Worm Compost Follow-Up and My First Horticulture Experience

It’s been four months since I started my worm compost bin back in August’s Life Without the Landfill Challenge.  I decided that Christmas would be a good time to open up the bin to see if some of the compost (read: worm poo) was usable to plant some plants for Christmas gifts (and contrary to the beliefs of my building’s management company in Boston, no I’m not planting marijuana).  I’ve kept the bin in the cupboard in our pantry and at the end of every week I’ve transferred my food scraps from the tupperware in the kitchen to the compost in the pantry.  The smell has been largely non-existent except for a slight increase in earthiness when you’re in the pantry (not exactly a bad thing).  No rodents, no flies, no nothing (yet, knock on wood).  My worms were pissed off a few times and tried to escape when I opened the lid but that was because I hadn’t added moist newspaper shavings in a long time (>4 weeks, should add every 2-3 weeks) so the compost was too dry.  If the compost is too wet or too dry the worms will freak out and start climbing the walls of the container.  Just adjust the moisture level by adding damp or dry newspaper shavings and wait a week.  Worms are pretty resilient and slow to adjust so don’t think that they’re going to die immediately or that your fix will take place immediately, cover it back up and revisit it in a week or so to see if the worms are happy again (happiness = worms are chomping your food underneath the newspaper shavings).

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A group of worms chomping on my most recent food scraps.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve added food to the same side of the compost so that the worms had a chance to travel from one side to the other in search of food.  This meant that one side would be largely free of worms.  I’ve learned that with vermiculture composts you’re not supposed to turn to the compost as you would with an outdoor compost.  With inside worm composts, this would mix the food in with the newspaper and the worm poo which isn’t a good thing because you’ll have to pick it all out later when you’re ready to use your compost.  The worms typically hang out within the newspaper shavings, eating the shavings and the food scraps (they don’t travel around in the compost below).  Generally you are supposed to have 4-6 inches of moist newspaper shavings on top of the worms and allow the compost to grow from the bottom up.  When you’re ready to add food scraps to the compost you peel back the newspaper layer on one end of the compost, add the food (chopped up in small pieces so as to be easily digested by the worms), and then cover the food thoroughly with the newspaper layers.  Covering the food with newspaper keeps the smell down and keeps unwanted flies and rodents from coming to check things out.

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Here's a handful of rich worm compost from the bottom of the bin.

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Here's a pile of worm compost. I had to pick out a few worms here and there but largely one end was free of worms. I also had to pick out some newspaper shavings because when I first started the compost in August I had been turning the compost and not layering it with newspaper as I should have been.

Seeing as though I’ve never planted anything before, I decided that I would use my first horticulture experience as an opportunity to build my confidence.  So I bought an Amaryllis bulb that’s apparently “guaranteed to bloom” and a piece of Lucky Bamboo that’s relatively indestructible.  The Amaryllis bulb was a Christmas present for family and the Bamboo was a present for  my apartment.  Pending a successful trial with these two “idiot-proof” examples, I plan to put up more greenery in the apartment such as an aloe vera plant that will help with burns and whatnot.  I bought them both from Pemberton Farms on Mass Ave in Somerville, MA near Davis Square.  Pemberton Farms is awesome, full of good, local food, beer, coffee and wine, all things that I love.  However, don’t be fooled, Pemberton Farms is not a farm, it is a company that sells organic food which can be a very different thing.  They simply have the image that you’re buying directly from a farm in Vermont, instead you’re buying from a company who happened to incorporate in Vermont.  Oh well, they have lots of great local food, overall it’s a win, I highly recommend checking it out if you live in the area.

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Amaryllis bulb (left) and Lucky Bamboo (right). I mixed in the compost with some potting soil and then covered the top 1.5 inches or so with straight compost. The nitrogen in the worm-poo will act as a natural fertilizer for the plant. The bamboo doesn't really need soil it just needs water, but I read that using soil is fine so perhaps the extra nitrogen will benefit the growth.

So far so good with the compost experiment.  I was skeptical, my roommates were skeptical (and nervous), and my family/friends have been waiting to see if it would actually work out.  Looks like the experiment has been a success.  As a result, I’ve been throwing away far less stuff.  Prior to the compost, a majority of what I tossed in the garbage was excess food.  Now the only food scraps that I throw in the trash is egg shells and moldy cheese.  I’ve learned you can’t put things like avocado shells in the compost.  I’ve had shells in there for 4 months and the worms still haven’t even come close to digesting them.  I also didn’t chop them up into small bits so maybe that would have helped.

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A new layer of food scraps after potting my new plants. Just peeled back the 4-6" layer of newspaper, dropped in the food scraps, and recovered with the newspaper.

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The food scraps covered back up with newspaper. Time to go back into the pantry cupboard.

If you’re interested in building your own indoor compost there’s a ton of free information online.  To see how I built mine, check out my instruction guide, “Compost Construction for City Slickers” it’ll cost less than $20 and take up less than an hour of construction and then less than 2 minutes/week (having a power drill will be helpful).

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This entry was posted in August - Life Without the Landfill, December - Meat Eater to Plant Eater. Bookmark the permalink.

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