermicomposting can be done indoors with minimal space required. Since my daughter lives in an apartment and is interested in composting, I suggested a worm farm project.

The fact is, worm composting is an excellent solution. Vermicomposting in an apartment is simple and takes very little time, space, and money. It’s a great way to lessen the amount of waste being sent to landfills while creating incredibly nutrient-rich natural plant fertilizer.

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with a step-by-step walkthrough on how to successfully vermicompost in an apartment, as well as to provide you answers to the commonly asked questions on apartment vermicomposting.

Learn all about vermicomposting. Read Worms at Work: Harnessing the Awesome Power of Worms with Vermiculture and Vermicomposting (link to Amazon)

How to Get Started with Vermicomposting in an Apartment

When most people think of composting, they envision a large pile of yard debris and kitchen scraps in the back yard. And for good reason. Traditional composting is generally an outdoor activity. But with recent discoveries and testing that has led to seeking alternative fertilizers, vermicomposting has become more popular as an indoor solution to composting.

In fact, worm composting offers unique advantages for indoors.

For example, one of the issues that outdoor worm bins face is temperature extremes. Worms don’t like it too hot or too cold. By keeping them indoors, you are able to provide constant temperatures that allow them to perform their composting duties year-round.

Let’s briefly go over what you’ll need and then we will “dig in” to how you set things up.

Supplies Needed

There are a few things that are required for an indoor worm bin, although many of them might be lying around the house, waiting to be repurposed.

The Worm Bin

When shopping for a bin, make sure the exterior is not clear; an opaque, plastic storage bin is ideal. However, if the space that will be home to the worm bin is dark, such as under a bed or in an area without windows, then a clear container will be just fine. In fact, you can actually purchase see-through worm bins that are specially designed for teaching children about the wonders of vermicomposting.

But as a rule, most worm bins are solid colored or at least tinted to prevent light. (Worms don’t like light and aren’t as active when it’s bright).

See Our Top Picks For Worm Bins, Including Our Choice For Apartment Composting:

Your container should have a lid but it is very important that adequate ventilation is maintained. Click here to read more about why worm bins need air holes.

Red wigglers prefer to vermicompost in a shallower area, so the bin should be at least six inches deep, but not much more. Twelve inches is about the maximum depth that your bin will need to be. Actually, the bin itself can be deeper but you don’t want to fill the bedding up past 12 inches or so. Anything deeper will require more work for anyone tending to the vermicompost to ensure the worms are feeding properly and to avoid any issues with rotting food. Manufactured bins often make use of multiple trays so that the lower tray can be dedicated to finished compost and worm castings.

If you want to go the DIY route and build your own worm bin, here are a few options that apartment vermicomposters suggest for maximum success. (Links to Amazon):

Out of these three, the last one (Rubbermaid) would be my first choice. It’s just a little under 11 inches deep and, well, it’s Rubbermaid so it’s built to last. But any of these should be fine depending on your situation. And you may already have one lying around in your garage that you can use so don’t overlook that option.

In fact, watch this video where this gardener creates a DIY worm bin. This is a great DIY solution and he provides a lot of good tips.

Outer Bin or Tray

This is a second bin will need to be even wider than the first. When selecting a bin that will be home to the worms and compost, be sure that a slightly wider storage tub is available. Some people simply use a second lid that they place upside down to catch liquid runoff from the first.

Although the second bin doesn’t need to be quite as tall as the worm bin, it will need to be at least an inch or two wider all around the outside in order to allow the worm farm to easily fit inside. (Again, an upside-down container bin can do the trick).

Another option is to simply use stackable storage tubs. The way these tubs stack together results in an air space between the bottom of the top tub and the bottom one which can be perfect for collecting excess fluid as it drains from the top bin where the worms are. The Rubbermaid tub mentioned earlier is stackable so having two of those would do it.

However you approach it, you want to have some type of reservoir below the worm bin to collect fluid.

Drill and Drill Bit

An electric drill and small drill bit is necessary to make the storage container into an actual worm bin. This will be used to drill air holes along the top edges and drainage holes in the bottom.

Mesh Screening

So, you don’t want the worms falling through the drain holes into the liquid reservoir. First, they can drown in water that is not well oxygenated. But also, they aren’t in the bin doing their composting work if they fall through.

Mesh screening is commonly used to cover the holes that are drilled to prevent this. Non-metal screening is a must because metal will rust under the moist conditions within the worm bin itself. Most worm bin owners use a non-metal window screen. Here is an inexpensive option available on Amazon:

But here’s the deal. What I chose to do was to drill smaller holes and just drill a lot of them. That way liquid can still seep out but it is much harder for the worms to find their way into the reservoir.

It’s not perfect and yes, a worm will occasionally get through but for the most part, it works just fine. Your call on this. I recommend skipping the screening and just using a very small drill bit. You can always add screening later.

You also have the option of using landscape fabric. I’ve heard good and bad about using this. Since the bedding is constantly moist some people have complained that if you get a low-quality fabric it breaks down fast. But it’s an option.

