I’ve known for a while that composting my food scraps is one of the most important ways I can address my waste seeing as rot is the 5th “R” of the zero waste movement. I live in an apartment with no yard, so I’ve been cautious about getting a compost bin. My compost experience before now was an attempt at a bin in my family’s yard that I turned all of once and whose only contents were leaves and two apple cores (mom, is that bin still in the backyard?). I checked out a book about composting a few months ago and cautiously decided that worm composting would be my best bit since I don’t cook meat at home and thought I had a good place to store the bin.
I ordered a three-tray worm bin that came with starter materials and a handy magnet about foods that are and aren’t worm friendly as well as bunch of red worms (normal garden worms won’t do). There is a science to compost, you can’t just throw whatever you want into a bin and end up with good compost materials. Composting requires a mixture “browns” (think paper, leaves, etc.) and “greens” (pretty much any vegetable scrap). Worms are also sensitive to acidic food (tomatoes, citrus, and onions in large quantities), and they shouldn’t have lots of fats or oily foods, so composting is not particularly omnivore friendly.
Assembling my compost bin took a little work, but was simple enough to do. In theory, you start with feeder tray and then add more trays as your worms start to do their thing. What’s left are castings (worm poop) and “compost tea” which is liquid compost. Both are great for gardens or could just be used on trees in your neighborhood if you’re like me and don’t have a yard. Food should be cut into small pieces, about 1″ to 2″ in dimension, and added every two to three days.
My initial plan was to keep the worm bin inside because worms don’t like it to get cold and Tacoma was still dipping into the low 30s in April. Unfortunately, my worms were escape artists and after checking on my bins after a few hours I discovered some worms crawling around my carpet. I put an SOS on Instagram and some people said that as my worms settled they would stop leaving the bins, but I didn’t want to put up with worms on my carpet so I moved the bin to my patio. Over the course of the next few days, I think about half of my worms either escaped to the top of the lid or into the bottom tray (that captures the compost tea). I would move them back into the tray with their bedding ( a mixture of peat moss and paper) and food as gently as possible. After a few days, they stopped moving around so much. I added a bunch of cut up fruit that was going bad and waited for my worms to get to work.
I think I’ve made some key mistakes along my compost journey. 1: It was probably not great to move my worms outside when it was still getting cold at night. 2: I think I should have given my worms more time to acclimate to their new home before feeding them. 3: I should have added less food. My worms do not appear to be eating much and things do seem to be rotting more quickly than they can be eaten. I’ll admit that I got overwhelmed by the whole process and have been neglecting my worms for the past couple of weeks. Fortunately, worms seem to be hardy and they’re still wriggling about in the bin. Worm composting isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be, and I don’t think it’s the perfect fix because I’ll produce more scraps than I can eat, but I’m looking forward to spending more time getting a hang of worm composting so that I can reduce the amount of food I put in the landfill.
I’m not ready to call this a total zero waste fail yet, but I do wish it was a little bit easier. Tacoma offers compost pickup to houses, but I don’t know that it’s available to folks in apartments. For now, I’m going to try my best and hope to perfect my compost game? Got any tips for me? How do you compost?