Waterproof Glue

If you choose to add screening, a strong, waterproof adhesive will be necessary to glue the screen to the bottom of the bin. Again, the worm bin itself does maintain a moist climate. Therefore, whatever adhesive used should be waterproof.

Dirt

Technically, you don’t have to add any soil to your worm bin. But I will tell you that there is a lot of benefit to adding beneficial microorganisms that thrive in healthy soil. A handful is all you need but it can really help to kickstart the ecosystem.

Plus, it gives the worms an environment to start in. Finished compost is a great solution but even a few inches of good quality dirt can be enough to begin.

Worms

If this is your first worm bin project, you’ll need to get a supply of Red Wiggler composting worms. You can purchase these from local worm farmers or buy them online. I recommend Jim’s Worm Farm red wigglers (link to Amazon). Start with a small number like 250 unless you are planning for a larger sized bin and need to compost higher volumes of food each week.

To get a better understand, read this article for calculations on how many worms are needed.

If you do decide to purchase locally, proceed with caution. Although there are worm farms that supply new worms to start vermicomposting, this can be risky. There are invasive species of worms that can upset the balance of your worm bin. Make sure that you are purchasing red wiggler worms.

Also, common earthworms don’t make great vermicomposters, and you can run into complications mixing them with your red wigglers in a worm bin.

Hand Shovel

When it’s time to stir the bedding or scoop away the worm castings, a small hand shovel can be handy. It’s not a necessity though. You can just sink your fingers in and do it by hand if you prefer. That’s what I do.

Scraps Container

Composting worms don’t like to be disturbed when they’re doing their work and removing the lid of their bin can cause changes within their system that could negatively affect the vermicomposting process.

You won’t want to be removing the lid and feeding them daily. It’s usually best to do this about twice a week. Just store the food scraps in another container until they are needed. I like freezing them in large ziplock bags and just taking them out to thaw on the day I plan to feed.

Compost

Start saving any kind of organic food or garbage that is biodegradable. These are the foods that will keep the worm population happy and healthy while vermicomposting.

Most vermicomposters report that their worms do have food preferences. You’ll figure this out as you work with them.

These are a few items that are defacto worm favorites:

  • Vegetables (scraps and peels)
  • Fruit scraps (no citrus)
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • Coffee grounds
  • Teabags
  • Dead plants
  • Dry leaves

Learn more about proper feeding and which foods to avoid by reading this article:

Worm Bedding

This will be mixed in with the compost in the worm bin. As the worms eat their way through the actual food scraps, they’ll also eat the cardboard and shredded paper that makes up their bedding. These are all known to make good worm bedding for vermicomposting:

  • Shredded Paper
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Paper egg cartons
  • Used coffee filters

Spray Bottle and Water

This will be used to moisten the worm bedding before putting it into the bin. However, it’s also a good idea to keep this nearby in the future, in case the worm bin does lose moisture. This can happen in climates that lack humidity or if the worm bin is stored in a dryer part of the apartment. A spray bottle is a great solution because you want to dampen the bedding, not saturate it.

Another great approach is to use ice cubes for moisture. They melt slowly, preventing excessive moisture. Your worms will move deeper for a while but they return to the surface when the temperatures level out.

Let the Vermicomposting Begin!

Once all of the supplies are rounded up and ready for action, it’s time to get started. Anyone interested in starting to vermicompost in their apartment can follow these steps:

Step 1: Choose a Location for the Worm Bin

Keep in mind, worms like a dark place. Some apartment worm farmers prefer to keep their bin in a closet. Others recommend storing the worm bin under a piece of furniture such as a bed or sofa.

You can keep your bin on a balcony or porch, just keep the importance of darkness in mind and be mindful of extreme temperatures.

Also, remember to allow space for a second bin or upside-down lid to fit underneath. This will serve as a reservoir to catch the liquid as it soaks through to the bottom.

Since the bin will need to be pulled out at least weekly in order to add food for the worms, ease of access is also something that should be considered. It will be necessary to remove the lid and or pull out the container when it’s time to feed the worms, so moving a bunch of stuff out of the way to do so is going to overcomplicate things quite a bit.

For more information, read this article:

Step 2: Make the Worm Bin

Once the worm bin has a specific home, it’s time to choose a container that will house the worm farm and compost. There are a few simple modifications that will need to be made to the container itself. This will ensure that’s it’s a good habitat for the worms.

  • There will need to be holes for air circulation, as well as drainage.
  •  Drill about twenty holes around the top lid of the bin.
  • Leave room for four to eight holes to be drilled into the bottom of the container, one in each corner as well as one in the middle of each of the sides.
  • Cut the mesh screening to fit over the holes and secure with the waterproof adhesive if you choose to use it (I didn’t and it’s been just fine).

If there are too few holes, the worms won’t receive enough oxygen, and they’ll suffocate. Also, oxygen flow is important to maintaining healthy food for the worms, a.k.a. the compost. Not enough airflow for the compost can lead to rotten food and a multitude of other issues.

For more information, read Why Worm Bins Need Air Holes (It’s More Than Just Oxygen)

Step 3: Make the Bedding for the Worm Bin

Using any or all of the paper items that have been gathered (see above for list), start shredding into strips. Generally, any kind of paper will work, as long as it doesn’t have a thick coating or shine. It’s also best to avoid any paper that’s been colored with an artificial dye, as it will eventually be composted into plant fertilizer.

There should be enough shredded paper to cover the entire bottom surface area of the worm bin and be several inches deep. Later, it’s possible to adjust the depth of the bedding within the container by adding more or less.

Then, use a spray bottle with just water inside to spritz all of the shreds. It’s important to make sure all of the shreds have been sprayed and are fully dampened. Some prefer to dampen and squeeze the paper bedding in a bowl of water first. Either way, just make sure it’s nice and damp but not saturated.

Mix the shredded paper together with anywhere from a half to a full pound of the dirt. The mix should yield enough to fill the bottom of the worm bin no more than six inches. If there’s a surplus of worm bedding, leave the excess out to dry and add it to the worm bin later.

Step 4: Add the Worms

When the bedding has been added, the worms can be put into their new home. Leave them alone for the next day, allowing them to get acquainted with their new bedding and the dirt. There should be no food added during this time.

Step 5: Begin Feedings

After a full 24 hours, it’s time to feed the worms. Use the small hand shovel or your bare hands to create a small hole and add the food scraps. Don’t overdo it. Start with small amounts and monitor the appetite of your red wigglers. If they are eating everything quickly you can increase the amount during the next feeding.

Cover the food with more of the dirt and bedding mixture. If there was any leftover from the first layer of bedding, this is a great time to use it. It should be re-misted before being added to the worm bin.

Make sure the food scraps are covered with new bedding and dirt. If the food is left uncovered, it could attract flies to the compost bin. But, if the food is covered, it won’t be a problem.

Step 6: Maintain the Worm Bin

Each week, continue to add food to the worm bin, covering it with bedding and dirt. Once the worms have composted enough that the organic matter is nearing the top of the bin, it’s time to harvest the worm castings that will be used as fertilizer.

Harvest the Castings

Add food scraps and bedding to just one side of the bin. This will encourage all of the worms to move to that side to feed. Then, scoop out the worm castings from the opposite side.

Add More Bedding

Again, repeat the steps of adding more bedding. Wait another full 24 hours since the worms have just fed on the single side of the bin. After a day has passed, add more food scraps and repeat the process all over again.

Drain the Outer Bin

Over the course of the month that the worms are composting and producing their castings, moisture will be released from the bin into the barrier container on the outside. This will need to be drained.

If there are two people present, someone can hold the worm bin while the other pours the liquid out. If it’s a one-person job, then the liquid can be scooped from the bin. Honestly, it’s a simple job either way.

Do Worm Bins Smell?

This is one of the most common questions asked about vermicomposting. The word “compost” is synonymous with garbage, so it’s no wonder that most people are concerned about odor, especially indoors. While everyone wants to do their part for the environment, noone wants something in their apartment that smells pungent.

But there is good news…

While the worm bin used in vermicomposting does smell, it’s not offensive stink that’s commonly associated with trash. Worm bins typically put off a smell that’s mildly earthy. If there’s another smell happening, then something is most likely off within the worm bin and the worm population.

The most common cause of a smelling worm bin is rotting food that the worms aren’t eating. It’s important to check the worm bin weekly when adding the food. If there’s anything that they do not seem interested in eating, then remove it promptly. Food that’s getting moldy or rotten inside the bin will lead to a stinky worm bin.

Learn to completely troubleshoot a smelly worm bin using our step by step guide:

Do Worm Bins Attract Bugs?

This is another question that people ask when they’re interested in vermicomposting but still have reservations. Outdoor worm bins will attract more insects because there’s simply more bugs that have access to it. With an indoor worm bin being enclosed, insects have less of an opportunity to get into the worm bin.

However, it is important to maintain a clean area around the worm bin by wiping down the bin itself and the space around it. Bugs will find their way in if there’s an open area that seems inviting and if there are smells coming from the bin that are welcoming.

Also, as previously mentioned, food that’s not being eaten by the worms will inevitably bring bugs. Worms do have food preferences, so this is something that must be tended to in order to prevent rotten food which will lead to bugs.

Another factor that can bring bugs, again, was discussed earlier, is the soil itself. Even though this was previously discussed, it’s worth mentioning again because it is such a common issue that vermicomposters come across. It’s very important to be sure that any dirt of soil added is free of any bugs.

Conclusion

You can absolutely vermicompost in an apartment and it is probably the best solution for indoor composting. Creating your own DIY worm bin is an inexpensive solution but if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of a DIY project, or maybe you are just looking for something a little more stylish than a plastic storage bin, have a look at our top recommendations for worm bins. I’ve broken them down for different situations.

Here’s our pick for an apartment but have a look at all of our top choices to see other options.

4-Tray Worm Factory Farm Compost Small Compact Bin Set (link to Amazon)

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Paul Brown

Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page

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